By the time he died in 1994, Roy Smeck was in his nineties and many years removed from his heyday as a performer, which began in the 1920s. But the guy known as the ‘Wizard Of The Strings’ was still a legend to several generations of musicians, who were not only inspired by his virtuosity but also helped along by his numerous instructional books, covering everything from banjo to ukulele to several varieties of guitar.
Born in turn of the century Reading, Pennsylvania, Leroy Smeck first began to appear professionally on the vaudeville circuit. He knew he wasn’t much of a singer, so he developed his act in a different direction. He played several different stringed instruments, often using tricky styles and little added dances. It seemed to appeal to fans and by the mid-1920s he was making records and even appearing in early sound films.
Smeck’s eclectic style included playing just about every stringed instrument around, including less-common ones like mandolin, lap steel guitar, and his own invention, the Vita-Uke. His repertoire encompassed every genre from jazz to country, often with a Hawaiian influence, and as the years passed he attracted quite a following. His countless instructional books began appearing in the 1930s, and are still available even now.
In his later years Smeck slowed down in performing but continued to inspire newer artists. In 1985 his name was again front and center when a documentary titled The Wizard Of The Strings was nominated for an Academy Award, and even after his death he was still being honored by several different musical Halls of Fame.