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Hobart Smith

One of the most sadly overlooked masters of Appalachian folk music, Hobart Smith may not be widely known outside of those who happened to either see him at a '60s folk festival or the nascent folkies who were directly influenced by his driving, energetic banjo and guitar styles, but he arguably remains one of the most virtuosic performers his genre and era produced. Known as a quiet man, he clearly enjoyed the spotlight, transforming into a foot-stomping showman with rousing tunes and carefully embellished tales that identified him as the genuine article for a generation of musicians obsessed with such a cultural pedigree. A precise player of his own intricate arrangements of traditional old-timey tunes, Smith was an amazingly eclectic artist. Whether turning out deeply soulful country-blues on guitar, channeling Earl Scruggs-like energy on complexly nuanced banjo tunes, diving into hauntingly rhythmic fiddle tunes, or lightening the mood with jaunty piano tunes, his music is always stamped with an ear for fluid melody and hypnotic rhythms.

Born in 1897 in Saltville, VA, Smith was immersed in the authentic Appalachian musical culture, sharing a musical tradition seven generations old by the time he arrived. As such, Smith's father had him playing the banjo by the age of seven, the guitar by the age of 14, and the fiddle, mandolin, piano, and organ within a few years. By 1915, he was gaining employment on the minstrel show circuit and had started his own string band to play at a variety of social functions from auctions to prison camps. At an indeterminate point, the influence of the blues crept into Smith's musical vernacular, coloring his rendering of traditional tunes forever thereafter. By the time he befriended Clarence Ashley in 1918 (whom he greatly respected as a musician and was probably influenced by on some level), he was nearly earning a living as a musician, although he would still have to find employment as a farmer, wagoner, house painter, and butcher. By 1936, Smith had begun to play the day's commercial popular music and had gained such regional renown that he and his sister, Texas Gladden, were invited to play before Eleanor Roosevelt at the prestigious White Top Festival in Southwest Virginia, making such an impression on the first lady that the two would be invited to perform at the White House.

In 1942, Smith recorded 40 tracks for Alan Lomax and the Library of Congress, resulting in a set of English ballads; banjo, fiddle, and guitar pieces; and Virginia murder ballads, not to mention a relationship with Lomax that would prove beneficial in the coming years. Eventually, Lomax would introduce him to Moses Asch, resulting in the recording of a soon out of print album for Asch's pre-Folkways disc label. Even so, the album went on to become quite influential on the burgeoning folk revival scene in New York City and Smith was convinced to focus solely on his traditional repertoire. As the years wore on, Lomax continued to record Smith, introduce him to folk festivals, and conduct extensive interviews to present the depth of his musical legacy. As artists such as the New Lost City Ramblers' Tom Paley, John Cohen, and Mike Seeger, as well as Jody Stecher, Hank Bradley, and Fleming Brown took in his performances during the folk festival boom of the 1960s, Smith was finally embraced as the musical genius he was and would again enter the recording studio for Folk Legacy that fully indulged his love of odd and obscure traditional tunes. Still, by the time Smith seemed on the verge of capitalizing on his unique talents, his health began to fail him. In 1965, his status as a true giant of traditional music growing with each performance, he passed away without fully benefiting from his prodigious talents. Although his legacy has been carried on by those his music touched in his lifetime, renewed interest in Hobart Smith's music resulted in the excellent Blue Ridge Legacy release in 2001. ~ Matt Fink
full bio

Selected Discography

x

Track List: Instrumental Music Of The Southern Appalachians

1. Cripple Creek

2. Pateroller Song

3. One Dime Blues

4. Sourwood Mountain

5. Goin' Down The Road Feeling Bad

6. Amazing Grace

7. The Girl I Left Behind Me

8. Marching Jaybird

9. John Brown's Dream

10. Sally Goodin

11. Railroad Bill

12. Soldier's Joy

13. Molly Brooks

14. Pretty Polly

15. Johnson Boys

16. John Henry

17. Drunken Hiccups

18. Shady Grove

19. Bully Of The Town

20. Skip To My Lou

x

Track List: Alan Lomax Collection: Southern Journey: Bad Man Ballads, Vol. 5

1. Jesse James

2. Po' Lazarus

3. Railroad Bill

4. John Henry

5. Willie Brennan

6. Hangman Tree

7. Columbus Stockade

11. Claude Allen

12. Cole Younger

14. Tom Devil

15. Hawkins County Jail

x

Track List: Appalachian Breakdown

1. John Henry

2. Sally Goodin

3. One Dime Blues

4. Railroad Bill

5. Molly Brooks

6. Cripple Creek

7. Shady Grove

8. Skip To My Lou

9. The Girl I Left Behind Me

10. Johnson Boys

11. Sourwood Mountain

12. Goin Down The Road Feeling Bad

13. Soldier's Joy

14. Marching Jaybird

15. John Brown's Dream

16. Pretty Polly

17. Drunken Hiccups

18. Bully Of The Town

19. Pateroller Song

20. Amazing Grace

x

Track List: Classic American Ballads From Smithsonian Folkways

2. Blue Mountain Lake

3. Claude Allen

4. Cole Younger

5. Cowboy's Lament (Streets Of Laredo)

6. Boll Weevil

7. Duncan And Brady

8. Floyd Collins

10. John Henry

12. Billy The Kid

13. The Death Of The Lawson Family

14. Naomi Wise

15. Pearl Bryan

16. Sam Bass

17. Springfield Mountain

19. Tying A Knot In The Devil's Tail

20. Young Charlotte

21. Wasn't That A Mighty Storm?

22. Zebra Dun

23. The Titanic

24. The Louisville Burglar

25. The F.F.V. (Engine 143)

x

Track List: Classic Banjo From Smithsonian Folkways

101. Fly Around My Blue-Eyed Girl / Cripple Creek / Ida Red / Old Joe Clark

102. Banging Breakdown

103. Johnson Boys

104. Peachbottom Creek

105. Coo Coo

106. Josh Thomas's Roustabout

107. Jaw Bone

108. Bright Sunny South

109. Coal Creek March

110. Mississippi Heavy Water Blues

111. Walk Light Ladies

112. Buck Creek Girls

114. Skylark / Roaring Mary

116. Smokey Mokes

118. Banjoland

119. Sally Ann

120. Lonesome Road Blues

121. Fox Chase

122. Hop Along Lou

123. Cotton Eyed Joe

124. Foggy Mountain Top

125. Rambling Hobo

126. Old Rattler

127. Georgia Buck

129. Black Eye Susie

130. Bluegrass Breakdown

x

Track List: Classic Folk Music (From Smithsonian Folkways)

1. Pastures Of Plenty

2. We Shall Overcome

3. Rock Island Line

4. No More Auction Block

5. Deportees (Plane Wreck At Los Gatos)

6. John Henry

7. John Hardy

8. Betty And Dupree

9. Gallis Pole

10. Polly Von

11. Butcher Boy

12. Duncan And Brady

13. Railroad Bill

14. Wayfaring Stranger

15. Big Rock Candy Mountain

16. Born 10,000 Years Ago

17. Sugar Babe, It's All Over Now

18. Changes (live)

19. Black And White

20. Most Fair Beauty Bright

21. Cielito Lindo

22. Tom Dooley

23. Freight Train

24. Down On Me

25. This Train (Bound For Glory) (live)

x

Track List: Folk Music U.S.A.: Vol. 1

x

Track List: Friends Of Old Time Music

1. Double File

2. Hicks' Farewell

3. Soldier's Joy

4. Claude Allen

5. Monday Morning Blues

6. Pallet On The Floor

7. Chick-A-La-Lee-O

8. Come All Ye Tender Hearted

9. Little Birdie

10. Rabbit In The Log

11. Dark Holler Blues

12. What Did I Do To Be So Black And Blue?

13. Mistreated Mama Blues

14. Hook And Line

15. Pretty Fair Miss All In A Garden

16. He's Coming In Glory Some Day

x

Track List: Friends Of Old Time Music: The Folk Arrival 1961 - 1965

Disc 1

1. I'm Troubled

2. The Country Blues

3. Going Down To The River

4. East Virginia Blues

5. The Storms Are On The Ocean

6. The Dream Of The Miner's Child

7. Soldier's Joy

8. Coffee Blues

9. Live And Let Live

10. Lonely Tombs

11. Rockin' Boogie

12. Brown's Dream

13. Down South Blues

14. Knoxville Blues

15. Have A Feast Here Tonight

16. Riley

17. Buck And Wing

Disc 2

1. Hell Among The Yearlings

2. Amelia Earhart's Last Flight

3. The Brakeman's Blues

4. Foggy Mountain Top

5. Hicks' Farewell

6. Jordan Is A Hard Road To Travel

7. Write Me A Few Of Your Lines

8. Bimini Gal

9. Shady Grove

10. Grey Eagle

11. Walkin' The Dog

12. San Francisco Bay Blues

13. Short Life Of Trouble

14. John Henry

15. Kneelin' Down Inside The Gate

16. Tell Me Why You Like Roosevelt

17. Bury Me Under The Weeping Willow

18. Mansions For Me

19. Before This Time Another Year

Disc 3

1. My Creole Belle

2. "Guitar Lesson"

3. Cincinnati Blues

4. Poor Boy In Jail

5. He's Solid Gone

6. Maggie Walker Blues

7. Chevrolet

8. Rising Sun Blues

9. Lord, Build Me A Cabin In Glory

10. Frankie And Albert

11. Hard Times

12. The Miller's Will

13. The Coo Coo Bird

14. Double File

15. The Wandering Boy

16. Stranger Blues

17. I Saw The Light

18. Sugar Hill

19. Amazing Grace

x

Track List: The Asch Recordings, 1939 To 1945 - Vol. 2

1. Two Maidens Went Milking One Day

2. The Hangman's Tree

3. Little Mattie Groves (Matty Groves)

4. The Wife Of Usher's Well (Lady Gay)

5. Dark Scenes Of Winter

6. Railroad Bill

7. Down In The Willow Garden (Rose Connelly)

8. Springfield Mountain

10. Go Down, Old Hannah

11. Cindy

12. Clog Dance (Stomp Blues)

13. Fox Chase

16. Civil War Parade

17. Tom Tom Workout

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jchetakian4
Bless this and listen. The roots of a thousand songs.

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