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    Smith, Cal (1932 – Present)

    Country and western singer and guitarist from Gans, Oklahoma, who grew up in the Bay Area of California and was performing at The Remember Me Café at age fifteen.  It only paid a buck-fifty a night plus food, so Cal found himself working a variety of odd jobs to supplement his income, including stints as a bronco buster and truck driver.  He married young, but his wife gave him a no-no ultimatum—her or music—Cal opted for the latter. 


    In the 1950s, he enjoyed some television exposure on a program entitled California Hayride.  Uncle Sam called and Cal joined the military for a couple of years.  In 1961, while spinning records at KEEN radio in San Jose and doing the obligatory club circuit as a musician, he had the good fortune to wind up in a band with Bill Drake, whose brother was with Ernest Tubb’s esteemed Texas Troubadors.  This happy encounter led to an audience with Ernest Tubb, who asked him to join his band as a rhythm guitarist and occasional background vocalist.  (Jack Greene was another background vocalist, so Tubb could pick ‘em.)  In the mid-‘60s, Cal and Jack even had the opportunity to perform lead vocals on some of the Troubadors’ albums. 


    The selfless Tubb helped him ink a deal in Kapp Records, and thus began the solo career of Cal Smith.  It did not get out of the gates quickly.  “I’ll Just Go Home” and “Silver Dew on the Bluegrass Tonight” failed to chart.  He had better luck when he began releasing albums, however.  All the World is Lonely Now cracked the top forty and its lone single, “The Only Thing I Want”, managed a modest #58.  Goin’ to Cal’s Place peaked at #31 and its corresponding single, “I’ll Never Be Lonesome with You”, reached #61.  “I’ll Sail My Ship Alone” sailed off into the sunset, however.  Travelin’ Man traveled to #34 and one of its stops, “Destination Atlanta GA”, got laid over at #60.  At Home with Cal stayed at home, missing the charts altogether, although one more musical postcard, “Jacksonville”, made an appearance at #58.  “Empty Arms” came up empty, but Drinking Champagne, and its title track, bubbled up to #33 and #35, respectively. 


    By 1969, Cal was comfortable enough as a solo artist to leave The Texas Troubadors and concentrate on his own musical efforts.  A case in point is Cal Smith Sings, which became his first crossover album, going #34 on the country chart and cracking the pop chart at #170.  “It Takes All Night Long” eked out the #51 spot on the country singles chart.  Country Hit Parade was a bust, but The Best of Cal Smith reached #41, and three of its singles, “The Difference Between Going and Really Gone”, “Heaven is Just a Touch Away” and “You Can’t Housebreak a Tomcat”, charted. 


    I’ve Found Someone of My Own was something of a breakout album for Cal, yielding four hits, including his first #1, and first crossover hit, “The Lord Knows I’m Drinking”.  The album cracked the top five and the pop chart, albeit at #191.  He released a self-titled album in 1973 which peaked at #20.  Its singles, “Bleep You” and “I Can Feel the Leavin’ Coming On” reached #63 and #25, respectively. 


    In 1974, Country Bumpkin went to #4 and the title track made for Cal’s second chart-topper.  It also garnered an armful of awards, including Song of the Year from the Academy of Country Music and the Country Music Association.  The CMA also awarded it Single of the Year.  “Between Lust and Watching TV” managed a respectable #11 and its follow-up, “It’s Time to Pay the Fiddler” paid off as Cal’s third #1 smash.  “She Talked a Lot About Texas” reached #13.  All in all, 1975 turned out to be a good year for Cal, who had three albums and three singles in the top twenty. 


    “Thunderstorms” sputtered at #33 and “Woman Don’t Try to Sing My Song” made a dent in the top forty.  In 1977, he released I Just Came Home to Count the Memories, the title track of which went to #15 on the country singles chart.  Come See About Me” went to #23, but Cal’s singles continued to chart lower and lower, almost mathematically so.  “Helen”, released as a single only, only made it to #53.  Throwin’ Memories on the Fire” flamed out at #51.  “I’m Just a Farmer” plowed its way to #73 and “Bits and Pieces of Life” died off at #68. 


    In 1979, he released his penultimate album, The Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire.  It may as well have been titled The Rise and Fall of Cal Smith.  The album and its singles barely got a sniff of chart success, and Cal’s output was only sporadic in the years that followed.  He and Bill Parker recorded “Too Many Irons in the Fire” which returned Cal to the charts in 1982.  In 1986, he unveiled Stories of Life, which yielded a #75 hit in “King Lear”. 


    The 1980s were not kind to straightforward country singers like Cal, as country music took a turn toward pop.  Although Cal had had minor success as a crossover act, he decided to hang up his recording career and invest in a minor league baseball team, the Nashville Sounds. 


    In 1999, he resurfaced for a live performance at the Florida Sunshine Opry in Eustic, Florida, an unprecedented honour, as it was historically a venue for local artists, making Cal the first big name to haunt the FSO stage.


    Chances are, these days, you are less likely to find Cal onstage than you are at a lake fishing with his wife Darlene in and around Branson, Missouri.  There is a conspicuous dearth of Cal Smith material on CD, except for the aforementioned Stories of Life and another self-titled affair which features remakes of some of his biggest hits.


    Cal Smith recordings

    For My Baby (Brook Benton/Clyde Otis)

    A Handful of Stars (Ted Harris)



    1. http://www.nme.com/artists/cal-smith
    2. http://www.oklahomarock.com/blog/?p=640
    3. http://www.lpdiscography.com/s/Smithcal/smithcal.htm
    4. http://wapedia.mobi/en/Cal_Smith
    5. http://www.zvents.com/performers/show/8521-cal-smith
    6. http://www.the9513.com/forgotten-artists-cal-smith/












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