Rockabilly one-hit wonder Ray Smith’s background is like a real-life version of The Dukes Of Hazzard.
A good ol’ boy from Kentucky, where his dad was a sharecropper and sheet metal worker, Ray used to drive a Coca-Cola truck and in his teens he brewed moonshine with his brother-in-law.
He only began performing after joining the Air Force in 1952, when he was recruited to perform in a talent show while in basic training – and won first prize for his rendition of Hank Williams’s song Lovesick Blues.
After that he traught himself to play the piano, guitar, and harmonica and, while stationed in California, began playing club dates on weekends.
Curiously, considering his vocal similarity to Elvis, he hated rock’n’roll, preferring the mellow country sounds of Faron Young (‘Four In The Morning’).
But he decided to jump on the bugeoning bandwagon and formed a band called The Rock & Roll Boys in 1956, featuring Raymond Jones on guitar, Dean Perkins on steel guitar, James Webb on bass and rhythm guitar, and Henry Stevens on drums.
They began playing clubs in Kentucky and Illinois, and Ray quickly landed his own show on the local TV station in his hometown of Paducah – enough exposure to earn them a deal with Sun Records.
Produced by Sam Phillips’s brother Judd, Smith recorded a few good sides for Sun, including a version of Charlie Rich’s Break Up, but went with Judd when he lef to form his own label – Judd Records.
Their move bore fruit when they struck gold with this uptempo number called Rockin’ Little Angel, featuring an all-star band including Chet Atkins, Floyd Cramer, Grady Martin and Bill Justis, with The Jordanaires on backing vocals.
It sold more than three million copies after its release in 1959, turning Smith into an overnight star, but he never repeated its success after moving away from rock’n’roll to focus on his first love, country ballads.
Twenty years later, after moving to Canada, Smith’s career came to a tragic and premature end when he shot himself at the age of 45 – just as his musical idol, Faron Young, would do 17 years later.