Remembering Arthur Smith: a Carolina legend

The man with the flying fingers brought joy to our lives. It wasn’t just that Arthur Smith was a great guitarist.

From what we could tell on his Charlotte-based television programs and live appearances around the region, when we were lucky enough to catch one, Arthur seemed like a great person, too.

The Southern drawl, easygoing manner, wry sense of humor and amazing musical talent – he could play anything, it seemed: what an amazing combination. Yet he was a down-home figure, someone from Carolinas, not the from glitzy Hollywood or Nashville’s rhinestone glitter.

Arthur Smith was our star.

I liked the early morning live TV show best. That was back in its heydays, the 1960s. Arthur’s group, the Crackerjacks, and other assorted talents had about them at that hour a loose-as-a-goose informality that seemed to inspire their humor to new heights.

Who can forget the Counselors of the Airways – Brother Ralph (Smith) and Cousin Fudd (Tommy Faile) – solving what they called the “Problems of the Piedmont.” The letters they read from fictitious viewers (all with the last name of Bates) outlined in great and eloquently rambling detail certain problems – and the counselors provided instant answers. It was wacky but inspired stuff.

Brother Ralph even injected outrageous humor into the daily weather reports he delivered with a straight face.

Presiding over it all was Arthur – his laughter roaring on the TV set, mine echoing in the room where I watched the show.

When the laughter subsided, Arthur would haul off and do a hot instrumental, making it seem easy as slicing warm butter.

The show never seemed rehearsed and probably wasn’t. But it was a Carolina-style masterpiece anyway.

Seeing Arthur and the gang in person was always a treat. It was a time of rejoicing because we knew they’d deliver the goods and give us our money’s worth. I remember the crowds at the City Park in my hometown of Shelby – the excitement over a show by these wonderful performers from way over in the big city of Charlotte.

But Arthur never acted like a big shot. He was one of us.

These images have stayed with me down through the years as I’m sure they have for thousands of others.