I knew about Arthur Smith long before I ever met him. After nearly forty years in the business, Arthur's name and handprints were all over Charlotte when I moved to town in 1983. Beyond being the man behind "Guitar Boogie" and "Dueling Banjos", Arthur was a successful pitchman, TV and film producer, record producer, and point man for numerous projects. For years, Arthur also voiced the popular "Horace & Doris" puppets for a local car dealership. For nearly all of his life, Arthur's work was nearly everywhere you turned.
I first photographed Arthur in 2001. I was sent out by the Charlotte Observer to get photos of him on the set of his long-running Carolina Calling TV show. The problem was that no one from the show ever said we could take photos. I found out what studio they were in, and walked in during takes of the show. As I walked in, Arthur was sitting at the host desk with another local legend, Maurice Williams (of "Stay" and Little Darlin'" fame). I quietly took photos of them chatting. A few minutes into the conversation, somebody said something, and the two burst into laughter. I got photos of the their beaming faces, and I was off before anyone else noticed that I was there. Years later, I was in Maurice's office, and I saw my photo from the Observer article taped to his wall. "Oh you took that!" Maurice exclaimed. "That was a good one!"
Over the next few years, I began to run into Arthur on more occasions. Award shows, music events. I got to know Arthur's family, who were always very nice to me. I always made sure that I took photos of Arthur and his family together. They meant a lot to him, as he did to them. In 2004, WTVI studios in Charlotte hosted what proved to be the final tapings of Carolina Calling. The station brought in others to crew the show, but I didn't let that stop me. I showed up on the last two days of the taping, under the vague title of "contributing photographer to the station", I photographed the shows. I'm really glad I did. As the last day drew to a close, I had a feeling that Arthur's time in front of the camera was winding down. The show aired on WTVI for several more years, but Arthur never taped another episode.
A reminder for me of Arthur's influence was working on the There Was A Time book. In the 1960s, Arthur Smith Studios was the go-to place for musicians from across the country. While James Brown recorded "Papa's Got A Brand New Bag" there in 1965, numerous garage rock and psychedelic rock bands recorded there. Along with recording these bands, Arthur also quietly oversaw Pyramid Records, which gave many of these bands to have their work captured on record. Without that studio, and Arthur, a whole legion of records that my book profiled might never have been recorded, or released. Even where you didn't expect him, Arthur Smith and his work was there. And will always be.
April 5, 2014