Johnny Smith

Guitarist Johnny Smith‘s career spans the decades of the 1940’s through the 1990’s. From the very beginning of his musical career he influenced the playing of other guitarists. In fact, many mention Smith as a major influence on their playing. The major guitar builders as Guild, Gibson, Benedetto, and the Heritage all have their signature Johnny Smith high end models as a tribute to this master.

John Henry Smith, Jr. was born in Birmingham, Alabama in 1922 and was only five years old when he became fascinated with the guitar. His father played five-string banjo but guitar was John’s first and lasting love. Initially he was frustrated by the lack of a guitar teacher or instruction manuals: determined to master the instrument, he taught himself to play. Many outstanding and individual jazz soloists have fallen back on the empirical method for the same reason as Smith and emerged with wholly distinctive sounds. In 1935 the Smith family moved to Portland, Maine: Johnny was 13 and good enough to play in local bands.

In 1942 he joined the USAAF (he was already a student pilot) and ended up in a band which needed a cornet player rather than a guitarist. In six months he had learned the cornet well enough to be given the position of first cornetist. After his discharge from the Air Force in 1946 he went back to Portland to play both guitar and trumpet on local radio as well as playing in clubs at night, but the pay was never very good. He went to New York to work as an arranger at NBC and in 1947 he became a member of the NBC orchestra. For eight years he worked with the orchestra as guitarist, trumpeter, arranger and composer.

Although he had been greatly influenced by Django Reinhardt and Charlie Christian at the outset (he learned Django’s solos from record and actually met the Gypsy guitarist when he came to the United States in 1946) Johnny did not consider himself to be a jazz musician. Nevertheless, he made his first record as leader in March 1952, in the company of Stan Getz, Eddie Safranski, Sanford Gold and Don Lamond. One title from that date, “Moonlight in Vermont,” was a turning point in Smith’s career despite its short duration. “Vermont” was made for the Royal Roost label (frequently abbreviated to Roost Records) and the company signed Smith to a long-term contract during which time he produced around 20 albums. Roost was later absorbed by Roulette which reissued several of Johnny’s LPs. Most of the albums featured solo guitar or a trio; two backed Smith with strings playing arrangements the guitarist wrote himself. There was a great appeal to Smith’s graceful, melodic treatment of superior tunes. Not only the record-buying public but hundreds of guitarists found the music entrancing. The dexterous fingering, the perfection of manner in which he ran chords and arpeggios, all contributed to the acclaim for Johnny’s work.

During his tenure at Roost Records, he produced a long list of significant recordings that include the great quartet recordings: “The Johnny Smith Quartet,” and “The Sound of The Johnny Smith Guitar” among others. Also, during this period he made the “Man With The Blue Guitar.” This album, unusual for its time, has probably been transcribed more than any other Johnny Smith recording. Then there was the production “Annotations of The Muses,” on which Johnny Smith displays everything that made him a great musician and an extraordinary guitar player.

Johnny Smith retired from the jazz scene in the 1960’s to Colorado where he opened a music store. He continued to play in local nightclubs and made a recording with some local musicians “Reminiscing,” that showed he had lost none of the signature Johnny Smith style or technique. His last recorded work was the Concord Records CD “Legends,” in 1994.

The Johnny Smith Guitars:

In 1955, after discussions with the Guild Guitar Company, Smith designed a guitar and sent the drawings and specifications to the company. The Guild designers modified it (to Smith’s dissatisfaction), and manufactured the resulting guitar as the Guild Johnny Smith Award.

In 1961, Gibson, went to meet the retired Smith at his home in Colorado Springs. Smith designed the guitar he wanted built. The design was accepted by Gibson with a few minor cosmetic changes which were acceptable to Smith. Gibson began production of the resulting Gibson Johnny Smith model that year. Guild continued to produce their Johnny Smith guitar under the model name Guild Artist Award.

When Gibson moved its manufacturing facilities from Kalamazoo, Michigan to Nashville, Tennessee, several of their managers and artisans chose to stay behind. Many of these ex-employees formed Heritage Guitars and bought the old Kalamazoo factory from Gibson. Given a choice between Gibson and Heritage building the guitar that bore his name, Smith chose to stay with the old artisans at the old location under new ownership. The Heritage Johnny Smith model was introduced in 1989. Like Guild before them, Gibson continued to manufacture their version of the Johnny Smith design with a new name: the Gibson LeGrand.

Fender Musical Instruments Corporation, of which Guild Guitars was a subsidiary, asked Smith if he would be willing to return his endorsement to the Guild Artist Award. Familiar with Schultz’s management, and knowing that the construction would be supervised by master luthier Bob Benedetto, Smith agreed. The Guild Johnny Smith Award by Benedetto was available through Guild dealers until early 2006 when Benedetto left Fender.

Johnny Smith discographie

Johnny Smith’s Kaleidoscope (12″, Album) Verve Records 1968
The Sound Of The Johnny Smith Guitar (CD, RE) Roulette Jazz 2001
Walk, Don’t Run! (CD, RE, RM) Roulette Jazz 2005
The Sound Of The Johnny Smith Guitar (Vinyl) Roost Records
Appears On:
Walk Don’t Run (LP, Album) Walk, Don’t Run Dolton Records 1960
Walk Don’t Run / Home (Single)                   ◄ (2 versions) Walk Don’t Run Dolton Records … 1960
Walk.. Don’t Run ’64 / The Cruel Sea (7″, Single) Walk.. Don’t Run ’64 Dolton Records 1964
!!Going Places!! (Album) ◄ (4 versions) Walk, Don’t Run A&M Records … 1965
Golden Greats By The Ventures (Comp)     ◄ (2 versions) Walk, Don’t Run Liberty 1967
Alexis Korner’s All Stars Blues Incorporated (LP) Chicken Shack Transatlantic Records 1969
Flamenco Funk (LP) Walk Don’t Run (Flamenco) UNI Records 1969
What A Bunch Of Sweeties (Album) ◄ (2 versions) Walk Don’t Run Polydor 1972
Blues And Blue Grass (Album) ◄ (2 versions) Walk Don’t Run Sonet … 1974
Higher Ground (Album) ◄ (3 versions) Big Sur Suite Kudu … 1974
Legendary Masters Series (2xLP, Comp, Gat) Walk – Don’t Run, Walk… United Artists Records 1974
Wheels / Walk Don’t Run (7″, Single) Walk Don’t Run Surprise (3) 1977
The Ventures Greatest Hits Volume 1 (LP, Comp) Walk Don’t Run A&M Records, A&M Records Of Canada Limited 1980
Harry James Live (LP, Album) Sounds Good Music 1981
Penguin Cafe Orchestra (Album)                 ◄ (6 versions) Walk Don’t Run Editions EG … 1981
Radio 2000 (Medley)    ◄ (2 versions) Walk Don’t Run Strand … 1981
First Edition (10″) Walk Don’t Run Editions EG 1982
Splashback (12″, EP) Walk Don’t Run Line Records 1982
The Jazz Guitar (6xLP, Comp + Box) Moonlight In Vermont Joker (2) 1983
Mobo I (LP) Walk, Don’t Run Gramavision 1984
Rock ‘n’ Roll Greats Volume 1 (LP, Mono, Comp) Walk Don’t Run Music For Pleasure 1986
Benny Goodman Sextet (CD) CBS 1987
The Rock ‘N’ Roll Era – 1960 (2xLP, Comp, RM) Walk – Don’t Run Time Life Music, Warner Special Products 1987
Water II: At Safe Distance (LP, Album) Walk, Don’t Run SST Records 1987
Rock N’ Roll Guitar Classics (Cass, Comp) Walk-Don’t Run ERA Records 1990
The Complete Roost Recordings (3xCD) Roost, Blue Note, EMI 1991
Le Paris Bleu (CD, Comp, Mono) This Little Town Is Paris Blue Note 1992
Rock Legends (4xCD, Comp + Box) Walk Don’t Run Castle Communications 1992
Blue Moon (CD, Comp) Moonlight In Vermont Blue Note 1993
Gremmie’s Trial (10″, Album) Walk Don’t Run Blue Enterprise Record Division 1996
Everything To Everyone (CD, Maxi, Sli) Walk Don’t Run EMI Music (Australia) 1997
The Best Of John Barry – Themeology (2xLP, Comp) Walk Don’t Run Simply Vinyl (S12), Simply Vinyl (S12) 1997
MOM 3: Music For Our Mother Ocean (Comp) ◄ (2 versions) Walk Don’t Run Hollywood Records … 1999
Surfin’ Bird (LP, Album, RE, Mono) Walk Don’t Run BeatRocket 1999
A History (4xCD, Comp, RM) Virgin, Virgin 2001
The Definitive Stan Getz (CD) Moonlight In Vermont Verve Records 2002
Moonlight In Vermont ◄ (2 versions) Jaguar, Cavu, Jaguar [… Roulette Jazz 2004
Quadromania – The Song Is You (4xCD, Comp + Box) Membran Music Ltd. 2005
Gitara – Wszystko Gra! (CD) Walk – Don’t Run Universal Music Polska 2006
Live At Queen’s Hall (CD, Album, Dig) Walk Don’t Run Music Net, Menart 2006
The Greatest Jazz Hits (CD, Comp, RM) Walk, Don’t Run Verve Records, Universal Music Classics & Jazz 2006
Yes & Friends (2xCD, Album) Walk Don’t Run Black Box (3) 2007
Lipstick On Your Collar (2xCD, Comp, Jew) Walk, Don’t Run EMI Gold 2008
Early Rock & Roll From New Zealand – Vol. 5 & 6 (2xCD, Mono, Comp) Walk Don’t Run Collector Records (2)
Lullabies Of Birdland (LP, Comp, Mono) My Dear Little Sweetheart Mode Disques
Ricky King (CD, Album) Walk, Don’t Run Europa
Ricky King (LP) Walk, Don’t Run Europa, Miller International Schallplatten GmbH
Rock And Roll All Night Long (LP, Album, RP) Walk Don’t Run Love Records (4)
Yes & Friends (2xCD, Album) Royal Roost
Tracks Appear On:
Lullabies Of Birdland – Command Performance (LP, Comp) My Dear Little Sweetheart Forum Circle 1964
The Jazz Guitar (6xLP, Comp + Box) Moonlight In Vermont Joker (2) 1983
Blue Moon (CD, Comp) Moonlight In Vermont Blue Note 1993
The Very Best Of Blue Note Jazz (3xCD) (I Don’t Stand A) Ghos… CEMA Special Markets 1994
Mysterious Vibes (A Collection Of Boogie & Mellow Fusion From Fantasy Group) (CD, Comp) Can’t We Smile Victor Entertainment Japan 2005
The Greatest Jazz Hits (CD, Comp, RM) Walk, Don’t Run Verve Records, Universal Music Classics & Jazz 2006
Latin Delights (LP, Comp) Wave Verve Records
Lullabies Of Birdland (LP, Comp, Mono) My Dear Little Sweetheart Mode Disques

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