Cal Smith — who enjoyed a rich country career with some of the biggest hits of the 1960s and 1970s, passed away yesterday at his home near Branson, Missouri. He was 81.
Smith was born Calvin Grant Shofner on April 7, 1932 in Gans, Oklahoma. However, as many did in the Great Depression, Smith’s family headed west – settling in Oakland, California. He began his music career by performing at San Francisco’s Remember Me Cafe in 1947. Unable to make a steady income as a musician, he also turned to other jobs, such as truck driving and the rodeo.
Smith enlisted in the military in the mid 1950s. Upon his discharge, he returned to the Bay area where he began playing in a local band. Country superstar Ernest Tubb heard the band play one night, and offered Smith a job playing guitar for his Texas Troubadours band. Not only a road band for Tubb, the group also backed him on his Decca recordings, so Smith was working plenty of Tubb’s sessions as well.
Smith’s vocals were brought to the attention of Kapp Records, who signed him in 1966. His debut single for the label, “I’ll Just Go Home,” failed to chart, but his second release, “The Only Thing I Want,” hit the Billboard Country Singles chart in January 1967 – peaking at No. 58.
Subsequent releases would fare better for Smith, who left the Tubb show in 1969 – the same year he hit the top-40 for the first time with “Drinking Champagne” (later covered by George Strait). He moved to Decca in 1971, and hit the top ten for the first time with a cover of the Free Movement’s “I’ve Found Someone Of My Own,” a No. 4 release from the spring of 1972. By years’ end, he would release “The Lord Knows I’m Drinking,” a song written by Bill Anderson. It would become his first number one record in March 1973.
As big as that record was, it was nothing compared to his next major hit. “Country Bumpkin,” a story song in the classic country tradition, was released in early 1974 – hitting the top in May. It netted him a CMA Award for Single Record of the Year, and also won the Song of the Year trophy for writer Don Wayne, as well.
The song was a favorite of many — including a young Garth Brooks. During a mid 1990s appearance on TNN’s “Music City Tonight,” the singer said that “Country Bumpkin” was his favorite country song – prompting Smith to give Brooks the CMA trophy he won for the song.
Another fan of Smith’s was Loretta Lynn. In her 2002 autobiography “Still Woman Enough,” the singer admitted to having a crush on Smith during her stint as duet partner with Ernest Tubb – claiming that husband Mooney would sometimes get jealous of the singer.
Cal Smith topped the charts for a third and final time with 1975’s “It’s Time To Pay The Fiddler,” yet remained on the charts throughout the 1970s. One of his last major hits was his original version of “I Just Came Home To Count The Memories,” a No. 15 hit from 1977 that helped put John Anderson on the map five years later. His last appearance on the charts was 1986’s “King Lear,” which peaked at No. 75 on the Step One label.
Smith is survived by wife Darlene, five children, and fifteen grandchildren.