Ray Smith and the Rockin Little Angels
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Ray Smith, born October 30, 1934, died November 29, 1979 (suicide) birthplace Melber, Kentucky. Raised in Paducah, Kentucky, Ray Smith was taught piano at an early age and performed cowboy songs in school. As a teen he was a moonshine bootlegger with his brother-in-law and also worked for Coca-Cola. After a stint in the Air Force, Ray decided to jump on the burgeoning new rock and roll bandwagon, even though he admitted later that at first he hated rock and roll and his main influence was not Elvis, but Faron Young. Ray Smith & His Rock & Roll Boys formed and began playing gigs in Kentucky and Illinois. He immediately landed his own Television program on Paducah’s WPSD-TV, which ran from 1956 to 1959. Charlie Terrell, who managed Onie Wheeler, saw Ray’s TV show and was impressed enough to urge Sun Records’ Sam Phillips to give Ray a shot. Sam was also impressed by the tape Terrell had given him, and it’s said that Ray Smith is the only artist Phillips ever signed without hearing them in person first.
Ray recorded some memorable material on Sun, including Charlie Rich’s “Break-Up”, later recorded by Jerry Lee Lewis and then by Rich himself. But when Jud Phillips split off from Sun to start his own Judd label, Ray went with him, and it was there that he had his breakthrough hit - “Rockin’ Little Angel” / “That’s All Right”, which featured an all-star backing band and production team including Chet Atkins, Floyd Cramer, Grady Martin, and Bill Justis. The record sold well over 3,000,000 copies, and Ray Smith was suddenly a star, appearing on American Bandstand and touring in a snazzy bus with his band, now called the Rockin’ Little Angels. But there were to be no more hits, and Ray Smith was quickly forgotten. He still kept his datebook full of gigs, though, and got many good spots in Las Vegas and Canada. This work was steady enough to keep him afloat for the remainder of his life, but he brought that to a premature end in 1979 when he took his own life by putting a gun to his head. Seventeen years later , his hero Faron Young did the same.