[Dixielandjazz] Al Smith - Banjo/Guitar Virtuoso - Humorist

Bigbuttbnd at aol.com Bigbuttbnd at aol.com
Mon Mar 1 11:21:26 PST 2004

Steve, et al...

I had the pleasure of becoming friends with Al Smith probably in the early 
80's as he would travel to Atlanta each spring to attend Horis Ward's Banjorama 
where he was often featured as a player and even more often an MC. Those who 
knew him already know that on a stage Al was absolutely hilarious and had a 
special knack for collecting jokes that suited his demeanor. He was a great 
wit... very fast on the uptake... and he could clean up a dirty joke and make it 
palatable (yet still funny) to even the most conservative crowd!

In addition to a perfect and comfortable stage presence Al was a monster 
player. He played both tenor and plectrum and was one of the few guys that could 
make a 4-string plectrum sound EXACTLY like a 5-string banjo. He played things 
like Foggy Mountain Breakdown and Old Joe Clark and such and you'd swear he 
was playing 5-string. At one gathering he played with an excellent 5-string 
player from Nashville and they swapped licks back and fourth and Al was every bit 
his equal! Al also played very smooth jazz guitar. Al had a very polished 
stage 'routine' that never failed to bring down the house. He had some great 
tricks where he would play 2 banjos at once or play 3 songs simultaneously on 1 
banjo. All of these exhibitions were surrounded by funny patter, great jokes and 
then some real amazing straight ahead banjo playing.

Al once told me that he retired from the chemical plant because he felt an 
overwhelming compulsion to do so. I think he said the first day the plant was 
open after he retired there was a massive explosion in the area that he had 
previously worked. His life had been saved by retiring on the day before! He spoke 
of that in a very reverant way.

I learned an awful lot about playing the banjo from sitting next to Al in 
banjo conventions and get togethers around the country where we would often 
gather a few kindred souls, circle the chairs and jam until early in the morning. 
He was a consumate musician... always generous in sharing his knowledge with 
anyone who asked... a true gentleman and one who will be sorely missed.

Steve, If you know any of the funeral details please let us know.

Rocky Ball, banjo
Atlanta, Georgia

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