Russell Smith, Songwriter and Roots-Rock Artist, Dead at 70
Amazing Rhythm Aces singer and guitarist-turned-Nashville songwriter Russell Smith died on Friday (July 12), following a battle with cancer. He was 70 years old.
Smith's bandmates announced his passing on Facebook on Sunday (July 14), celebrating a creative mind that was “a little Southern, a little rock 'n' roll, a pinch of bluegrass gospel, and an endless supply of soul.” The band adds, "Russell lived to entertain, to help folks feel a connection with one another, and hoped to leave the world better off for having had him in it."
Smith was born in Nashville, but he first found notoriety for his talents in Memphis. There, he co-founded the Amazing Rhythm Aces, a classic rock outfit with a roots music affinity similar to that of the Eagles. The band gained fame with their 1975 hit “Third Rate Romance,” though country music fans might also be impressed by their studio interpretations of “Life’s Railway to Heaven,” “Give Me Flowers While I’m Living” and other country and bluegrass standards.
After the Amazing Rhythm Aces went on hiatus in 1981, several members gravitated to country music. Keyboardist Billy Earheart III joined Hank Williams Jr.'s Bama Band; lead guitarist Duncan Cameron joined Sawyer Brown; and pianist James Hooker became the bandleader for Nanci Griffith's Blue Moon Orchestra. None found the wide-reaching success of Smith, however, whose return to Music City resulted in a solo career (“I Wonder What She’s Doing Tonight”) and a trio of chart-topping co-writes: Randy Travis' “Look Heart, No Hands,” T. Graham Brown's “Don’t Go to Strangers” and Ricky Van Shelton's “Keep It Between the Lines.”
In 1993, Smith co-founded the novelty bluegrass band Run C&W with former Nitty Gritty Dirt Band and Eagles member Bernie Leadon and fellow Nashville songwriters Jim Photoglo and Vince Melamed.
Smith’s funeral will be held on Wednesday (July 17) in Lafayette, Tenn. In lieu of flowers, his son, Matthew Smith, requests donations to the Macon County Marching Tigers Band. “He spent his life working to fill the world with music and love,” writes Matthew in a Facebook post. “He was especially fond of the song “Give Me Flowers While I’m Living,” which seems oddly appropriate for this.”
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