Cal Smith, the country singer who played some of the genre’s biggest hits in the 1960s and 1970s, died yesterday at his home near Branson, Missouri, according to reports in Billboard. Smith was 81 years old.
Smith was born in Gans, Oklahoma, but he grew up on the West Coast in Oakland. He began singing in cafes in 1947, but he turned to truck driving and bronco busting as career options when he felt he wouldn’t be able to make a decent living playing music. After serving in the military for two years, though, Smith found himself back playing music, getting his first big break in 1961 when Ernest Tubb invited him to play guitar for the Texas Troubadours.
While playing with the Troubadours, Smith was laying the groundwork for a solo career, releasing the occasional single on local record labels. He first broke on to Billboard’s album charts in 1967 with “The Only Thing I Want.” Smith’s solo career began in earnest when he left the Troubadours in 1969 and released his first solo album, Drinking Champagne. The title track was a top 40 hit and would later be covered by George Strait.
In the 1970s, Smith transitioned from being a fairly popular country singer into a star. In 1972, Smith hit the Top 10 for the first time with his rendition of “I’ve Found Someone Of My Own,” and he got his first number one with “The Lord Knows I’m Drinking” a year later. In 1974, he released the song that would solidify his place in music history with “Country Bumpkin,” which won several awards and has been cited as a favorite by Garth Brooks and Loretta Lynn.
Smith’s last album was released in 1986. He is survived by his wife Darlene, five children, and fifteen grandchildren.