NC banjoist Randy Smith recovering from heart surgery

Randy Smith, beloved banjo picker from Monroe, North Carolina, is a grateful man. The picker of the five-string who has played with Pinecastle recording artists, Gentlemen of Bluegrass, plus numerous regional bands, is recovering from triple bypass surgery last week.

Smith participated in late night jams, some with the Malpass Brothers, at Denton FarmPark throughout Mother’s Day weekend. Afterward, the 66-year-old musician realized that something just wasn’t quite right. Returning home on May 8 from several days of camping and picking, he picked up debris in his yard leftover from storms, cared for his animals, ate supper, and then his health condition began to slowly deteriorate. 

His girlfriend, Candace Greene, stated, “He turned around and said, ‘Check my blood pressure.’ For a man who doesn’t complain, I knew it was something.”

Greene checked it three times and his blood pressure was running high. 

“Subtle things reared their head,” she shared.

With an elevated heart rate, clammy skin, cold hands, and his left shoulder blade hurting, they called for medical assistance. EMS evaluated him and suggested that he go to the hospital. The couple headed to a hospital in Matthews, NC. Following a heart catheterization, Smith was diagnosed with several arterial blockages and transferred midweek to Charlotte.

“After the test results, the surgeon determined that the success rate was better for (bypass) surgery than stents,” Greene explained. “His overall health is good. He’s not a smoker, and hadn’t had a heart attack, but our body is designed to tell you if something is not right. He did not ignore it. It was a heart attack waiting to happen.”

Smith is recovering well and hopes to be released from the hospital later this week. However, he won’t resume picking for a while. 

“For six weeks he can’t drive or can’t pick a banjo. He can’t do anything that causes his arms to lift,” Green elaborated. “After that, he has to have rehab three times a week for a month. It will be August before he’s back to normal.”

Smith, who is a first cousin to Gena Britt, has not only picked banjo with the Gentlemen of Bluegrass, but also with the Red White family, and New Highway to name a few others.

Greg Penny, bassist with the Gentlemen of Bluegrass, who currently also plays with Caroline & Company, shared, “I met Randy in a band, and we quickly became good friends. He is a great musician and even better friend. If you can’t get along with Randy, then you probably couldn’t get along with anyone. We’ve had some good years playing music together, and look forward to many more.”

“I have a jam at the beach every year, and once Randy started coming, all my other picking buddies would always ask if Randy was coming because he was so well-liked for his picking and easy-going personality. Randy is really one of my favorite friends and picking buddies of all time.”

Tom Langdon added, “I was privileged to play with Randy Smith in a band called The Gentlemen of Bluegrass for a few years. I found him to be one of the most tasteful banjo players in bluegrass. He knows when to play, and what to play to back up vocals. Randy is well liked by fans and a pleasure to travel with.”

Banjoist, Ben Greene, Smith’s longtime friend from the same town, stated. “I’ve known Randy for probably 50 years. He’s like a brother. We keep in touch and enjoy picking together. He is a humble, fine person, and a great friend.”

One of Smith’s first musical gigs was as sound man for Boone Creek. He was witness to Ricky Skaggs and Wes Golding composing their classic tune, One Way Track, while traveling with them on the road. Performing throughout his lifetime, the soft-spoken musician is thankful to have caught his heart complication in time.

“I feel pretty good, but sore,” Smith shared in a phone interview on Sunday afternoon, just two days following surgery. 

“I walked the first time this afternoon. They said I was a star student. At the festival, I had no idea (there was a problem). I felt good at Denton.”

Due to germ exposure, no visitors are allowed at this time. Prayers are greatly appreciated.

“God is good,” Smith concluded.

We wish Randy Smith a speedy recovery!

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About the Author

Sandy Hatley

Sandy Chrisco Hatley is a free lance writer for several NC newspapers and Bluegrass Unlimited magazine. As a teenager, she picked banjo with an all girl band called the Happy Hollow String Band. Today, she plays dobro with her husband's band, the Hatley Family.