Former Blue Grass Boy, Roger Smith of Milton, Indiana passed away Wednesday, May 22 at Reid Hospital in Richmond, Indiana. He was 86 years old.
Born in Amelia, VA July 11, 1926, Roger grew up in North Carolina and started learning guitar, and later fiddle and banjo, as a boy. As a young man, he worked at his family’s saw mill and in farming, but contracted tuberculosis in the late 1940s, making work in the mill an ongoing health risk.
He then found a job in ’51 on fiddle with Larry Richardson and Happy Smith at WPAQ in Mt. Airy, playing music based on the early records from Bill Monroe. After a few years, Roger moved up to Martinsville, VA to work with Jim Eanes. In 1954, he took a job on guitar in the staff band at Monroe’s Bean Blossom music park in Indiana.
Smith worked with Bill in the Blue Grass Boys during 1956 and ’57, switching between banjo and fiddle as needed during his two years with the band. After leaving Monroe, he never returned to performing full time, though he did fill-in with the Blue Grass Boys many times during the ’60s.
He wasn’t involved in any of Monroe’s recording sessions.
Roger didn’t pursue music as a career, but he remained active in bluegrass both as a teacher and as a performer, playing with the Stoney Lonesome Boys and other Brown County Jamboree house bands. He worked as a truck driver for Liquid Transport in Indianapolis for 25 years.
During the late 1990s he played with Talmadge Law, the Bluegrass Sounds and more recently as a regular member of Mike Butler’s Bill Monroe Tribute Band.
Smith can be heard on recordings by George Brock and the Traveling Crusaders; the Kentucky Gentlemen; and Ed Hamilton and Bluegrass.
For over 30 years he gave private music lessons for the guitar and mandolin.
Visitation will be from 2:00-6:00 p.m. on Monday, May 27, and prior to the services on Tuesday at the funeral home.
Funeral services will be at 3:00 p.m. on Tuesday, May 28, at the Marshall & Erlewein Funeral Home, Dublin. Pastor Tim Billups will officiate. Burial will follow at the Westside Cemetery in Milton.
David Hedrick, who studied banjo with Roger for many years, shared these remembrances, and the nearly 3 hours of video interviews he conducted with Smith in November, 2012.
“Roger started my brother and me on mandolin and banjo in 1962. I was only 11 years old and Roger had never tried to teach someone that young how to play bluegrass banjo. 6 months later, he said, ‘Now Dave, you almost got Foggy Mountain Breakdown done right, but its not there yet.’ And so started a 50 year relationship of working on ‘the music’ but always not quite having it right in ‘The Chief’s’ eyes.
He was a true bluegrass pioneer in every sense of the word. Played with Bill Monroe, drove the bus for Bill, worked the house band at Bean Blossom with Osby Smith, Vernon Mc Queen, Neil Rosenberg and others. Played with the Kentucky Gentlemen and always was actively involved in teaching manolin, guitar, banjo and fiddle to those that could and would accept the challenge.
If you knew Roger, it was a challenge……“
Do yourself a favor, and set aside the time to find out more about this unique man, and his long life in bluegrass music. Roger’s remembrances of the earliest days of bluegrass are priceless.
R.I.P., Roger Smith
Richard Thompson contributed heavily to the content of this piece.