Cal Smith, who lit up the charts with such early 1970s hits as “The Lord Knows I’m Drinking,” “Country Bumpkin” and “It’s Time to Pay the Fiddler,” died Thursday (Oct. 10) in Branson, Mo., at the age of 81.
Born Calvin Grant Shofner on April 7, 1932, in Gans, Okla., Smith grew up in Oakland, Calif. He learned to play guitar before he reached his teens and at 15 was playing professionally in local nightclubs. By 1954, he was appearing on the California Hayride TV show in Stockton.
After a two-year stint in military service, Smith returned to California, where he continued to work as a singer and as a disc jockey at radio station KEEN in San Jose.
In late 1962, Smith left the West Coast to become a member of Grand Ole Opry star Ernest Tubb’s band, the Texas Troubadours. He remained with Tubb, working as a rhythm guitarist, vocalist and master of ceremonies until mid-1968.
Smith’s warm, confiding baritone was reminiscent of Hank Thompson’s vocal stylings.
Smith charted his first single, “The Only Thing I Want,” in 1967 on Kapp Records. Over the next three years, he scored eight more singles, none of them charting higher than the mid-30s. He moved to Decca Records in 1970 and had his first Top 5 hit on that label — “I’ve Found Someone of My Own”– two years later.
Just before Christmas in 1972, Decca released Smith’s recording of the Bill Anderson lament, “The Lord Knows I’m Drinking.” It swept to No. 1 early the following year and even made it to No. 64 on the pop chart.
After two disappointing followup singles, lightning struck again in 1974 when Smith’s “Country Bumpkin,” written by Don Wayne, topped the charts. It was also voted the Country Music Association’s single of the year.
Smith’s final No. 1 arrived in 1975 via Walter Haynes and Wayne’s “It’s Time to Pay the Fiddler.” (Smith’s last two No. 1’s were on MCA Records, as Decca had by then renamed itself.)
For the next four years, Smith continued to chart singles for MCA, making the Top 15 with “She Talked a Lot About Texas,” “Jason’s Farm” and “I Just Came Home to Count the Memories.”
His last chart record, “King Lear,” came in 1986 on the Step One label. It peaked at No. 75.
Funeral arrangements have not yet been announced.