Dedicated to the Perpetuation of an American Art Form

 

 

Founded in December 1999

"Peter Smith"

Our co-founder

An orchard, a garden; an apple, tomato…………….

Each tree or cultivated row offers its special flavor to delight a palette. People are like that. Take Peter Smith, the opposite of his co-founder's outgoing, wisecracking, ebullient personality. Yet, in his quietude, his sometimes-stern appearance, his holding of thoughts in deep harbor, Pete is as remarkable.

"At the onset," he remembered, "I told Gary,  'You're the salesman; YOU be the frontman; I'll back you up'." And, so it would go. If Gary Williams and others often had the throttle all the way out, Pete was in the back with a governor to monitor the progress before the whole thing went off the road. "I don't want to spoil y'all's fun," he'd say, "but have you thought of this?" Wasn't long before those who met to discuss the association's future laughed because of Pete's predilection to cast what were thought to be dire predictions.  But, some times he was so right, and, if he wasn't, he'd jump right on board to complete the project.

They were a team, the two of them, guys who met in the bluegrass middle and worked to bring together all who loved it.  Gary would never limit the songs to the sacred canon produced by wet-blanket traditionalists, while Peter was reluctant to jump on a bandwagon that didn't have some straw of the music's founders caught in the corners.  Pete (in his own wiseguy way) nicknamed Gary's Gone South, alive with folk tunes and beaming faces, the hootenanny band, and Goin' Home, with its laid-back style, former rock musicians, and use of the cool-music word "man", the hippy band. Both bands seem proud of the nom de tunes.

To many, his attitude about bluegrass traditions would seem somewhat out of focus, considering that in his youth, he was awash in the wilds of rock, one of those who knew no other music. "The Beatles, Rolling Stones, psychedelic music, not country--I was about twenty-five before I got interested in bluegrass," Pete has told Newsgrass.

Peter was born in 1947 in the palmed-environs of Tampa to a father who, as an Army major in World War II, escaped from a Nazi prison camp in Poland. When he came home to heal at Walter Reed Army Hospital in the nation's capital, he met a young nurse whom he would marry.

"After the war," Pete said, "Dad went into advertising; he worked for a sandpaper firm.  We lived in Massachusetts for three or four years; then they built a factory in Holly Springs, Mississippi. He was the general manager.  He mentioned to me later on that he had always wanted to play the banjo."  Peter came to Memphis and attended the then-Christian Brothers College for a year and a half, but dropped out at that point to join the Army. He would serve from 1968-71 as a radioman in Vietnam, time that has left a strong conscience about service. 

About this time, bluegrass beckoned.  "When I came back, there were people I knew in this area, and a friend was interested in bluegrass.  He had a banjo, so I bought one. I had a Sears, a Fender, and than a Gibson RB-250. I went and played with some people at a bar up at Tiptonville.  A friend of mine owned the bar, and he introduced me as 'the finest banjo player in West Tennessee'."  I was probably the best within ten feet of me. If anybody there had played the banjo, he would have been better than I was." Catching the Lewis Family on television steered him to the instrument he plays today.  "I saw Little Roy's brother, Wallace, play the guitar. I kept hearing all these runs in my head. I'd had acoustic guitars, and then I started hearing about Lucy Opry." He finally connected with those people in the days of "Dueling Banjos" and "Will the Circle Be Unbroken". Pete was on the true path to bluegrass.

He had a choice whether to go white collar for a paper company or blue collar for a print shop. He chose the latter, and, while music would be his art, printing would be his craft until his recent retirement. Pete was for a number of years the talented printer of Newsgrass. During a previous marriage, he had become the father of twin sons born in 1978: Austin, whom many long-time MABA members know because he is a musician, lives in Dyersburg where he works for Sherwin Williams and is about to marry; and Preston, who will soon make Peter a grandfather and begin a new job doing apartment maintenance in the Hernando area.

Today Pete plays the 1967 Martin D-28 that he's had since the early days and a couple of other guitars that seemed to have slipped into his possession.  Fortunately, his sweet wife is as hooked on bluegrass as he.  Five years ago, Peter noticed a petite woman cleaning up after a Lucy evening.  If you think he's not of a poetic bent, consider what he said about that first sight: "When I saw her, it was one of those looks where you just go over the waterfall".  Loyce was a widow after having been married for almost forty years. She is his best friend and alter ego, doing the talking while Pete either picks or sits nearby.

A thoughtful, intelligent man who considers matters in a philosophical manner, Peter Smith lurks. He is wily as a frog sitting quietly on his pad until something of interest passes; then he becomes fully involved. Don't always be taken in by that somewhat serious exterior; wait, and you'll see a glimmer of grin, a warning that a wickedly funny thought is about to emerge. He can go from shy to sly in the flick of a lash, and his friends enjoy being taken for the ride.

--Tom Stone