SUN Records: Warren Smith

Warren Smith:

Warren Smith

SUN Singles:

239 Warren Smith Rock ‘N’ Roll Ruby
I’d Rather Be Safe Than Sorry

250 Warren Smith Black Jack David
Ubangi Stomp
268 Warren Smith So Long, I’m Gone
Miss Froggie
286 Warren Smith I’ve Got Love If You Want It
I Fell In Love
314 Warren Smith Sweet, Sweet Girl
Goodbye Mr. Love

Red Cadillac & Who Took My Baby (2 album  cuts):


Warren Smith (February 7, 1932, Humphreys County, Mississippi – January 30, 1980) was a pioneer rockabilly singer and guitar player.

Smith’s parents, Ioda and Willie Warren Smith, divorced when he was young. He was raised by his maternal grandparents in Louise, Mississippi where they had a small farm and dry goods store.

Smith took up the guitar to spend time in his evenings while in the United States Air Force, stationed in San Antonio, TX. By the time of his discharge from the service, he had decided to make a career of music.

He moved to West Memphis, Arkansas and auditioned, successfully, to play the Cotton Club, a local hot spot. Steel guitarist Stan Kessler, who was playing at that nightclub with the Snearly Ranch Boys, immediately spotted Smith’s potential and took him to Memphis’ famed Sun Records, to audition for Sam Phillips with the Snearly Ranch Boys providing backup.

Phillips liked what he heard, and decided that “Rock & Roll Ruby“, a song credited to Johnny Cash, would be Smith’s first record. (Smith later claimed that “Rock & Roll Ruby” was actually written by George Jones and sold to Cash for $40.) Smith recorded that Rock & Roll classic on February 5, 1956.

Phillips, the prudent business man who was hedging his bets over whether Rock & Roll would maintain its popularity, released that record with a Country crooner, aptly named “I’d Rather Be Safe Than Sorry“, on the flip side.

By May 26, 1956, “Rock & Roll Ruby” had hit # 1 on the local pop charts. Smith’s first record for Sun went on to outsell the first Sun releases by Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash and Carl Perkins.

In August 1956, Smith went back to the Sun Records studio to record his second release “Ubangi Stomp“. This infectious rocker had an incorrect lyric including an African chief with the syntax of a movie Indian.

For the B side, Smith recorded the classic ballad “Black Jack David“. This song, which originated in early eighteenth century Britain and survived in various forms, in the mountains of the American south, may be the oldest song ever recorded by a Rock & Roll performer. Although a resounding artistic success, this record did not sell as well as Smith’s debut.

In 1957, Smith recorded “So Long, I’m Gone“, a song written by Roy Orbison, and it became Smith’s biggest hit at SUN, peaking at No.74 nationally (Billboard). But SUN had no cash to put behind it to make it a bigger hit at the same time because Sam Phillips put every dollar SUN had behind Jerry Lee Lewis´ “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin On“.

Although Smith continued to make great rockabilly records for SUN, including a rocking cover version of Slim Harpo’s “Got Love If Your Want It” (recorded in October 1957), these records did not do well commercially.

Toward the end of 1958, Smith, seeing his future in Country music, cut a final record for SUN, a cover version of Don Gibson’s “Sweet Sweet Girl“. In spite of a review in Billboard magazine calling it “ultra commercial” (high praise from a music business publication), this record also failed to sell. Smith decided to leave SUN Records.

In 1980, while preparing for another European tour, Smith died of a heart attack at 47 years of age.


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