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Smiley Roberts Interview

Smiley Roberts

The following interview by Gib Sun appeared in the "Steel Guitar Rag" in 2003.

We’re at the NTSGA Superjam 12 with Smiley Roberts. Smiley, how’s it going tonight?

I tell you, so far, we’ve got a great crowd. We’ve had some great music and even better music to come along with the likes of Tommy White and John Hughey. Of course, we’ll have some special surprises planned out for tonight, which you will know about by the time you read this. Tonight has been so wonderful. I’m so glad we are having such a successful thing with NTSGA. The Superjams are working out great. I’m glad to be part of it and glad be to an officer of the club. I’ve got to say, Jan Jones is mostly responsible for getting this thing off the ground with the help of Eddie Stubbs. I was down at WSM last night with Eddie, Tommy White & John Hughey. Eddie has helped us out enormously. The club can only get bigger and better.

Well it getting bigger and better. What a thrill it is to just walk in here and meet everybody that we haven’t seen in two or three months. I mean all the big names. Who did we have on the first set?

We had three brand new members that just joined. Johnny Jones from Kentucky. I just met Johnny tonight. Then we had Chubby Howard. Chubby was in Nashville at one time and worked with lot of the legends. Off the top of my head, he worked with Connie Smith for a while. Chubby’s no newcomer to the game but is a newcomer to the club.

I might add that Chubby Howard was the steel player at the Renfro Valley Barn Dance for ten years.

The third fellow we had playing has been around town for awhile. He’s very talented. He plays lead guitar and steel guitar, and I think he is from Hawaii. His name is Carco Clave. I love saying that name. Carco Clave.

He used to play with ‘Asleep At The Wheel’ for awhile.

Yes he certainly - Why am I answering your questions? You know the answers.

I’ve got to prompt you every once in a while. Smiley, I’ve know you too long.

You sure do. You throw a microphone in front of me, and I’m a ham. Anyway, it’s just wonderful tonight. Johnny Cox and his darling wife Joan are here. Randy Beavers. In fact, we have just established Randy Beavers, who is one heck of a steel player, is going to be playing at our next Superjam in April. Mike Weirauch is going to be taking care of that one. But, we have secured Randy Beavers for the April Jam.

Sounds great. Speaking of great players, Smiley is kind of a bashful guy.


Let me tell you, you’re recording of "One Day At A Time", the great, great hit, gets lots of request on my radio program. Thanks for making that record, Smiley.

Well, I appreciate that. Actually, the whole thing started out as a little favor I did for my mom. Her favorite tune was Amazing Grace, so I thought I would put it on tape for her. I thought, " I just don’t want to do one song," so I did seven songs. I look at it this way. If anybody has one of the albums, I don’t normally put the titles to these songs, maybe you better start reading your Bible a little bit more.

Well, Christy Lane didn’t do it any better than you did.

Wow! Thank you much. I appreciate that, and I appreciate you playing it for the friends and neighbors out there.

You did one song on that album that sounded like you had Dobro in there. In our last conversation, you told me that it was really an effects box that created the sound for you.

Yea, it’s a rack-mount processor made by the Peavey company, and it’s called the ProFex II. They have a program in there called Dobro. Of course, the whole secret behind the thing is you have to think Dobro when you’re playing. If you get too wild and crazy, you’re going to lose the effect of the sound. If you think Dobro and play it, the sound will be very convincing. I’ve had several people tell me, " that’s a good sounding Dobro you got there," and I tell them, "It’s not really a Dobro, it’s my steel thru the ProFex program, and it sounds like a Dobro."

It sounds like you never pick more than two strings at a time when you were creating that.

Exactly, that’s just the way you got to do it. I tell people, "If you start getting into these Curly Chalker chords and everything and using the Dobro effect, you’re going to lose the whole effect; it’s lost."

Smiley, take us back in time and give us an idea who you’ve played with.

Well, when I first came to town, of course, I couldn’t get a job playing steel. Fortunately I had a friend that taught me how to play drums. And so, I jobbed around a little bit playing drums. I played drums for Charlie Lovin and Lois Johnson. The first steel guitar job I had in 1968 was with Jim Ed Brown. From Jim Ed, I went to a group of boys called the Compton Brothers. I don’t know if anybody remembers them or not, but they took some pop songs and made country version then like, Haunted House, Charlie Brown, Yellow River. They did a very commendable job. It got them on the charts. From there, I went with Wilma Burgess. She had the original recording of Misty Blue, Don’t Touch Me, and just a great singer. The longest tenure I ever had was with Tommy Overstreet. Tommy had Gwen Congratulations, Heaven Is My Women’s Love. I was with him for ten years from 1971 to 1981. Then I spent a couple of years with Cal Smith, the old country bumpkin, and then back with the Compton Brothers, but they spent too much time on the road. I just didn’t want to spend that much time out on the road anymore. So I came back to town, and I got a job out at the Opryland Park. I was out there for six years. Four years in a how called Country Music USA, and two years in a show called Music, Music, Music, which was the Brenda Lee show. That was quite a trip for me because they threw me right in the middle of a sixteen-piece orchestra. I mean I had violins behind me and horns over to my right. It was great. I loved it. The most fun I ever had was with the Brenda Lee show, and Brenda was a sweetheart. Just the neatest lady to work with.

I’ve never heard anyone say anything different than that.

Brenda had tendonitis in one of her legs. When the curtain was closed, she was walking around with a limp. But the minute that curtain opened up, she got out there and was a first class performer, and nobody ever knew she had any problems at all. Standing ovations, time after time. Every show was a standing ovation.

Smiley Roberts, I want to thank you for taking time away from the music and speaking with us. You’re a great player and surely do enjoy your music. Thanks again.

Gib, it’s always a pleasure to talk with you.

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