Russell Smith, the gritty-voiced singer, witty songwriter, and co-founder of roots-rock band Amazing Rhythm Aces, died Friday at age 70 after a lengthy cancer battle. In a heartfelt Facebook post by the Amazing Rhythm Aces, known for their pop-country Top Twenty hit, “Third Rate Romance,” Smith was remembered for his “soulful voice and artfully crafted lyrics [which] helped develop the signature Amazing Rhythm Aces sound that defined an era and transcended genre labels.”
Smith was born in Nashville, raised in Lafayette, Tennessee, and launched his music career in Memphis. Blending country music, southern rock & roll, bluegrass gospel and soul, he not only fronted the Grammy-winning Aces but launched a solo career, reaching country’s Top 40 with “I Wonder What She’s Doing Tonight.”
In addition, beginning in 1993 Smith led Run C&W, a novelty bluegrass supergroup also featuring the Eagles’ Bernie Leadon and songwriters Jim Photoglo and Vince Melamed. Their songs mainly parodied popular country hits including “Achy Breaky Heart,” reimagined as “Itchy Twitchy Spot.”
A graduate of Macon Country High School in Lafayette, Smith was a member of the Macon County Marching Tigers Band. On Facebook, Smith’s son Matthew wrote that in lieu of flowers, donations be made to the school’s marching band program. “He spent his life working to fill the world with music and love,” Smith wrote. “He was especially fond of the song, ‘Give Me [the] Flowers While I’m Living,’ which seems oddly appropriate for this.”
Russell Smith, co-founder and singer of Amazing Rhythm Aces, dead at age 70
Russell Smith, the soulful, sharp-witted singer-songwriter known for fronting Tennessee country-rock act Amazing Rhythm Aces, died Friday after a battle with cancer. He was 70.
The Amazing Rhythm Aces confirmed Smith’s death on Facebook, penning a touching tribute to the band’s co-founder that said “Russell completed his journey on life’s railway after 70 years of doing things his own way.”
“Russell’s soulful voice and artfully crafted lyrics helped develop the signature Amazing Rhythm Aces sound that defined an era and transcended genre labels,” the tribute said. “Like their sound, Russell, himself, was a little southern, a little rock’n’ roll, pinch of bluegrass gospel, and an endless supply of soul.”
Born in Nashville and raised in Lafayette, Tennessee, Smith’s musical journey took him to east and west corners of the Volunteer state. For Smith, the path to Amazing Rhythm Aces began in Knoxville in the late 1960s, where he played with would-be Aces members in formative group Fatback. Relocating to Memphis, the Aces formed in 1972, a musical partnership that yielded 18 albums in a three-decade tenure.
Wielding lyrical witticisms and a crisp, welcoming voice, Smith and the band honed country sound tinged with soul and rock ‘n’ roll influence. The group debuted in 1975 with noted roots-rock exploration “Stacked Deck,” a 12-track effort that hosted some of the band’s most-celebrated work.
Amazing Rhythm Aces produced three top 20 hits in the 1970s: “Third Rate Romance,” “Amazing Grace (Used To Be Her Favorite Song)” and “”The End Is Not in Sight (The Cowboy Tune).”
The Recording Academy awarded Amazing Rhythm Aces with a Grammy in 1976. The group toured with the likes of the Eagles, Jimmy Buffett and Leon Russell.
“(Smith) lived to entertain, to help folks feel a connection with one another, and hoped to leave the world better off for having had him in it,” the band statement said.
Smith launched a solo career in the 1980s, co-writing on a trio of No. 1 country hits for Randy Travis (““Look Heart, No Hands”), T. Graham Brown (“Don’t Go to Strangers”) and Ricky Van Shelton (“Keep It Between the Lines”).
In 1989, his solo track “I Wonder What She’s Doing Tonight” peaked in the top 40 on BIllboard’s Hot Country Songs chart. Russell teamed with Eagles guitarist Bernie Leadon and Nashville Jim Photoglo and Vince Melamed in the early 1990s to form Run C&W, a bluegrass group that covered soul songs.