About Walter "Kid" Smith
A performer might be tempted to change a name as ordinary as Smith, and maybe that's the reason why a good deal more than half the recordings made by this old-timey musician came out under pseudonyms. For whatever reason that Walter "Kid" Smith decided to submerge his identity, the result was a kind of musical obscurity, despite his many accomplishments as a player.
Smith grew up in Virginia, where he began working in the mills before becoming a professional boxer. He picked up the nickname Kid in the ring, which may have had something to do with either his size or attitude, but it wound up being used on the credits to some of his records later on. His activities from 1910-1920 are not well known, but he picked up music from being around his family like many players from this genre, and wound up getting into the Spray, NC, musical clique that resulted in the famous Charlie Poole and the North Carolina Ramblers, among many bands and collaborations. In a 1925 photograph he is seen smack dab in the middle of this crowd, holding his guitar in between fiddler Will Heffinger and guitarist Norman Woodlief. But it was as a singer, not a guitarist, that he was first introduced to the public via recordings. This was a 1929 Gennet session arranged by fiddler Posey Rorer. Some of the tracks recorded were quite successful at the time on the Champion label, and others were redone years later by the New Lost City Ramblers, including the hilarious "Cat's Got the Measles, Dog's Got the Whoopin' Cough." Some of these were songs Smith had learned from his father.
About a year later, Smith recorded in New York City with a group called the Carolina Buddies, this time for Columbia. There was another session the very next day for another label, ARC, who also recorded Smith as a member of another group, Radio's Popular Wild West Entertainers, fronted by Patt Patterson and Lois Dexter. Now, Smith was credited as Kid Williams, and it is presumed that Smith (Williams) does the harmonica solos, his first appearance on record with this instrument. A week later, some of these same musicians re-cut some of the same material for Victor, using aliases (with Walter dodging as Gid Smith).
The Carolina Buddies reconvened in the next year with a different lineup, including legends of North Carolina old-timey music Odell Smith and Woodlief. This session produced some of the best recordings Smith has ever done, including his amazing song "My Evolution Girl," in which he takes a comic slant on the Scopes trial.
Smith was also taped by the Victor field-recording unit in Charlotte, backed up by his daughters, Thelma and Dorothy; Woodlief; and Odell Smith. Like many recording artists, his activities came to a dead halt during the Depression, but in 1936 he had already managed to get back on vinyl as Kid Smith and Family, again for ARC in New York City. With the family group, the influence of the Carter Family was keenly felt, and they even covered some of the latter group's material, such as "You Give Me Your Love." But not too many recording opportunities presented themselves, and Smith focused on radio and tent-show performances as both a comic and singer throughout the '30s and '40s. He retired from performing in the late '60s with his wife, once a member of one of his stage acts. His recorded legacy, available through a series of reissue compilations, shows that he evolved from a traditional cowboy or western singer into an interpreter of other's original songs and a composer of his own material, all strong traditions in country music. But he is remembered most of all for his sense of humor. ~ Eugene Chadbourne, Rovi