Fricke's Picks: God's Guitar Hero, Elder Utah Smith


The electric riff was still a recent miracle when Elder Utah Smith, a superstar evangelist and guitarist from northwest Louisiana, first recorded his signature ascension song, "I Got Two Wings," in 1944. He meant what he sang: Smith typically presided at services in giant homemade seraphim wings. But his musical gifts were very much of this earth: a pitted roar as big and deep as Howlin' Wolf's; an agile clawing attack on guitar, a rough mix of runaway Robert Johnson and sanctified Charlie Christian. Smith, who died in 1965, cut multiple versions of his hymn for different labels, each a proto-rock & roll train to glory, and they are all on the CD that comes with Lynn Abbott's brief, energetic biography, I Got Two Wings: Incidents and Anecdotes of the Two-Winged Preacher and Electric Guitar Evangelist (CaseQuarter). The disc also has related vintage gospel recordings, but Smith's holy fire shines brightest every time he straps on those "Two Wings."

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David Fricke

Rolling Stone senior writer David Fricke has more than 10,000 albums in his New York apartment. His first record review for the magazine was Frank Zappa's 'Sheik Yerbouti' (RS 290).

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