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

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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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