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.”
Smith was also a hit songwriter, co-penning Number One 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”). With Dave Loggins, he co-wrote “Heartbeat in the Darkness,” which would be the final chart-topping hit for country legend Don Williams. His songs were also recorded by Tanya Tucker, Rosanne Cash, Kenny Rogers, the Oak Ridge Boys and many others.
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.”
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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.”