In the late 1940s, radio station WNOX in Knoxville, Tennessee, in the very shadow of the Smoky Mountains, was emerging as a major country music center. Buoyed by promoter Lowell Blanchard’s Mid-Day Merry-Go-Round and his later Tennessee Barn Dance, the station hosted an impressive parade of major country performers—from the Louvin Brothers to the Carter Family, from Carl Story to Carl Smith, from the Carlisles to Flatt and Scruggs. Still others came through as guest artists. Many of them recall making that trip to the WNOX studio, enjoying the loose atmosphere and good announcers, but being a bit puzzled at something they saw just outside the main studio doors. It was a thin-faced man who slightly resembled Danny Kaye, usually looking a bit frazzled and down on his luck. In front of him were three boxes: They were songs, original songs, he had written. The really good ones, he explained, were for sale at $25 apiece; the average ones were $15; the lesser ones were $5. His name was Arthur Q. Smith, and when he sold you a song, then you got it—not only to copyright it, but to put your name on it and record it or sell it or do what you wanted with. In an era when country songs were routinely bought and sold like old guitars, Arthur Q. Smith emerged as one of the best songwriters in the business—but hardly anybody except the musicians knew that.
Like almost everything else about him, even the name “Arthur Q. Smith” is shrouded in mystery. His real name was James Arthur Pritchett, but nobody knows why he wrote and performed as Arthur Q. Smith. The music scene at that was full of Arthur Smiths—there was Fiddlin’ Arthur Smith, then on the West Coast with Jimmy Wakely, and there was Arthur “Guitar Boogie” Smith from North Carolina. Some people contend that “Arthur Q. Smith” was a slang term in Alabama for somebody who was pretentious and arrogant—- “Who does he think he is, Arthur Q. Smith?” Another story says that he had been performing on WNOX and using the name of his stepfather, Arthur Smith, when “Guitar Boogie” suddenly hit. To prevent confusion with the North Carolina guitarist, he added the “Q.” to his name. This would make sense, because most of what we can find out about the man sug-