Roy Smeck: a Biography Submitted by Jim Garber, JimMando@aol.com
Date: Sun, 17 Nov 1996 10:34:19 -0500
Subject: Re: Roy Smeck
Roy Smeck was a virtuoso multi-instrumentalist who first played on the
vaudeville circuit in the 1920's. He was born in 1900 in Reading, PA. He was
obsessed with music as a teenager and almost had a nervous breakdown because
he wanted to practice all the time and learn every instrument.
He played with a number of bands and orchestras and became a solo
instrumental performer. He never sang on stage but was a master of novelty
music: a version of Stars and Stripes Forever on the uke complete with "drum"
intro; imitation of Bill "Bojangles" Robinson dancing.
He appeared in some fo the first Vitaphone talking movie shorts in 1927 or
1928. (These are available on video BTW).
He played uke, Hawaiian guitar, tenor banjo (he thought that the fifth string
was a useless appendage), regular guitar, harmonica and jew's harp. He
recorded a about 300 sides for various labels and appeared as a studio
musician on jazz, pop and even country recordings. I think that most of his
studio work was done on the Hawaiian guitar (acoustic and electric).
I met him in 1981 when I started taking lessons on ukulele. I then moved
around to the other instruments, even attempting the Hawaiian guitar for a
short time. Even in his eighties he could still play rings around other
younger players. And he would really come to life when he performed in front
of an audience -- a rare occurrence in those later years.
He was one of the first to lend his name to an artist model. After the Nick
Lucas guitar, Gibson made the Roy Smeck hawaiian acoustic. In one of the
guitar books they laughingly refer to him as the king of the artist models:
manufacturer's included B&D, Gibson, Harmony, Montgomery Ward, etc.
His name also appeared on a number of books, notably for Mel Bay. He was good
friends with Mel. I am not sure how many of those books he merely lent his
name to and how many he actually worked on.
Anyway, it was a pleasure to know him. He died in 1993, I believe.
A Smeck discography can be found at: