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Passings: Guitarist Johnny Smith, Writer of Walk Don't Run (1922 - 2013)

Guitarist Johnny Smith, who wrote the Ventures hit Walk Don't Run, died on Tuesday at his home in Colorado of natural causes. He was 90.

Smith started his career as a teen playing in a local "hillbilly" band called Uncle Clem and the Mountain Boys. His true love, though, was jazz and he left the Mountain Boys to form the trio The Airport Boys.

After World War II, where he enlisted in the Air Force, he returned to Portland to play in the band at the local NBC affiliate. Word of his talent made it up the chain and he soon found himself as a studio musician, playing on shows from Ed Sullivan to concerts by Arturo Toscanini.

In 1952, he formed the Johnny Smith Quintet, which included Stan Getz, and broke big with the jazz album Moonlight in Vermont.

Although he could play just about any style of music, he primarily recorded jazz. In 1954, he wrote and recorded a new composition called Walk Don't Run. The jazz instrumental was adapted to country in 1957 by Chet Atkins and to rock in 1960 by the Ventures.

It was that last song that would set Smith financially for life. It went to number 2 in 1960 and returned to the charts in 1964 in a new version by the band called Walk Don't Run '64 which went to number 8.

Smith's guitar talent should have lifted him to the top of the jazz world but his wife passed away in 1958, leaving him with a four-year-old daughter to raise, so he made the decision to leave the music world, move to Colorado and open a music store. Although he still occasionally recorded, he did his last session in 1976.

His musical legacy was recognized by the Gibson Guitar Company who released the Johnny Smith Model archtop, which Smith helped design, along with signature hollowbody guitars from Guild and other companies.

Guitar legend Carol Kaye wrote today on Facebook:
I knew Johnny in Colorado, caught his great Denver concerts, and hung out with he and his lovely wife at their Music Store in Colo. Springs.....Nice nice man, fantastic guitarist with terrific chordal sounds. He did talk about guitarist Mary Osborne a lot too, having worked with her in NYC studios, how great she was....we've lost a biggie, Johnny was one of the all-time GREATS! RIP JOHNNY SMITH.

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