Russell Smith, Frontman For Amazing Rhythm Aces, Dies at 70

Russell Smith
– Russell Smith

Russell Smith, the soulful frontman for Tennessee country-rock act Amazing Rhythm Aces, died Friday after a battle with cancer at the age of 70, it was confirmed on Facebook and the Tennessean

The tribute to the band’s co-founder read: “Russell completed his journey on life’s railway after 70 years of doing things his own way. 

“His soulful voice and artfully crafted lyrics helped develop the signature Amazing Rhythm Aces sound that defined an era and transcended genre labels. Like their sound, Russell, himself, was a little southern, a little rock ‘n’ roll, pinch of bluegrass gospel, and an endless supply of soul.” 

Born in Nashville and raised in Lafayette, Tenn., Smith’s musical trip began in Knoxville in the late ‘60s where he played with soon-to-be Aces members bassist Jeff “Stick” Davis, drummer Butch McDade and lead guitarist Mike Brooks in Fatback.  Relocating to Memphis, he formed the Amazing Rhythm Aces in 1972, which would produce 18 albums in 30 years. 

The group debuted in 1975 with Stacked Deck, and went on to release three Top 20 ‘70s hits in “Third Rate Romance,” arguably their best-known song, “Amazing Grace (Used To Be Her Favorite Song)” and “”The End Is Not in Sight (The Cowboy Tune),” which earned a Grammy in 1976 for Best Country Vocal Performance by a Group  The Amazing Rhythm Aces, with their self-described “roots” or “American music,” were an early forerunner of the Americana genre which exploded in the new century, touring with the likes of the Eagles, Jimmy Buffett and Leon Russell. 

“(Smith) lived to entertain, to help folks feel a connection with one another, and hoped to leave the world better off for having had him in it,” the band statement said. 

Smith launched a solo career in the ‘80s, co-writing on a trio of chart-topping country 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”). 

In 1989, his solo track, “I Wonder What She’s Doing Tonight” peaked in the Top 40 on BIllboard’s Hot Country Songs chart. Russell teamed with Eagles guitarist Bernie Leadon and Nashville Jim Photoglo and Vince Melamed in the early ‘90s to form Run C&W, a bluegrass group that covered soul songs.

In an online obituary, the family requests that in lieu of flowers, memorial donations be made toward the Macon County High School Band.