i A Time and a Place...: 'So Long' to a Great Guy...

Friday, August 22, 2008

'So Long' to a Great Guy...




I just learned that a great guy died a few days ago. He was Chester Smith of Modesto.
Some of you may not know who Chester Smith is,-or was. He was a young fellow, an Okie who came to California from Oklahoma way back when the depression was on and dust storms blew the land away from the farmers and blew the farmers to California, the land of opportunity.

Chester's family came to California from Oklahoma just like we came from Texas and all the other Okies came to California from somewhere, looking for something better.
Chester was a singer as long as I can remember, probably as long as he could remember.

When Chester was just a youngster, he finagled a disk-jockey job at KTRB Radio Station in Modesto. My family and I listened to many of his programs. He always started with a song by him and his guitar then played whatever was popular at the time.

The first time I saw Ferlin Huskey was on Chester’s disc jockey show on KTRB, Modesto about 1949 or so. Ferlin went by the name of Terry Preston, also known by his comic name, Simon Crum, and he did a pantomime of a motorcycle rider that was hilarious! Later Terry Preston decided to revert to his real name, Ferlin Husky.

Chester sponsored Hank Snow, Johnnie and Jack and Kitty Wells, Marty Robbins and Hank Williams, Del Reeves, Little Jimmie Dickens and many others at the Riverside Clubhouse, a big old barn in Riverbank, California.

And, of course, I have to mention Chester's long time close friend and fellow musician, Merle Haggard. Chester and Merle just recently made an album together.

Two other teen aged boys and I were having a drink of Seagram Seven whiskey out in the parking lot of the Riverbank Clubhouse during a break in one of Hank Williams shows when a tall, skinny man all dressed in white(they could have been brown-I don't remember for sure)western clothes walked up to us and asked,"Do you boys know where a man can get a drink around here?" It was Hank!
You bet we did! We handed him the bottle and he wiped the rim on his sleeve and took a big pull! We chatted for a few minutes and passed the bottle around a couple of times and he said he had to get back to work and he thanked us for the drink! It was the highlight of my life up until then and I've always thanked Chester for that opportunity.

And when Lefty Frizzell was beginning to get popular, it helped that Chester played Lefty's music on his DJ show on KTRB almost every day for several weeks.
Back around 1990 or so, a bunch of us ex-Okies had a Little Okie, Airport District reunion jam session and dance at the Legion Hall at Legion Park. I lived at Orland at that time and had no idea of who would show up but my wife and I drove to Modesto and got to the hall at around six PM or so.

The music started before long and I’ll give you one guess at who showed up and sang a couple of songs with us! It was Chester Smith. He knew many of us because we had gone to his drive-in cafe for cherry cokes as well as to the radio station to watch him DJ when he had celebrities performing.

My sister, Joan, went on a date with him to the Jumping Frog Jubilee right after he broke up with Ann, his first wife. She said he was a perfect gentleman.
I could go on for a long time about Chester but you can look him up on the net and find out all you may want to know about him.
I never knew how well off he was financially until now but I know what a great fellow he was when I knew him, way back when, and I'm sure he didn't change.

So, if you didn’t know Chester personally, you really don’t know him. You can take my word for it. Chester Smith was a great guy I hate to see him go but I'm glad I knew him.

Later.

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