Songwriter and producer Fred Sledge Smith helmed a series of classic R&B crossover hits during the golden age of rock & roll, later moving into Motown-inspired soul that enjoyed a renaissance via Britain's Northern soul club circuit. Born in Los Angeles in 1933, Smith was the son of singer/comedienne Effie Smith, who with husband John L. Criner founded the G&G and Gem labels in addition to managing the L.A. R&B group the Olympics. Smith began his career as one half of a songwriting duo with friend Cliff Goldsmith, and when the success of television oaters like Gunsmoke and Davy Crockett inspired them to write the novelty tune "Western Movies," a phone call to Criner quickly placed the song with the Olympics. "Western Movies" proved a Top 20 smash on both sides of the Atlantic, and the group subsequently scored with such Smith/Goldsmith-penned follow-ups as "(I Wanna) Dance with the Teacher," "(Baby) Hully Gully," and "Private Eye." With the Olympics' "I Wish I Could Shimmy Like My Sister Kate," Smith even earned his first production credit. In 1963, he joined the staff of Randy Wood's fledgling Mirwood label, writing, producing, and arranging records for Jackie Lee, Jimmy Thomas, and the Mirettes. Most notably, Smith co-produced Bob & Earl's 1965 soul classic "Harlem Shuffle." Few of Mirwood's releases earned more than regional airplay, but the label is now regarded as a trademark of quality among collectors of rare soul. Smith also wrote and produced material for rival L.A. indies Arvee and Tri-Disc, and helped oversee the early career of the Soul Runners, which later evolved into funk icons Charles Wright & the Watts 103rd St. Rhythm Band; in 1968, he also founded his own short-lived Keymen and Mo Soul labels. Alongside his mother, Smith later worked briefly at Stax Records in its waning months, but his growing disillusionment with the machinations of the music industry eventually forced him out of show business altogether. He died in Los Angeles on July 29, 2005.
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