Highly regarded alto saxophonist with esteemed jazz star Erskine Hawkins’ band for much of the 1940’s and 50’s, Smith – along with the rest of Hawkins’ band, moonlighted as session players for Apollo Records behind such rock acts as Eddie Mack, The Larks and Sam “The Man” Taylor.

Smith was the musical director, frequent writer and arranger for much of Apollo’s output at the dawn of the 1950’s in addition to cutting records under his own name for the label. Born in 1907, making him one of the most senior figures who would go on to dabble in rock at the beginning, he learned multiple instruments as a child – piano and drums among them – but focused on saxophone and starting in the 1930’s cut his teeth with The Sunset Royal Serenaders. In the time he was with them, nearly a decade in all, he honed his writing and arranging skills, penning among other songs “How ‘Bout That Mess”.

In the early 1940’s he joined Hawkins where he’d make his biggest impact, composing the group’s 1945 #1 hit “Tippin’ In” which he later revived with Apollo Records for the rock vocal idiom with The Larks. With jazz’s appeal having crested, though still certainly strong, like many jazz musicians Smith found a side-job leading sessions for an independent label in need of qualified versatile musicians. It was with Apollo where he and the band got to record under their own names including cutting some respectable rock records.

As Apollo Records impact began to wane by the mid-1950’s Smith’s tenure with the label came to an end and he focused on jazz exclusively after that. When he passed away in 1995 at the age of 88 he’d personally navigated one of the wider swaths of music in the 20th Century, including for a short time being entrusted with helping to firmly establish rock ‘n’ roll.
BOBBY SMITH DISCOGRAPHY (Records Reviewed To Date On Spontaneous Lunacy):

(Apollo 414; November, 1949)
As sideman behind… Eddie Mack.

(Apollo 414; November, 1949)
As sideman behind… Eddie Mack.

(Apollo 799; January, 1950)
A solid effort by jazz musicians to lay down a churning rock instrumental complete with screams thrown in at no extra charge, this features excellent sax and guitar work but at times they can’t fully shake their classier pedigrees to take it to the next level. (5)

(Apollo 417; January, 1950)
As sideman behind… Eddie Mack.

(Apollo 417; January, 1950)
As sideman behind… Eddie Mack.

(Apollo 1164; June, 1950)
As sideman behind… The Three Riffs. Easily the best aspect of this record, Smith’s brief solo and his playing behind the group down the stretch raises the intensity, giving this a modicum of legitimacy as a rocker. (3)

(Apollo 809; June, 1951)
A song that splits its allegiance between jazzy pop in the first half and a more rock-oriented approach in the second with some grittier sax work and a surprising appearance by an effective electric guitar, though it’s still not enough to offset the modest aims.

(Apollo 429; August, 1951)
A great job arranging by Smith who adds a laid back solo which earned him lead artist credit on a record that really belongs to The Larks who turn in a fine job singing in unison on this oft-covered song, allowing theirs to stand out from the crowd. (8)

(Apollo 429; August, 1951)
Another strong arrangement by Smith, this time getting a secondary artist credit, as he manages to add modern touches to what had been a blues song, as the other stylistic aspects – a gospel-like vocal backing and Smith’s deep grooves – prevail. (7)