Ray Eugene Smithwas born in Melber and raised in Paducah, Kentucky. He was taught piano at an early age and performed cowboy songs in school. As a teen he was a moonshine bootlegger with his brother-in-law and also worked for Coca-Cola. Smith was recruited to perform in a talent show while in basic training in Syracuse, NY; after winning first prize for his rendition of Hank Williams' "Lovesick Blues," Smith began teaching himself to play the piano, guitar, and harmonica. While stationed in California, he began playing club dates on weekends, and in 1956 he formed his band "The Rock & Roll Boys," even though he admitted later that at first he hated rock and roll and his main influence was not Elvis,
but Faron Young.
Ray Smith & His Rock & Roll Boys formed and began playing gigs in Kentucky and Illinois. He immediately landed his own Television program on Paducah's WPSD-TV, which ran from 1956 to 1959. Charlie Terrell, who managed Onie Wheeler, saw Ray's TV show and was impressed enough to urge Sun Records' Sam Phillips to give Ray a shot. Sam was also impressed by the tape Terrell had given him, and it's said that Ray Smith is the only artist Phillips ever signed without hearing them in person first.
Ray recorded some memorable material on Sun, including Charlie Rich's "Break-Up", later recorded by Jerry Lee Lewis and then by Rich himself. But when Jud Phillips split off from Sun to start his own Judd label, Ray went with him, and it was there that he had his breakthrough hit - "Rockin' Little Angel" / "That's All Right", which featured an all-star backing band and production team including Chet Atkins, Floyd Cramer, Grady Martin, and Bill Justis.
The record sold well over 3,000,000 copies, and Ray Smith was suddenly a star, appearing on American Bandstand and touring in a snazzy bus with his band, now called the Rockin' Little Angels.