The Amazing Rhythm Aces cut some of the finest blends of country music and rock 'n' roll still played on classic rock radio. In the process, they impacted the shape of '80s and '90s country to come, both through the group's survey of Southern music and the Nashville songwriting future of its lead singer, Russell Smith.
The Aces formed in Memphis, with several members having played together in the East Tennessee group Fatback and others coming fresh off a stint as singer-songwriter Jesse Winchester's backing band.
Smith's instantly-recognizable vocal delivery plus the eclectic stew served up by such early members as organist Billy Earheart III, bassist Jeff Davis, pianist James Hooker, drummer Butch McDade and Dobro player and steel guitarist Barry Burton made the group an instant credit to Memphis' musical lore.
Debut album Stacked Deck (ABC Records, 1975) brought fans two instant classics: future Sammy Kershaw hit "Third Rate Romance" and country-rock high water mark (and Top 10 country single) "Amazing Grace (Used to Be Her Favorite Song)."
The album's way more than two hits plus a lot of filler. For example, "The 'Ella B'" hits the same bluesy, swampy spot as CCR's radio staples, while an amped-up bluegrass cover of "Life's Railway to Heaven" remains among the strongest proofs that the band's virtuosic players match up well against those of any comparable outfit.
Too Stuffed to Jump followed in 1976 with one of the decade's best album covers. It earned the band its lone Grammy win: Best Country Vocal Performance By a Duo or Group for "The End is Not in Sight (The Cowboy Tune)."
Toucan Do It Too (1977) and Burning the Ballroom Down (1978) lacked long-lasting rock or country hits and came at a time of change for the seminal country-rock band, with future Sawyer Brown member Duncan Cameron replacing Burton in '77.
Burning the Ballroom Down in particular should suit your country listening needs. The band recorded it at Cowboy Jack Clement's Nashville studio along with special guests Joan Baez, Tracy Nelson and the Muscle Shoals Horns.
After a 1979 self-titled release and the group's lone album for Warner Bros., 1980's How the Hell Do You Spell Rythum?, the Aces called it quits.
Members found work quickly with country and roots artists: Earheart joined Hank Williams Jr.'s Bama Band, and Hooker hit the road with Nanci Griffith.
From a country fan's perspective, no one had a better post-Aces run than Smith. Aside from joining former Eagles member Bernie Leadon and others in the novelty bluegrass band Run C&W, Smith had a hand as a songwriter in No. 1s for Randy Travis ("Look Heart, No Hands"), T. Graham Brown ("Don't Go to Strangers"), Don Williams ("Heartbreak in Darkness") and Ricky Van Shelton ("Keep It Between the Lines"). He also wrote Mel McDaniel's Top 5 hit "Big Ole Brew."
The band reformed in 1994 and have since cranked out more albums, including Ride Again (1994), Chock Full of Country Goodness (1998) and Nothin' But the Blues (2004).
Following a cancer diagnosis, Smith died in July 2019 at the age of 70.