Smiley Burnette

Induction Year: 1971

Birth Name: Lester Alvin Burnette

Birth Date: 03-18-1911

Place of Birth: Summum, Illinois

Death Date: 02-17-1967

Place of Death: Knoxville, Tennessee

Smiley Burnette created the Western music standard "Ridin' Down the Canyon" and was a prolific composer of songs for Hollywood's singing-cowboy Westerns. He also wrote many novelty songs for children and the Australian cowboy classic "My Pinto Pony and I."

A child of Presbyterian ministers, he began performing country music as a boy in his home state of Illinois. Burnette reportedly earned his first money as an entertainer at the age of nine — $3 for a performance at a YMCA banquet in Carthage, Illinois. He quit school before finishing the ninth grade to work to augment his family's income. After jobs as a taxi driver, canning factory worker, truck driver, delivery boy and hotdog vendor at University of Illinois football games, he became a radio announcer. For a local children's radio program, he adopted the nickname "Smiley."

Gene Autry was a rising star at the National Barn Dance radio show on WLS in Chicago. The program was country music's most important radio outlet at the time. While on tour in Illinois, Autry's accordion player got sick. The theater owner suggested Burnette, who played several instruments, as a replacement. He went to work for Autry and WLS in late 1933. In addition to his musical versatility, the chubby Burnette gave Autry's concerts comic relief and showmanship.

When Autry traveled to Hollywood a year later, Burnette accompanied him. He became the cowboy superstar's cinema sidekick, "Frog Millhouse," and one of his steadiest suppliers of songs. Later, Burnette was also teamed on screen with Roy Rogers. He made more than 150 feature films.

Throughout the 1930s and 1940s, Smiley Burnette had solo recording contracts. From 1951 to 1953, he had his own radio show, which was nationally syndicated by the Ozark Jubilee in Springfield, Missouri. From 1963 to 1966, he starred on CBS-TV's rural situation comedy Petticoat Junction as the railroad engineer Charlie Pratt.

With 275 registered song titles, Smiley Burnette was quite prolific as a songwriter, especially for someone who died so early at age 55. He reportedly could compose a complete song in 10 minutes and seldom required more than half an hour.

"A New Ten Gallon Hat"

(written with Lee Penny, Bob Wills)

Sheriff Tom Owen & His Cowboys1945 

"An Old Forgotten Love Song"

(written with Jimmy Wakely)

Jimmy Wakely1958 

"Catfish Take a Look at That Worm"

Smiley Burnette1944 

"Closing the Book"

Gene Autry1954 

"Courtin' Cricket"

Smiley Burnette1949 

"Deep Froggie Blues"

Smiley Burnette1959 

"Grandaddy Frog"

Smiley Burnette1949 

"Hominy Grits"

Smiley Burnette1944 
Dean Martin1952 
Red Foley1955 
Merle Travis1958 

"It's My Lazy Day"

Smiley Burnette1944 
Bob Wills & His Texas Playboys1946 
Vaughn Monroe's Orchestra1946 #16 pop
Gene Autry1954 
Carter Sisters & Mother Maybelle1954 
Dave Dudley1965 
Darrell McCall1977 
Merle Haggard & Willie Nelson1983 
Don Edwards1998 
The Hot Club of Cowtown2000 
Rex Allen & Don Edwards2000 
The Wild River Band2007 

"Mama Don't Like Music"

(written with Gene Autry)

Smiley Burnette1934 

"My Pinto Pony and I"

June Holms1942 

"Ole Fishin' Pole"

Smiley Burnette1962 

"On the Strings of My Lonesome Guitar"

(written with Jimmy Wakely)

Jimmy Wakely1958 

"Ridin' Down the Canyon"

(written with Gene Autry)

Gene Autry1935 
The Rice Brothers Gang1941 
Roy Rogers1942 
The Dinning Sisters1942 
Bing Crosby1956 
Sons of the Pioneers1959 
Willie Nelson & Leon Russell1979 
Patsy Montana1988 
Arlo Guthrie1992 
Riders in the Sky1996 
Ramblin' Jack Elliott1997 
Don Edwards1998 
Bill & Gloria Gaither2003 

"Swamp Woman Blues"

Smiley Burnette1944 

"Swiss Boy"

Smiley Burnettte1949 

"The Old Covered Wagon"

Gene Autry1935 

"The West Is Not the Same Without You"

(written with Jimmy Wakely)

Jimmy Wakely1958 

"Way Down Low"

Smiley Burnette1959 

"You Put Me on My Feet (When You Took Her Off My Hands)"

Flatt & Scruggs1959 

Smiley Burnette

Induction Year: 1971