Boyd “Snake” Kyle Smith passed away unexpectedly December 1, 2018. He is survived by his wife of more than 55 years, Phyllis Robinson Smith, and his son Kyle Dean Smith (Mandy Johnson) of Independence. Snake was born in Fairview, Virginia, on February 12, 1940, to Burley and Ida Smith. Burley, a clawhammer banjo player, owned the farm adjacent to the home place of fiddler Emmett Lundy.
Burley started Snake playing guitar when he was six and by time he was eight they would walk the five miles to Galax to play with others. Like many of his neighbors, he would listen to the Grand Ole Opry on a battery-powered radio.
While in his teens, Snake developed his own three-finger banjo style playing with local fiddlers. In the early ‘60s He was playing on Galax radio station WBOB weekly as a member of Kenneth Edwards and the Sunny Mountain Boys. He left the band to join the US Army. Shortly after being stationed in Germany, Snake had his family ship his banjo to him there, and he played country music with other GIs.
Once home, he married Phyllis and could be found on weekends playing local square dances and fiddlers’ conventions with either Fred Cockerham or Wilson Ramey on fiddle and Roy Martin on guitar. Snake had to switch to guitar when the fiddlers’ conventions split the banjo category into clawhammer and bluegrass. With tongue planted firmly in cheek, he would occasionally blame his friend Kyle Creed for the change.
Snake helped many local musicians get started and even gave banjo lessons at the Galax Country Club. He built a home for his family that included a corner of the basement specifically for playing music. Not only were Fred, Roy, and Wilson regulars, but for the next several years Talmadge Smith, George Pegram, John Rector, and Heywood Blevins could frequently be found there as well.
In recent years, neighbors like Erynn Marshall, Carl Jones, and Kevin Fore, plus fiddlers like Kirk Sutphin and Jerry Correll, could be found playing along in the same corner with Snake. Like many of the previous generation of old-time musicians, Snake had a great presence and an even greater sense of humor.
The family is planning a memorial service for friends and family to be announced soon.