Smoke curled from the rough limestone chimney of a two-room log cabin, precariously perched on stacked stones, overlooking a dreary glade of cedar trees, miles from any other evidence of humanity.
On this late April night, Norma Clinkenbeard Smith lay on her roughly-made bed in the back room of that cabin, in the final stage of childbirth. Notwithstanding the pain, Norma worried that the child about to be born would suffer the fate of her first-born, Virgie June. Norma had married Coy Smith while she was just 16. Before her 17th birthday, she was a mother. Within a week of Virgie June’s birth, Norma and Coy had laid the infant to rest. Now this child was coming several weeks prematurely, presenting an uncertain outcome for the child, its mother, or both. Death in the backwoods came as easily as life.
And now, three years after Virgie June’s death, in this stark little cabin, with only a neighbor lady in attendance, Norma’s final labor pains began while Coy paced in the cabin’s front room. Outside, in the black of night, a gentle rain muted the yelps and blood-curdling howls of a pack of coyotes. Screech owls passed news among themselves in their own eerie language.
And so begins the unlikely story of Ozarks-born Bill Smith, a native of Carroll County, Ark., who was born into poverty in 1941, took to gambling, music, and women at a very early age and went on – despite his devil-may-care attitude – to gain fame and fortune, only to throw it all away and start again many times over.
The story of his life is told in a newly-released book, “From Hell to the Cross,” written by award-winning career journalist Jerry Dupy. Dupy says in the book’s preface, “After nearly six months of interviews, both in person and by phone, I’ve learned that Bill Smith is far more than meets the eye. He has escaped a childhood of poverty, a lifestyle of self-destruction and has found the path that led him, finally, to discover his faith. He has, by his own wits, created a whole new model for business and real estate dealings. And it just so happens that his guitar-playing prowess is hailed by some of country music’s greatest stars. He actually is a legend in that world.”
The story will take the reader on the same death-defying joy ride Bill Smith traveled through most of his life. If life is a roller coaster, Bill’s has been more like a rocket ship ride – with a madman at the controls.
Despite his early Christian upbringing, Smith now admits freely that he refused to acknowledge the fact that a greater power was working to protect him though the many events when the natural outcome should have been his death. He escaped from crash after steel-rending car crash, usually unscathed; he looked down the barrels of many large caliber pistols aimed at his head and walked away to see another day; he lived through a deadly bus crash that killed his closest friend; and he lived to tell the tale of an armed attack when bullets flew and three men died. He even recounts an eerie event when he was visited by angels of Satan, who were trying very hard to convince him that if he’d follow, they’d lead him to the paradise they called Hell.
Through the urging of friends and family, and after finally having understood just how blessed a life he’s lived, Smith said it was time to make amends by telling his story as a way to praise his savior, Jesus Christ. “From Hell to the Cross” is the result.
“I have had mixed emotions and a little pain in exposing this whirlwind journey to the Cross,” Smith says. “Nevertheless, I felt it was the only way to express my gratitude and amplify the awesome power of the Lord Jesus Christ. All the glory is His.”
Some great reviews have come from music greats – Al Brumley, Jr., Moe Bandy, Tommy Overstreet, Wayne Carson, and Leona Williams – giving praise to the book.