Coining the term “outlaw,” Hazel Smith died on Sunday (March 18) at her home in Madison, Tennessee. She was 83. She left an indelible mark on country music. Smith had long been in declining health following a cancer operation in 2007.
The person who bestowed the “Outlaw” name on the renegade music of Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard, and others in the mid-70s, Hazel Smith is regarded as one of country music’s most important non-performers. However, Smith was much more than that. A publicist, songwriter, manager, journalist, radio and television host, cookbook author, tastemaker and trusted confidante to artists and others in the music business, Smith was country music’s larger-than-life matriarch, reigning for decades with a quick wit, matronly wisdom and unbridled – and often side-splittingly hilarious – opinion.
Hazel Smith: The Life of an “Amazing Woman”
A native of North Carolina, Smith was the mother of two sons who both went on to pursue careers in music. Sons Billy and Terry Smith would go on to have careers as bluegrass musicians and songwriters.
On the other hand, Smith herself would write several songs recorded by the band Dr. Hook, as well as tunes cut by Bill Monroe, Tammy Wynette, and many others. Shortly after her divorce Smith was introduced to the Father of Bluegrass, Bill Monroe, during a concert in North Carolina. A romance began and Smith would become the subject of several of his songs.
Eventually, she moved to Nashville and it was there that she started her illustrious career that began as a publicist and blossomed to include jobs as a journalist, songwriter, radio and television personality and cookbook author.
Country Outlaws (Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard, Waylon Jennings)/allmusic.com
The Making of “Outlaw”
According to the Tennessean, while Smith worked as a publicist, she flipped through a dictionary and created the term “outlaw music.” She felt it was an adequate description of acts like Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson and the Glaser Brothers, for whom she was doing publicity at the time.
By her own account, she named the outlaw movement that skyrocketed Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson and Tompall Glaser to fame in 1976 via the album Wanted: The Outlaws.
Smith told the Nashville Scene in 1997,
“Now, it doesn’t say this in mine or any other dictionary I’ve seen, but it said that outlaw meant virtually living on the outside of the written law. It just made sense to me, because Owen Bradley and Chet Atkins were doing marvelous music, but this was another step in another direction.”
We are now confident that Hazel Smith is together with the Lord smiling up above. Indeed, she left an incredible legacy that will live for centuries to come.