Jim Carlton: ‘Moonlight in Vermont’, or ‘Moonlight in Vermouth’ as you call it, was probably the first big guitar record unless you include some early Les Paul and Mary Ford recordings. How did it happen that you got a label? The guitar just wasn’t in the forefront of groups back then.
Johnny Smith: Well,, I met Stan Getz at a party and he mentioned that he wanted to get off the road. So I got him an appointment at NBC. And at the time, there was one big show that had a big orchestra. The conductor, and actually contractor at NBC, Roy Shields, asked me if I could write a little arrangement and form a little combo within this big orchestra and do a spot once a week. And that’s how it happened. The piano player, Sanford Gold was a good friend of Teddy Reig who owned Roost Records. And he took an aircheck over to Teddy who said, “Well, I’ll take a chance.”
So we recorded ‘Moonlight in Vermont’, and on the back side, ‘Tabu’. And Teddy said that if anything’s going to do anything, it’ll be the up-tempo ‘Tabu’.
Now, about that time, I hadn’t had any time off since 1946, so I headed out to Florida for a few weeks. When I came back to New York, people started saying, “Hey, your record is playing.” And I said, “You’ve got to be kidding.” Well, ‘Moonlight in Vermont’ started happening because disc jockeys were using it for background music while they talked.
Jim Carlton: So that’s how it broke out? There was no specific promotion?
Johnny Smith: No, none whatsoever.
Left: An autographed sketch (after two Martinis) from December 2004 of Johnny Smith’s opening chords for his arrangement of ‘Moonlight in Vermont’. Photograph courtesy of Robert Stitt.