Seventies star Sammi Smith has died on the eve of the sixth Australian tour by former husband Jody Payne.

Sammi died at her home in Oklahoma City 35 years after helping kick start the career of Kris Kristofferson whom she first met when he was a janitor.

Payne is a long time guitarist for singing actor Shotgun Willie Nelson, 71, and cut a rare solo album under Willie's tutelage.

Smith and Payne named their son - a prolific songwriter, singer and actor - after the late outlaw star and actor Waylon Jennings.

Jennings was the godfather of Waylon Payne and often shared stages with Jody Payne on Willie Nelson concerts.

Waylon Payne released his solo debut album The Drifter on Universal in 2004.

Payne and his mother Sammi also made a guest appearance in July on the Grand Ole Opry where she was feted in 1970 after she cut Help Me Make It Through The Night.

Her version of the Kristofferson tune sold two million copies and was voted the CMA single of the year in 1971.

It also reached #8 on the pop charts and won a Grammy for Smith and Kris.

Ironically, her small indie record label, Mega, had been formed as a tax write-off and the last thing the owner wanted was a hit record.

Smith said in an 1981 interview that the song ''definitely brought me prestige and no small amount of satisfaction. And it's paid for a few meals.''

She had earlier recorded He's Everywhere - a tune that reached #25 for Mega.


Sammi Smith
Sammi was the daughter of a serviceman who moved around when she was a child.

She was raised in Oklahoma, Texas, Arizona and Colorado.

At 11 she dropped out of school and began singing pop standards in nightclubs.

She married at age 15 and produced three of four children from her first marriage.

At the urging of songwriter Gene Sullivan - owner of an Oklahoma recording studio - a newly divorced Smith moved to Nashville in 1967.

It was there Marshall Grant - bassist for Johnny Cash's Tennessee Three - discovered her when she was 24.

She signed with Columbia Records and had hits with So Long, Charlie Brown, Don't Look for Me Around and Brownsville Lumberyard.

She charted twice more on Columbia but never rose into the Top 50 while recording for the label.

But her big break came while touring with Waylon Jennings when she befriended the janitor at Columbia Records - Kris Kristofferson.

Although she never surpassed the success of her Kristofferson cover she continued having hits.

"It was like following a Rembrandt with a kindergarten sketch," Smith said of her post Kristofferson tunes.

Those tunes included For The Kids, I've Got To Have You and The Rainbow In Daddy's Eyes.

Sammi had 37 charting singles in her career but only eight of them made the Top 20.

She also had 20 original songs listed on the BMI publishing site including two tunes named Willie, one named Tony and another You'll Always Be Melvin.


Smith wrote Sand-Covered Angels for Conway Twitty, and Cedartown, Georgia - the title track of a Waylon disc.

Sammi toured with Waylon and he nicknamed her, Girl Hero.

She wrote Cedartown Georgia with Charles Cobble and the late Mack Vickery who died at 66 on December 21, 2004.

CLICK HERE for the Vickery obituary from the Diary on December 26, 2004.

In 1973 Sammi moved to Dallas to join Jennings and Willie in their outlaw era.

She had several hits including Then You Walked In and Today I Started Loving You Again.

She moved to Elektra in 1975 for a three-year stint.

During that time, she had several chart entries with such songs as Loving Arms, Days That End in 'Y' (both 1977) and Norma Jean (1978) - a tribute to Marilyn Monroe.

In 1979, she signed to the independent label Cyclone and had a Top 20 hit with What a Lie.

In 1980, she moved to Sound Factory and had one Top 40 and two Top 20 including I Cry When I'm Alone.

At Elektra Records she recorded As Long As There's A Sunday and Loving Arms but in the 80s she had only limited chart success.

Her last hit came in 1986 with Love Me All Over on Step One Records.

Sammi moved from Dallas to Globe, Arizona, in 1975, to live on the San Carlos Apache Reservation, and adopted three Apache children, to complement her four offspring.

Sammi crusaded for many years for the rights and condition of the Apache Indian. She was a direct descendant of the famed chief Cochise and is part Kiowa-Apache.

The singer organised benefits for a high school and in 1978 set up the Sammi Smith scholarship fund for Apache children - Apache Advance Education.

It was designed to teach children to read, write and speak the Apache language, which was in danger of dying out.

It also aimed to increase the number of Apache lawyers and doctors.

She also had an all American Indian band, Apache Spirit.


Waylon Payne's aunt and uncle raised him in Dallas from the time he was about four months old, though he often spent summers on tour with his mother.

Payne cut his teeth in the Los Angeles club scene at clubs such as Eastbound And Down and the King Club.

His gigs were a magnet for peers such as Lucinda Williams and Dwight Yoakam.

Payne recorded The Drifter in 2004 and spent the advance on a 1964 white Cadillac convertible.

Waylon wrote 10 of the 11 songs on the disc produced by acclaimed fellow singer-songwriter Keith Gattis.

The only exception was Jesus on a Greyhound - penned by Shelby Lynne, Alanis Morissette and Aerosmith collaborator Glen Ballard.

Gattis borrowed money from an investor and hired musicians including Wallflowers keyboardist Rami Jaffee on Hammond B-3 organ and Doug Pettibone from Lucinda Williams' band on guitar.

Gattis and Payne also played on the session.

Payne also wrote for and performed on Texan star Pat Green's seventh album Wave On Wave.

Payne and Green co-wrote the satirical song Elvis and Sing Till I Stop Crying, replete with Roger Miller and Mickey Newbury name checks, on Green's disc.


Payne was also cast as Jerry Lee Lewis in the Twentieth Century Fox's Johnny Cash bio-pic Walk The Line with Joaquin Phoenix as Cash and Reese Witherspoon as June Carter Cash.

Dennis Quaid played The Killer in Great Balls Of Fire.

Waylon was also cast in Crazy - an independent feature film inspired by the life of legendary guitarist Hank Garland that began shooting in Los Angeles on January 13.

Payne plays Hank and Ali Larter is cast as his wife Evelyn Garland.

Larter is renowned for her roles in Legally Blonde, Final Destination, Varsity Blues, American Outlaws, Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, The House on Haunted Hill, A Lot Like Love and Syriana.

Garland was involved throughout the film's development but didn't live to see it come to fruition.

South Carolina born Garland died at 74 in Orange Park, California, on December 27, 2004.

CLICK HERE for a Garland obituary from the Diary on January 5, 2005.

Memorial services for Smith were held on Wednesday February 16 at the Guardian West Funeral Home in Oklahoma City.


Help Me Make it Through the Night (Mega)(1970) [Original title He's Everywhere]
The Best of Sammi Smith (Mega)(1972)
The Best of Sammi Smith (double)(Trip)(1974)
Today I Started Loving You Again (Mega)(1975)
New Winds-All Quadrants (Elektra)(1978)
Girl Hero (Cyclone)(1979)
Better Than Ever (Step One)(1985)

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