Smith was born in Beckenham, England. He picked up the guitar when he was five years old, after watching his father playing an Atkins and Travis version of Down South Blues. He begged his father, a longtime Atkins admirer, to introduce him to the fingerpicking style. Smith soon became a child prodigy on the guitar. At the age of 11 he finally shared the stage with his idol, when Atkins invited Smith to play together with him at Her Majesty’s Theatre in London. He was also influenced by guitarist Big Jim Sullivan and briefly studied jazz guitar with former Tal Farlow student Shane Hill at Warlingham School, Surrey.
Later, he formed the Richard Smith Guitar Trio with his brothers Rob and Sam, before marrying American cellist Julie Adams and moving to Nashville, Tennessee in 1999. There he founded the Hot Club of Nashville, a jam band with a varying lineup, including high-profile session players such as John Jorgenson, Pat Bergeson, Bryan Sutton and Stuart Duncan, combining the European and American traditions of Gypsy Jazz and Western Swing. Smith now performs both as a solo act and in a guitar and cello duo with his wife. His repertoire includes a wide range of styles from country, bluegrass, blues, ragtime, and folk to jazz, pop and classical music.
His flawless technique, quickly switching between fingerpicking and flatpicking, not only earned him the admiration of his peers such as Tommy Emmanuel, Doyle Dykes, Muriel Anderson and Joscho Stephan, but also numerous awards. Upon his only participation Smith won the National Fingerstyle Guitar Championship at the Walnut Valley Festival in Winfield, Kansas, in 2001. The National Thumbpickers Hall of Fame named him Thumbpicker of the Year in 2008 and inducted him into the Hall of Fame in 2009. Furthermore, Smith received the Golden Thumbpick Award by the Association of Fingerstyle Guitarists.