Country Music News for the Country Music Enthusiast
Born: May 9, 1914 Birthplace: Brooklyn, Nova Scotia, Canada Died: December 20, 1999
Hank Snow was one of Canada's biggest stars for 13 years before he made it south of the border. And even after he got attention here, his stardom wasn't assured until he racked up three Number One hits in one year.
Nobody sounded quite like him. Hank Williams drawled; Lefty Frizzell and Floyd Tillman slurred; Ernest Tubb slid off pitch; Red Foley and Eddy Arnold crooned. But Hank Snow's singing was built on precise pitch and perfect enunciation. And where most singers simply strummed their guitars, Hank played well enough to record instrumental duets with Chet Atkins.
His main musical influence, like that of Hank Williams, Ernest Tubb and later, Merle Haggard, was Jimmie Rodgers. Yet he created his own sound, with driving rhythms, clever imagery and occasional Latin flavor. And that sound had repercussions far beyond Nashville. You could hear it in Elvis' Sun singles, and Presley's 1959 hit, "A Fool Such As I," had been a Top Five hit for Hank in 1952. Ray Charles, Emmylou Harrris and The Rolling Stones have all covered his biggest hit, "I'm Movin' On." Through his music and his 36 years on the Opry, Hank Snow has become a legend on both sides of the Canadian border-but only after plenty of struggle.
Clarence Eugene Snow, born May 9, 1914, in Brooklyn, Nova Scotia, slogged through tough times almost from the beginning. His parents divorced when he was eight. He lived briefly with his grandparents, and then went to live with his mother and her new husband, who abused him. He had to grow up fast, and wound up working as a ship's cabin boy at age 12 to get away.
Music wasn't a major factor in his life at first, but after he first got a guitar and then at 16, heard Jimmie Rodgers' version of "Moonlight and Skies," it captured him. He still worked odd jobs as he perfected his Rodgers repertoire but found him-self getting real encouragement. A no-pay show on radio station CHNS in Halifax, Nova Scotia, was his first musical employment. He was in the right place at the right time; Canada then had only Montana Slim to call its own. RCA/Canada signed "Hank, the Yodeling Ranger," in 1936.
"Prisoned Cowboy" and "Lonesome Blue Yodel," his first RCA releases, came out, like all his early records, only in Canada. Those records reflected a different Hank Snow. Singing mostly ballads, he not only captured the Rodgers spirit, he improved on it with his outstanding yodeling.
He found the success he sought in Canada, but not in America, where he wanted it most. He didn't cross the border until 1944 when Philadelphia promoter Jack Howard (who later helped Bill Haley get his start), booked him here. Eventually Hank caught on at Wheeling's WWVA Jamboree, but after an abortive stab at Hollywood and no hit records, he was failing. His most important encouragement came from fellow Rodgers fan Ernest Tubb.
"If it wasn't for Ernest, I would not be talking to you today," he said after Tubb died. When a Dallas radio station played one of his Canadian records in the late 1940's, it got so much response that RCA in the U.S., after ignoring him for years, finally dropped their blinders and started recording him.
Tubb brought him to the Grand Ole Opry in 1949, the same year his recording of "Marriage Vow" hit Number 11. But his future on the show was uncertain when RCA released "I'm Movin' On" early in 1950. It was different from his other records. Whereas they were all Rodgers-flavored ballads, this one was a sound clearly his own. From the chugging opening fiddle and the train-whistle effects of Joe Talbot's steel guitar to hank's forceful singing and hot flatpicking, it was a classic even then, and his first American Number One.
His place on the Opry was assured (he became a member in 1950), especially when both "Golden Rocket," a driving train number, and the Latin-flavored "Rhumba Boogie" flew into the Number One slot in 1950 and 1951, respectively. Until 1954 every Snow release, 14 in all, went to Top Ten.
Among that phenomenal string were "Bluebird Island," "The Gold Rush Is Over," "Fool Such As I" and the surrealistic "Honeymoon on a Rocket Ship." In 1954, he took two ballads, "I Don't Hurt Anymore" (which stayed on the charts 41 weeks) and "Let Me Go, Lover," to Number One and Number Three respectively.
The Presley connection began early. Elvis' disastrous 1954 Opry appearance occurred on Hank's portion of the show. The following year, a 1955 Hank Snow tour orchestrated by his then manager, Colonel Tom Parker, gave Elvis his first wide exposure beyond the Louisiana Hayride. But then, as rock 'n' roll rode roughshod over the Opry, Hank stayed true to his own sound. At the urging of Chet Atkins, Hank moved into the Nashville Sound, without losing his power. By the early 1960's he was, again, racking up huge successes. He made Don Robertson's "Miller's Cave" his own in 1960. Two years later his bluesy, rapid-fire "I've Been Everywhere" appeared and went to Number One, followed in 1963 by "Ninety Miles an Hour (Down a Dead End Street)," which clocked in at Number Two.
He'd become an institution. His spangled Nudie suites, which he wore even at USO show in Vietnam, and his band, the hard-country Rainbow Ranch Boys, had made him as identifiable as Ernest Tubb. But as the 1960's wore on, hits became fewer and his records wound up lower on the charts. Trends were changing again.
In early 1974, "Hello, Love," a quintessential Hank Snow number, became his first Number One since 1962 and a reaffirmation of the durability of his music. His 104th album, Still Movin' On, was issued by RCA in 1977. It tried, with only partial success, to update his sound in the Waylon/Willie context. In 1979 he was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame.
He never had another big record, yet with an awesome 35 Top Ten hits, six of them hitting Number One, and more consecutive years on the charts than any other artist, his career has been phenomenal.
Snow remained a regular on the Opry and he devoted himself to charitable activities on behalf of child abuse victims. Bear Family Records chronicled Snow's complete 1936-1980 career on 39 CD's. In 1994, his autobiography, The Hank Snow Story appeared.
Snow died on December 20, 1999. He died of apparent heart failure. He was 85. Snow is survived by his son Jimmy Snow, wife Minnie B. Snow, and sister Marion Peach.
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