Clarence Eugene “Hank” Snow is one of those country singers whose music I knew and loved from the cradle; my dad was a big fan and we had several of his LPs in the collection.
Born in 1914 in Nova Scotia, Snow was on his own from an early age; he ran away from home at the age of twelve to escape an abusive stepfather. Years later, as a highly successful country artist, he would form the Hank Snow Foundation for the Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect, drawing on that ugly experience.
His first job, after he left home, was as a cabin boy on a fishing boat. He bought his first guitar at fourteen and at sixteen made his first onstage appearance. He married Minnie Aalders in 1935; they had one son together, named for Snow’s idol, Jimmie Rodgers.
Signed to RCA Victor Records in Canada in 1936, Snow moved his family to Nashville in the late 1940s, after American radio began playing his records. He remained with RCA for nearly fifty years; he was let go from the label just short of that anniversary in the 1980s, a move that outraged his fans. He joined the Grand Old Opry in 1950, and continued to perform there almost until his death in 1999.
These are some of my favorites of Snow’s prodigious output of recordings.
Strangely enough, the first version of his 1952 hit “A Fool Such as I” that I ever heard was not Snow’s; it was one Bob Dylan recorded sometime in the 1960s. Having said which, I do prefer Snow’s; his voice matches the material better, and is, to Her Majesty’s classic country ear, even more distinctive than Dylan’s.
I’ve posted “Rockin’ Rollin’ Ocean” before, but this number twenty-two hit from 1960 is still my alltime favorite Hank Snow song, not only for his vocal and guitar solo, but for the piano. It sounds, to me, like the ocean I’ve never actually seen or heard.
“I’ve Been Everywhere”, a number one hit from 1962, has an interesting history; it was originally recorded by an Australian singer, and included Australian place names. Snow’s version includes American place names. I’ve never been able to sing this one, which he does with bell-like clarity and perfect diction; I get my tang all tungled up in my eyeteeth and can’t see what I’m a-sayin’! 😉 (Not to mention running lamentably short of breath, somewhere in the middle of each list; I’m also not able to keep up comfortably with the key changes.)
“Ninety Miles an Hour (Down a Dead End Street)”, a number two hit from 1963, is another with long lines, a remarkably fast vocal, and very few “swallerin’ places”, but here again, every word is clear as a bell.
Dang. I could just keep on with Snow songs, but many of his best–including a favorite from 1977 called “Breakfast with the Blues”–aren’t available online. A pity– 😦