Sunday, May 8, 2011

Remembering Hank Snow

I have stated many times that while there are many Opry performers that I have enjoyed over the years, my favorite Grand Ole Opry member of all time is Hank Snow. And I want to take a moment to remember Hank, on what would have been his 97th birthday.

Hank was born on May 9, 1914 in Nova Scotia, Canada. He is considered the most successful Canadian country music star. Between 1936, when he first started recording, until his recording career ended in 1985, he recorded over 840 songs. During the prime of his recording career in the 1950s, 60s and into the 70s, 85 of his singles would be on the Billboard charts.

Growing up in Canada was not easy on Hank. He was abused and would run away from home, going to work on shipping vessels. His mother had a love of music and would get Hank his first guitar and records to listen to, with Jimmie Rodgers becoming his favorite.

In 1933, he began singing on the radio, on CHNS in Halifax. It was there that he met Minnie Blanch Aalders, who would become his wife. He patterned his singing after his idol, Jimmie Rodgers, and it was through his love of this music that he would meet Ernest Tubb. As a Canadian star, he had troubles getting his records released in the United States. He tried Hollywood and getting into the movies, but failed. Finally, he began to develop a following in Dallas, Texas and it was there that he met Ernest. Ernest thought enough of Hank that he was able to get Hank onto the Grand Ole Opry, where he started in January 1950.

Without a hit record, it looked like it would be a short stint at the Opry as management was not impressed with him. But in 1950, he would hit it big with his career record, "I'm Movin' On". This record would be one of the biggest hits in the history of country music, staying at #1 for months, and staying on the charts well into 1951. Hank called it a miracle. In 1979, Hank was elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame, and would later be elected into the Canadian Hall of Fame. He spent the majority of his career on RCA records and would be one of their top sellers.

Hank took the name, "The Singing Ranger", and called his band the "Rainbow Ranch Boys". But, he was not a ranger and did not own a ranch. His home in Nashville was called "Rainbow Ranch", but in reality was a modest sized home on a several acre lot. Even after he became a huge star, he never moved.

Hank Snow published his autobiography, "The Hank Snow Story" in 1994. As I have said many times before, if you have not read the book, I highly recommend that you do. In the book, Hank is pretty honest about some of the things that he did in his life, and not all were good. He admits in his book that he is a pretty complicated man. And if you would like another view of Hank, I suggest that you read Jimmy Snow's book, "I Cannot Look Back". That one is a little harder to find as it has been out of print for a while, but Jimmy also presents his view of his dad, some good and some not so good.

Up until 1995, Hank enjoyed good health, but starting that year, he began to experience the health and respiratory issues that would bother him the rest of his life. In fact, his final Opry appearance on Saturday August 31, 1996, was his only Saturday Opry appearance of the year. His first Friday Night Opry appearance that year was on August 9, and he appeared on the first show that night. That would be his final Friday Night Opry appearance. He was on the line up for Saturday September 7 and Saturday September 14, but cancelled both nights. Those would be the final Opry shows that he was scheduled for. As he finished out his life, he basically stayed home and out of the public eye as his health continued to decline. He passed away on December 20, 1999, just weeks short of what would have been his 50th year as an Opry member, at his home in Madison, Tennessee.

In honor of the birthday of Hank Snow, here is the actual running order of the 2 Opry shows on Saturday August 31, 1996, Hank Snow's final night appearing on the Opry. One of the things that I found interesting when looking at this line up, was the choice of songs that Hank did on the first show. For someone who was making their first Opry appearance in a year, he stayed away from his #1 legendary country songs and did a song that was not a hit for him, but a song that he often sang on the Opry. Interesting choice.

First Show
6:30 GHS Strings
Mike Snider (host): Tennessee Rhapsody/Cotton-Eyed Jo
Bill Carlisle: Rusty Old Halo
Mike Snider: Shuckin the Corn/Foggy Mountain Chimes

6:45 Joggin' In A Jug
Grandpa Jones (host): Ol' Blue
Jan Howard: My Heart Skips A Beat
Grandpa Jones: Gooseberry Pie

7:00 Shoney's
Johnny Russell (host): Good Hearted Woman
Charlie Louvin: The Precious Jewel
Jean Shepard: Let's All Go Down to the River/I Saw the LightWill the Circle Be Unbroken/ I'll Fly Away/Somebody Touched Me
Jim Ed Brown: The 3 Bells/ Looking Back to See
Johnny Russell: Act Natually

7:30 Standard Candy
Jeannie Seely (host): Burning that Old Memory
Cumberland Boys: Nothing But Love
Ray Pillow: She's Doing it to Me Again
Margaret Whiting: I Can't Help It
Opry Squardance Band: Durang's Hornpipe
Jeannie Seely: When He Leaves You

8:00 Martha White
Porter Wagoner (host): On A Highway Headed South
Jeanne Pruett: Satin Sheets
Stonewall Jackson: Muddy Water
Del Reeves: Got A Little Bit of Heaven on Earth
Charlie Walker: Pick Me Up on Your Way Down
Porter Wagoner: The Cowboy's Hat
Porter Wagoner & Christie Lynn: Forty Miles From Poplar Bluff

8:30 Kraft
Hank Snow (host): In the Misty Moonlight
Jimmy C Newman: Cajun's Dream
Stu Phillips: Colorado
The Whites: Pins and Needles
Connie Smith: Then and Only Then
Hank Snow: It Kind of Reminds Me of Me

Second Show
9:30 Dollar General
Porter Wagoner (host): Tell Her Lies and Feed Her Candy
Brother Oswald: The Girl I Love Don't Pay Me No Mind
Jeanne Pruett: Temporarily Yours
Jimmy C Newman: Big Mamou/Texa-Cajun
Porter Wagoner: I Thought I Heard You Calling My Name
Porter Wagoner: Freight Train Boogie

10:00 Massey-Ferguson
Grandpa Jones (host): Fifteen Cents Is All I Got
Stonewall Jackson: Me and You and a Dog Named Boo
Grandpa Jones: Any Old Time

10:15 Opryland
Jean Shepard (host): I Thought Of You/It Wasn't God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels/You Win Again/A Dear John Letter
Roy Drusky: Waltz of the Angels/One Day at a Time
Jean Shepard: A Phone Call Away

10:30 Purnell's
Jim Ed Brown (host): Pop-A-Top
Cumberland Boys: Today I Might Be Going Home
Jim Ed Brown & Kristi Russell: Lyin' In Love With You

10:45 Fairfield
Mike Snider (host): Lonesome Road Blues
Opry Squaredance Band: Ragtime Annie
Mike Snider: Battle Cry of Freedom/Get You Hand off My Knee and Load the Cannon

11:00 Coca-Cola
Hank Snow (host): I Don't Hurt Anymore
Del Reeves: I Would Like to See You Again
Connie Smith: Amazing Grace
Charlie Walker: Who'll Buy the Wine
The Whites: I Took Your Place
Hank Snow: I Almost Lost My Mind

11:30 Loreal
Johnny Russell (host): Red Necks, White Socks and Blue Ribbon Beer
Stu Phillips: Blue Canadian Rockies
Jeannie Seely: Bubbles In My Beer
Ray Pillow: Someone Had to Teach You
Colleen Walters: Walkin' After Midnight

Hank Snow was one of the more colorful characters in the history of the Opry. Almost every Saturday night, you could count on Hank hosting the 8:30 and 11:00 portions of the show. As I wrote a while back, the Opry is a better place for having performers such as Hank Snow as a member, but the days of Hank Snow are long gone. Actually, I think the Opry would be better today if more entertainers followed the example set by Hank. He was a true country music legend.


  1. Byron, your piece on Hank Snow is just wonderful, and I agree with you in everything you say. A great job.

    His autobiography is also interesting for what it does NOT say or alludes to, in terms of his own behavior and misbehavior. But he tells a lot, especially about his road to success, and that was the message he wanted to get across. On the album "Backstage at the Grand Ole Opry," based on the TV show, Connie Smith talked about how tough it was to become a big country star on her first song, and then Mr. Snow talked about how lucky he was to have to work his way up. That's a great perspective to have.

    And I count 22 members that night.

  2. great stuff on Hank,Byron.

  3. Hank is also my No. 1 or No. 2 all-time favorite, and I bought the autobiography when it was new. I found it disappointing for its failure to talk about his music. He would have been better served here by a biographer who was also a critic and fan -- such as Ronnie Pugh was for Ernest Tubb.

    But Hank always insisted on doing it his way -- usually a strength, but occasionally a weakness. For instance, he wouldn't give us a word about his son's marriage to Carol Lee Cooper -- an exasperating omission that a biographer would not have been guilty of.

  4. Anonymous, I agree. But of course, HE was telling his story. I think Hank Snow would be a fascinating biography, but I also think it wouldn't be a very happy biography, if you get my drift. A lot of stuff would be in there that would make us uncomfortable--for example, his relationship with his son, which went back and forth over the years.

  5. Agreed, Michael -- as per, perhaps, the Faron Young story as excellently written by Diane Diekman.(I have a good friend who insisted, right up until I gave him a copy of that book, that Faron had died of cancer.) Of course, all we have to do is look into our own flawed selves to realize that our musical heroes have warts of their own. And who knows how often those flaws even contribute to the greatness of their music, as in the case of Hank Williams. Their torment, our gain.

    By the way, everybody, I don't mean to hide out behind 'Anonymous' -- it's the only way I could figure out how to post. My name is Fred, I live in Bismarck, N.D., and I have enjoyed Byron's site as a reader for a couple of years.

    Incidently, the decline of the Opry is another example of painful yet necessary reading.

  6. Hey Fred, thanks for coming on board. And I agree with you on Faron Young's biography. Diane Diekman did an excellent job and I understand that she is writing a biography on Marty Robbins. Can't wait. And, I agree that Ronnie Pugh did a great job with the Ernest Tubb book.

    Yes, there is a lot Hank did not cover in his book and maybe somethings that he spent too much time on, but overall all, I did think it was a fascinating book. And, you are right, he did not mention his son a lot in it.(And I should point out that his wife and son had some very pointed and unpleasant comments made about Hank after he died). And he certainly left the whole Kelly Foxton mess out of it and the "real" story surrounding those terrible toupees he used to where.

    I did enjoy his comments about RCA and Elvis, and his view of those events. Especially in his views of "Parker" as he called him and not his fake "Colonel" title. Some bitter feelings there by Hank.

    There is no doubt that Hank was a difficult and complicated man, and the opinions of him change depending on who you talk to. But, there is no argument with the fact that he was a true legend and superstar in country music, with a unique style that will never be copied.

  7. Fred, it's good to see you here. And Diane Diekman really does great work.

    As I recall, Mr. Snow had dementia at the end, and that tends to make the bad side worse, you might say--so whatever quirks he had, dementia would have made worse. I think that book is vital to understanding the bad side, too, considering his horrible childhood.

    Byron, it may not be something to go into here, but I always felt uneasy about Kelly Foxton. I'll just leave it at that, except to say that I know Minnie Blanche put up with a lot--indeed, he said so in his book, and that's just for what he put in there! As for the toupees ... I wondered about that. Looking at him over the years, I wondered if he was just doing a bad combover.

    Two more things about him, for what it's worth. One is a story Faron Young told about bringing his mother to the Opry. When she saw Hank Snow, she ran over, grabbed him, and hugged him, hard. After a couple of minutes, he said, "Faron, your mother is attacking me." It was amusing, but when you think about it, poignant.

    The other thing is that Mr. Snow always seemed to bring the Carol Lee Singers up front when he sang, and he'd make it a point to compliment them. I had the feeling that he never figured out how in the world his son could have ended up being divorced from Carol Lee Cooper! Come to think of it, that's a reasonable thing to question ....

  8. Michael, I agree with your comments that the whole Kelly Foxton thing just did not seem right. I know at the time there were a lot of duets in country music including Porter & Dolly; Conway & Loretta; Jack Greene & Jeannie Seely; Bill Anderson & Jan Howard/Mary Lou Turner and Johnny Cash & June Carter. So maybe it was an attempt to capitalize on that.

    But Kelly was an unknown and if you remember her and Hank wore matching outfits. The album they did was not that great and to be kind, they just did not look or sound good together. And, if I am thinking right, Hank was about 65 at the time and Kelly was about 25. If you go on Kelly's website, she has a picture of the album cover.

    While I don't know the story between Hank and Kelly, I do know that the duet was not a success and did not last long together. And, I am sure you remember, he featured her on one of the PBS shows.

    Finally, you are right about Carol Lee. He did feature the Carol Lee singers a lot and I think Hank really like Carol Lee (as a friend). He was close to her parents and like you mentioned, I think he was not too happy about the marriage ending with his son. They did live next store to Hank and in one of the older Opry picture history books, he is pictured holding the 2 grandchildren.

    Jimmy Snow rights about the divorce in his book, or at least his version of it.

  9. Sorry about the last sentence. I do really know how to spell. It should read that Jimmy writes about the divorce in his book.

  10. Byron, I have faith in you not just on your knowledge, but on the intent of your spelling! Of course, in the case of the divorce, as with Hank Snow's entire life itself, there are two sides at minimum to any story, and he was friendly with Wilma Lee and Stoney. Also, in the late 1970s, Mr. Snow wasn't selling as well as he had, and RCA dropped him in 1981, so doing something different wasn't necessarily the worst idea--and his duets with Anita Carter had done well in the 1950s.

    To show that it truly is a small world, Jimmy's second wife, Dottie, was the daughter of Dot and Smokey, and now they have divorced, and she married Glenn Tubb!

  11. I almost got run over by Hank Snow one time. Well, not really...but near enough.

    Back when Opryland still existed there was a metal building that stood between the hotel and the Opry House that served as the park's administration building and any time I went out to visit backstage on an Opry night that's where we would park and then walk down the road that runs behind the Opry House to the guard shack (since only artists and staff parked in the reserved parking lot).

    One cold night in January I got permission to bring some friends along to visit the show and we had a great time. Long story short: we stayed that night until after the 11:00 Coke show that Hank Snow always hosted and then headed back to the car. As we're all casually walking down the dark road, there is the sound of gravel and asphalt slinging and we all looked up to see a big, black Cadillac come peeling out of the artist parking lot and bearing down on us doing what had to be 70 mph (the speed limit being a strange 22 on the service road). Naturally, my friends and I jumped out of the way and as the car sped past, picking up speed as it went, we all saw the unmistakable profile of the great Hank Snow behind the wheel, still dressed in the lime green Nudie suit with red roses that he had worn on the Opry that night. It struck me as hilarious since the picture of this maniac driver simply didn't go with the reserved on-stage demeanor I had always seen. I was told later that driving could be a harrowing experience with the Singing Ranger behind the wheel...something I never doubted after watching that big car peel around the curve at the hotel entrance and head off toward Madison without ever slowing down!

  12. Great story Barry!!!

    As far as Dottie, if I understood right, and I could be totally wrong on this one, Dottie kept the house after the divorce. What I do not know, is who owns Hank's former home now, if it is Jimmy or if it got mixed up in Jimmy's divorce.

    What I do know is that the taxes were not paid on the property and a notice was published saying that taxes were due. And it was a small amount, something less than a couple hundred dollars. And I know when Jimmy closed up his last church in Madison, there were some issues with that.

    When I was in Nashville in February, I went past his former home and both houses and properties were in pretty run down shape. To me that was a shame, as Hank always kept his property up.

    The barn was still up in the backyard, and you could make out the words, 'Rainbow Ranch' on it and the security gate and mailbox were still around the property, although the gate was open. I think he had a camera installed, pointed at the gate, and the frame for it was still there, but not sure on the camera. Up until Jimmy's divorce, Hank's old tour bus was still parked in the back, on the drive way and you could see it from the road.

  13. They ought to fix Hank's place up the way it used to be.Make it a showplace.

  14. Johnny, I did get your comments about fixing up Hank's house, and I don't know where that post went as I did not delete it. As I said in my post (which also disappeared), his former home is pretty run down. You can still see the barn out back, and make out the words, "Rainbow Ranch" on it. The security gate is still up around the property, and Hank must have been really worried about security as all the windows have steel bars on them. The gate was open when I went past in February.

    But, the property is very run down and as I said in that post, I am not sure who owns it now. I think Jimmy got it after both his parents died, but in the divorce from Dottie, I do not know who owns it now. I do know that all the taxes were not paid and it was listed in the paper under tax delinquents. Same with the house next store, where Jimmy and Carol Lee lived when they were married, and I assume, where Jimmy and Dottie lived after they were married.

    Sorry to say that this whole area of Madison is not the star studded area that it used to be. Back in the 50's and into the 70's, not only Hank Snow lived in this area, but so did Wilma Lee and Stoney Cooper, Kitty Wells and Johnny Wright, Maybelle Carter, June Carter, Rod Brasfield and many, many others. I think the only one left in this area now is Kitty. What was once a great neigborhood is now middle class, at best.

  15. I met Hank at the old Flame cafe in Minneapolis in the late 60s. He had three beautiful women at the table with him and would not talk to me; told me to "get lost". In another instance, back stage at the Minneapolis Auditorium, my song wrtting friend offered Hank several peanuts as a joke. He said "Hank, here is your pay". Hank told him where to go. In 1991 I wrote Hank telling him we would be at the Opry and wanted to visit with him. He sent a letter back to me and said ok, so we set up the time to meet him. When we got to the Opry that night, he refused to meet with us.

  16. I would like to hear all that anyone can recall about his conversion experience. I believe I heard his son say that in Hank's later years he was looked after by some people in his (Jimmie's) congregation, and that Hank dedicated his life to the Lord, and I heard from someone else that after his conversion he looked up his father? To say he forgave him. Or would that be step-father? What I wondered was, how could the father still be alive in Hank's later years? If anyone knows more, the story should be told!