Hank Snow - Biography

Country music star Hank Snow, widely known as the Singing Ranger, rose from the punishing hell of life as a severely abused child to the very pinnacle of his field. With a trove of unforgettable hits, classic jukebox favorites like “I’m Movin’ On” and “I’ve Been Everywhere,” his crisp, authoritative delivery and singularly driving sense of rhythm rank him as one of country’s most individualistic stylists. The Snow sense of musicality was unusually far-reaching, and he successfully appropriated everything from mambo, Hawaiian, Canuck folk, rhumba, traditional Cowboy songs and turn of the century Tin Pan Alley pop, usually producing one or more of his almost innumerable hits. Clad in elaborate, vibrant stage wardrobe created by Nudie, the famed “rodeo tailor,” Snow’s austere, dignified on-stage persona hardly limited his abilities as a show-stopping entertainer; at his 1950’s peak, Snow toured with his pinto pony, Shawnee, and always included an equestrian segment of intricately staged riding stunts. As one of the leading--and longest running-- figureheads of the Grand Ole Opry’s cast, Snow was both a perfectionist and a fierce protector of traditional country style, with an unswerving artistic attitude that won him legions of fans around the world. Snow also exerted a power influence on several generations of country performers, notably Johnny Cash, a diehard Snow fan, and even Elvis Presley, who recorded versions of “I’m Movin’ On” and “Now and Then (There’s a Fool Such as I)”; interestingly, Snow was also Presley’s co-manager, for a time, with Col. Tom Parker.


Born Clarence Eugene Snow on May 9, 1914 in the small fishing village of Brooklyn in Nova Scotia, Canada, Snow and his three sisters enjoyed a rustic childhood until their parents divorced when the boy was just eight years old. Compounding the matter was his mother’s choice of  replacement--a crude and, it turned out, sadistic fisherman who frequently administered beatings of harrowing intensity and length to the already traumatized Snow. The stepfather all but kicked him out his home at fourteen, and Snow’s only escape was the sea, where he served as cabin boy and fisherman on a series of local fishing schooners as they trawled the Arctic waters. Already proficient on the harmonica, Snow would sing and play to entertain the crew; the boy was already a fan of early country recording artist Vernon Dalhart, and after his mother, whose taste in music was apparently superior to her taste in men, brought home some Jimmie Rodgers 78s circa 1929, Snow fell deep under the Singing Brakeman’s influence. Like Ernest Tubb, Snow was nothing short of obsessed with Rodgers, the brilliant, blues-informed Mississippi singer-guitarist widely acknowledged as the Father of Country Music, and before long, now working as a lumber jack, he purchased a mail-order “T Eaton Special” guitar and tried to replicate Rodgers‘ incomparable blue yodels.


By 1933--the height of the Great Depression--he hit the road as a traveling peddler, intent on making it all the way to the nearest thing that resembled a city, Halifax. He made it, and before long had his own radio show on local station CHNS, billed first as Clarence Snow & his Gitar and later as the Yodeling Ranger. He wed--his one and only marriage--and before long obtained a legitimate sponsor, Crazy Water Crystals, a crucial aspect of any Depression-era radio career. Shortly after changing his stage billing to “Hank, the Singing Ranger,” Snow traveled to Montreal and made his first recordings for the Canadian Bluebird label; he stayed with the company for ten years, scoring a series of hits in Canada and rising in no time flat to become that nation‘s top country star. None of the material was ever released in the United States; American fans of the singer were forced to “smuggle” his records across the border.


As the second world war drew to a close, Snow knew the time to venture south into the US had come; at first, his efforts--broadcasting in Philadelphia, working on the Wheeling Jamboree in West Virginia, even a brief stint in Hollywood--were only moderately successful, but when Snow arrived at Dallas’ Big D Jamboree in 1948, everything fell into place. There he met Ernest Tubb, the big voiced, big hearted Grand Ole Opry star, whom immediately began a pro-Snow campaign that within two years resulted in domestic release of Snow’s Canadian sides, his first American recording sessions (for RCA Victor, where Snow remained throughout his career) and an invitation to join the Grand Ole Opry. After Snow recorded “I’m Movin’ On,” his first number one US country hit, the Canadian’s conquest of the States was practically a fait accompli. Snow began to churn out hits at an impressiver rate, contributing numerous classics like the Western-flavored “Down the Trail of Achin’ Hearts,” hot rhythm novelties “Music Makin’ Mama from Memphis,” “The Gal Who Invented Kissin’,” and first-rate ballads “Now and Then (There’s a Fool Such as I)” (all Top Five records circa 1951-53) and “I Don’t Hurt Anymore,”  another number one country hit in 1954.


Those are but a very few of Snow’s staggering chart entries, and he sustained the pace for the remainder of the decade. With instant standards like 1962‘s “I’ve Been Everywhere” and 1963‘s “Ninety Miles an Hour (Down a Dead End Street),” his pace hardly slowed and Snow went on to notch up several dozen more Top Ten and Twenty country hits throughout the early 1960s. While Snow’s sound embraced a disparate palette of styles and rhythms, his performances were solidly consistent, transforming even the most exotic element into instantly recognizable Hank Snow records--it fact, it has been suggested that Snow himself single handedly created his own, Snow-unique musical genre. In the sixties, he embarked on a string of themed-sets, forerunners of the “concept album” and also turned out more than a few choice all instrumental albums, often with the likes of Chet Atkins sitting in. Snow was inducted into the Country Music of Hall of Fame in 1979, but as time passed, his touring schedule diminished. Snow could, however, always be found at the Grand Ole Opry every weekend, still sounding as letter-perfect as ever (it is said that he would routinely spend hours rehearsing the three or four songs chosen for his Opry segment, despite the fact that he and his band had been playing them for decades). As his health began to fail, though, Snow retired from the Opry the instant it became clear that he might not be able to meet his own rigorous standards, and played his last show there in September of 1996. He remained at his Rainbow Ranch home until his death there, from natural causes, on December 20, 1999, at the age of 85. A great man was gone.

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