Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Let it SNOW

I was working it another direction for a blog and allowed myself to make it so complicated I have sidelined it for another time.  Since it is winter, and SNOW is the topic of the times - yes, Portland, Maine got a record 39.1" (but they knew exactly what needed to be done, and did it!), I am looking at CLARENCE EUGENE SNOW, aka: Hank, born in Brooklynn, NS, Canada in May of 1914.
Hank was the 5th of 6 children in the family.   The first two babies died while still in infancy.  These were hard times for the Snow family.  Father George was a lumber mill worker, frequently absent from the home.   Mother,  Marie Alice took in laundry and did cleaning for wealthier families.
She was an accomplished piano player and singer who performed in local theaters during silent films and at minstrel shows.   The Snow family was separated when the parents divorced.  The Overseer of the Poor in his or her wisdom deemed the children should be taken from Marie.  One of the girls moved in with an aunt, the two other girls were sent to separate foster homes, and Clarence went to live with his father's mother, where he was admonished to "never speak his mother's name again."

Grandma was an abusive woman both physically and psychologically, and attempted to have him sent to reform school.   Maria was living in Liverpool (Canada not England) so Clarence began to sneak visits with her and eventually moved in with her.

Now, Marie remarried a local fisherman.  He was jealous of Clarence and thus began the beatings and abuse again.  Clarence was now known as Jack, a frail, 80- pound 12-year old whose bully step-father once raged at him, "Why in hell don't you get out and find a job somewhere?"  
Jack's mother ordered a Hawaiian steel guitar which she saw in a magazine,  which came with 12 free lessons and some 78rpm gramophone records.  This was HER prized possession, and Jack was not allowed to touch it.  But when the time came that she finally allowed him to use it, she was awed by the way he took to it, and mastered it.  She even allowed him to play for her to sing along.  Once word got around about his music, he was busy nearly every night playing somewhere. 

Going on 13, Jack ran away from home and joined a fishing schooner crew as a flunky. No wages, just living aboard and serving.  He was allowed to cut cod tongues, and fish from the deck.  Those fish and tongues he could sell on shore for himself.  He earned $58 with which he purchased a guitar and a chord book and began to practice.  He had heard Veron Dalhart and Carson Robinson on the radio while on shipboard and recalled later, "These songs gave me a great lift."  He admitted trying to sound just like them.  

In August of 1930 the schooner he was sailing on encountered a "ferocious" storm and got blown off course toward the Sable Island - "Graveyard of the Atlantic".   Snow wrote "....the Good Lord reached out His Hand and changed the wind.  Saved by the Grace of God!"  Snow later learned six other ships had been lost that day and 132 men had drowned.   Thus ended his seafaring career.

Snow went back to live with his mother and stepfather, contributing to the family expenses by peddling fish and taking work as available driving a horse and buggy to and  from the train station, unloading ships of coal and ice, raking scallops, hauling loads of dried cod into a warehouse for processing and shipping.  And reuniting with his father, he cut pulpwood and firewood on his farm in the town of Pleasantville NS.

Snow saw a catalog guitar for $12.95 which he longed to buy, but figured he could only get about $5 for his old one, which left him $7.95 short of the price.  Along came a storeowner with a brand new car.  He offered Snow $2 per wheel to paint yellow pinstripes on the wooden spokes of the wheels. (Pretty fancy!)  Now Snow ordered the new guitar and with Jimmie Rodgers chord progressions for his goal, he began playing and singing in an old fish house where fishermen stored their gear.

From there to a charity minstrel show in Bridgewater where he appeared with his face blackened with polish, eyes and mouth ringed with white, he played and sang "I Went To See My Gal Last
Night" which was such a hit he got a standing ovation.   

In 1935 he married Minnie Blanch Aalders and together they had one son,  Jimmy Rodgers Snow*.   In 1936 after appearing on Halifax radio station CHNS, he signed with RCA Victor in Montreal, and was with them for 45 years.  While doing a weekly CBC program, he became known as Hank, the Yodeling Ranger.  He toured Canada until the late '40s when American radio stations began to play his recordings on country music shows.  In 1945 Nashville called and the Snows moved.  Hank began performing as "Hank Snow, the Singing Ranger and was invited to perform at Grand Ole Opry in 1950.  Seven songs hit the country charts, the first in 1950 was "I'm Moving On",  followed by "The Golden Rocket" and The Rhumba Boogie".   Then came "I've Been Everywhere" which became a signature song.  (that song was originally written by Austaian Geoff Mack, rewritten with American place names.)

In 1954 Hank Snow persuaded  Grand Ole Opry officials to allow young Elvis Presley be his opening act, and introduced Presley to Tom Parker.   Snow and Parker formed a management team called Hank Snow Attractions and Presley was signed on.   Later, many years after the partnership broke up, Hank Snow said, "I have worked with several managers over the years and have had respect for them all except one.   Tom Parker was the most egotistical, obnoxious human being
I've ever had dealings with."    Snow refused to accord Parker the title Colonel.

Hank Snow performed in glitzy suits studded with sequins, in all sorts of places, and became a naturalized American Citizen in 1958, but he never forgot his Canadian beginning.  In 1968 he recorded an album, "My Nova Scotia Home".  And that same year he performed for George Wallace's political campaign.   

An unschooled but talented song writer, Hank Snow was elected to Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame.  He was voted Canada's top music performer ten times. In 1979 he was elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame,  the Canadian Music Hall of Fame, The Nova Scotia Music Hall of Fame, and   also the Canadian Country Music Hall of Fame in 1985.  

He  published his autobiography in 1994 and later opened The Hank Snow Country Music Centre next to his ancestral home in Liverpool NS.  A victim of child abuse, he established the Hank Snow International Foundation for Prevention of Child Abuse.

In one of my several searches for information I found a small picture of the schooner Bluenose, which says Snow painted it on cardboard and won 1st prize at the Lunenberg Fisheries Exhibition.   I couldn't find any other reference to his artistic ability.

Hank Snow died of heart failure in December 1999 at his Rainbow ranch in Madison TN, and is buried at Spring Hill Cemetery in Nashville, TN.  Minnie died in May of 2003 in Madison, and is also buried at Spring Hill.

Hank Snow's song "Hello Love" was sung by Garrison Keillor to open each broadcast of his Prairie Home Companion radio show.  It was Snow's seventh and final #1 hit on the Billboard Hot Country Singles in 1974.  At nearly 60 years of age, Snow was the oldest artist at that time, to have a top song on the chart.   That record was broken by Kenny Rogers after 26 years with "Buy Me A 

Hank Snow is an example of making a good life from a difficult beginning.  It must have seemed to him at times in his early years that nothing would ever be right.  He claims his mother was his constant support and encouraged him in his music, but a mother who allows a step-father to abuse her son doesn't seem very supportive to me.  Among his other attributes he was obviously a forgiving and charitable man.    

*Jimmie Snow, who preached in a Nashville church to the country stars, resigned as pastor of the church and went on the road to preach in 2000.    He has done an album of gospel music with Grand Ole Opry members.
Comments and corrections welcomed.

Ref: Wikipedia
         The Encyclopedia of Country Music (Charles)