1-CD Digipak (4-plated) with 23-page booklet, 32 tracks. Playing time approx. 85 mns.
Of the 840 commercial recordings Hank Snow made between 1936 and 1984, admittedly few are train songs. But thanks to his career-making 1950 hits I'm Moving On and The Golden Rocket, the Nova Scotia-born country singer will always be associated with railroads and 'traveling' songs.
To be sure, Snow spent much of his life on the move. At age 12 he escaped an abusive stepfather by signing on as a fishing schooner's cabin boy. For the next four years, the slight-statured youth endured grueling conditions in the North Atlantic. On his occasional visits home, he'd wind up his mother's Victrola and repeatedly play Vernon Dalhart's The Wreck Of The Old 97. Eventually resettling with his sister and her husband in Bluerocks, Nova Scotia, Snow bought his first guitar and became enamored with the songs and style of Jimmie Rodgers. The Singing Brakeman's lonesome 'blue yodels' and romantic sagas about railroad life and the American West fueled Snow's fertile imagination.
In 1933 the youth moved to Halifax, where he landed an unpaid CHNS radio show billed as 'Clarence Snow And His Guitar.' Staff announcer Cecil Landry suggested he call himself 'Hank,' since it sounded more Western. Landry also encouraged the singer to audition for RCA Victor's Canadian subsidiary.
Even though Rodgers songs comprised the bulk of his repertoire, Snow headed to Montreal in early October 1936 on a calculated gamble. Walking unannounced into RCA's Canadian headquarters, he introduced himself to Repertoire and Recording Manager A. H. 'Hugh' Joseph. The veteran producer agreed to audition him the following afternoon, providing he had original material to record. "Friends, I told him a little white lie," Snow recalled in his 1994 autobiography. "I said yes, I have two good songs that I have just written."
Giving him the address of an old church RCA was temporarily using as a studio, Joseph told him to appear there at 2 p.m. Although elated by this opportunity, Snow fretted over those non-existent originals he promised to have. Returning to his hotel room, he penned two songs that used departing trains as symbols of sadness and despair: a Jimmie Rodgers pastiche titled Lonesome Blue Yodel and Prisoned Cowboy, a convoluted ballad about a cowboy singer turned outlaw. Those songs became an auspicious start to a recording career that stretched across six decades.
That first Bluebird release by 'Hank, The Yodeling Ranger' sold enough copies to merit a second session. By now Snow practiced his songwriting, his early lyrics often building upon sentimental Western themes. About a third of the songs he wrote and recorded during the thirties mentioned railroading. As his lyrical skills matured through the forties, Snow largely abandoned railroad themes to focus on Western songs and broken hearts.
Realizing his career could only go so far in Canada, Snow was eager to break into American markets. Philadelphia promoter and song publisher Jack Howard was an early champion of Snow, booking him into several Philadelphia-area venues during July 1944. He also brought the singer to Wheeling to meet Harry 'Big Slim' McAuliffe, who offered to help Snow land a slot on WWVA's Midnight Jamboree. As he did with many other young talents, McAuliffe worked tirelessly on Snow's behalf. Besides bringing him to WWVA, McAuliffe outfitted Snow with the essentials for a traveling stage show, including a trained horse. For the next four years Snow and his troupe zigzagged across the border. But despite his high visibility and popularity in his home country, Snow found it difficult to get any real foothold in America. Hugh Joseph lobbied RCA Victor's New York office to release his best-selling couplings in the United States. Label officials weren't interested, even though a few resourceful American country disc jockeys spun his Canadian Bluebird records to good listener response.