Hank Snow mastered the impersonation of his hero, Jimmie Rodgers, from a $5.95 Hawaiian guitar he bought from the Eaton's Catalogue.
Because of his phenomenal success in the United States, his Canadian heritage sometimes goes unnoticed, but Hank Snow would be the first to exclaim that some of his best work was accomplished right here in Canada, before he even dreamt of going to the U.S.
Born Clarence Eugene Snow on May 9, 1914 in Brooklyn, Queens County, Nova Scotia, Snow turned to music to help him through his sometimes-arduous childhood. He learned to play guitar on his mother’s Hawaiian guitar and purchased his own – a T. Eaton Special for $5.95 from the Eaton’s Catalogue – in 1926, and used it to master his impersonation of his hero, Jimmie Rodgers.
Snow became a successful performer with a weekly radio show as “Hank, the Yodelling Ranger” on Halifax’s radio station, CHNS, but it was his desire to record that spurred his songwriting career. At a 1936 audition for RCA Victor in Montreal, the A & R rep told him that if he didn’t have any original material, the label wouldn’t have room for him. Snow lied and said he had two good songs. Then he ran back to his hotel room, wrote Lonesome Blue Yodel and The Prisoned Cowboy and recorded them the next day.
Snow wrote travelling songs, cowboy songs and tributes to his native land. He was always true to the traditional country style, refusing to sing or write songs that were suggestive, that went into depth about drinking, or referred to narcotics of any kind. His first travelling song, I’m Movin’ On, turned out to be one of his biggest hits ever, reaching number one on the country charts in 1950 and staying there for 21 consecutive weeks. As his popularity grew, he made frequent appearances on The Grand Ole Opry.
Between 1951 and 1955, Snow had 24 Top Ten Hits, including The Golden Rocket, The Rhumba Boogie and I Don’t Hurt Anymore. He was a regular on the Country Top Ten until 1965 with hits like Big Wheels (number seven, 1958), Beggar to a King (number five, 1961), I’ve Been Everywhere (number one, 1962), and Ninety Miles an Hour (Down a Dead End Street) (number two, 1963).
Snow is arguably one of Canada’s biggest contributors to country music, and proved to be its longest lasting as well. In 1974, at the age of 60, Hank Snow established himself once again as a legend with the number one hit, Hello Love, making him the oldest country performer to ever go to number one.
Snow recorded more than 100 LPs in his lifetime: 26 of them appeared on the charts and 54 of his singles placed in the Top 100. He was voted Canada’s top country performer 10 times. He has been inducted into eight halls of fame, including the Country Music Hall of Fame, the Canadian Country Music Hall of Fame, the Songwriters Hall of Fame, and the Nova Scotia Hall of Fame.