On a recent spring morning, Hank Snow was sitting in his sunny office in Madison, Tennessee, talking to a visitor. At the other end of the room his secretary was taking care of some paperwork for Hank Snow Enterprises; on the walls were dozens of plaques, awards, gold records, certificates—all testimony to four decades of one of the music’s most enduring success stories. This morning Hank was talking about some of his early 1950s recordings, the kind RCA Victor issued on both 78 and 45 versions. “You know, I’m not sure I can think of stories behind all these old songs,” he apologized. But he proceeded to do a pretty good job of it, calling up in wonderful detail memories of long-forgotten songwriters, legendary old-time song pluggers, and recording sessions done in dusty car barns and transcription studios used before RCA even owned a real studio in Nashville. Finally the conversation turned to a song called “I Traded Love,” which he recorded in 1953 and again in 1955. Never released, it bore composer credits to “Clarence E. Snow” (Hank’s given name). With a grin he reached into his desk drawer and pulled out a handwritten copy of the lyrics. “Steve Sholes liked the guitar work on that, he liked the melody, but he wasn’t crazy about anything else. I’m rewriting it now,” he said, “and when I get finished, I’ll use it in my current act.”
In an age when many singers look on their old songs as disposable product with as much value as last month’s newspaper, Hank Snow stands out. His discography is one of the largest in the business—it extends from 1936 to 1985 and includes over 840 commercial recordings. He was always committed to revising and reworking old songs, his own and others’, and to maintaining the integrity of everything in his repertoire. In his later years, he often put his words on a holder attached to his mike stand to make sure he does the song as it is supposed to be done.
Over the years, Hank has not taken kindly to having songs foisted on him by overeager producers, even if they turn out to be hits. One was the