Category Archives: 100 Greatest Men

100 Greatest Men: #31. Randy Travis

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He’s widely hailed as the leader of the new traditionalist movement of the mid-eighties, but his impressive sales numbers made him something the genre had never seen before: a traditionalist superstar.

Travis was born Randy Traywick in a town just outside of Charlotte, North Carolina.   His youth was marked by two distinguishing features: a prodigious talent for music and a dangerous rebellious streak.   As a teenager, he played clubs with his older brother Ricky, but when the elder Traywick was jailed after a car chase, Randy moved to Charlotte proper to launch his own career at age sixteen.

Randy won a talent contest at a club owned  by Lib Hatcher, who took him under her wing and soon under her guardianship, after he barely evaded jail for what he was warned would be the last time.   Hatcher took on the role of manager, and managed to land an independent record deal that resulted in a minor hit in the early eighties.   A stint at the Nashville Palace and a well-received independent live album helped him land a deal with Warner Bros. Records.

The label convinced him to change his performing name to Randy Travis, and in 1986, his star took off.  He released the seminal album Storms of Life, arguably the most significant country album of the decade.  Its stunning multi-platinum success made Travis a household name, and destroyed the conventional wisdom that country must abandon its traditional sound to cross over to mainstream popularity.

Travis dominated the singles and albums charts for the next ten years, selling out arenas and racking up major industry awards.  But as significant as his own success was, he was just as important for creating the climate that allowed future legends

like Alan Jackson, Clint Black, and Garth Brooks to reach massive sales heights without the help of pop radio.   Though he was soon overshadowed by those giants, his sound remained the blueprint for mainstream country music well into the nineties.

Travis continued to score hits after leaving Warner Bros. for Dreamworks Records, but by the turn of the century, he was focusing his attention on country gospel music.   Even this detour produced a surprise country hit, with “Three Wooden Crosses” returning him to the top of the country charts in 2002, after an eight-year absence from the penthouse.   While he still remains primarily focused on the Christian market, his legacy continues to reverberate.  Most recently, Carrie Underwood revived his self-penned hit “I Told You So”, and invited him to record a duet version for the radio that peaked at #2.

Essential Singles:

  • On the Other Hand, 1986
  • Diggin’ Up Bones, 1986
  • Forever and Ever, Amen, 1987
  • Deeper than the Holler, 1988
  • Hard Rock Bottom of Your Heart, 1990
  • Look Heart, No Hands, 1992
  • Whisper My Name, 1994
  • Out of My Bones, 1998
  • Three Wooden Crosses, 2002

Essential Albums:

  • Storms of Life, 1986
  • Always & Forever, 1987
  • No Holdin’ Back, 1989
  • High Lonesome, 1991
  • This is Me, 1994
  • Rise and Shine, 2002
  • Glory Train, 2005

Next: #30. Jim Reeves

Previous: #32. A.P. Carter

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100 Greatest Men: #32. A.P. Carter

100 Greatest Men: The Complete List

His legacy has often languished in the shadows of his more accomplished female relatives, but A.P. Carter’s contributions to the development of country music remain essential.

A.P. Carter was the oldest of eight children, growing up in the poverty of the Appalachian mountains.  He struggled with tremors throughout his life, but still managed to master the fiddle.   He sang in a gospel group with his family and began writing songs, usually heavily influenced adaptations of traditional mountain songs and classic story ballads from both the Americas and overseas.

His life changed when he met Sara Dougherty, who became both his performance partner and his wife.   Alongside Maybelle Carter, his sister-in-law, they became a popular trio.  The Carter Family soon auditioned for and landed a long-term contract with Victor Records.  Beginning in 1927, they released widely popular country records, maintaining their success throughout both the Great Depression and A.P. and Sara’s separation.   The importance of their records cannot be overstated, with “Can the Circle Be Unbroken”, “Wildwood Flower”, and “Keep on the Sunny Side” now widely hailed as the most significant formative records in country music history.

Still, it would be the women of the group, especially Maybelle, who would further cement the legacy of the Carters.  After A.P. divorced Sara in 1939, the Carter Family’s breakup was inevitable.    Sara retired from the group in1943, and while A.P. ran a country store, Maybelle hit the road with her daughters throughout the forties.   The Carter Family made a brief comeback in the fifties, with A.P. and Sara joining their grown children on stage, but they disbanded after four years and a small handful of recordings.

A.P. Carter died in 1960, but his legacy lives on.  While Mother Maybelle and her daughters are the most recognizable Carters, their success was made possible by the work that A.P. and Sara did with Maybelle in the first fifteen years of the Carter Family’s musical legacy.

Essential Singles:

  • “Single Girl, Married Girl,” 1927
  • “Bury Me Under the Weeping Willow,” 1927
  • “Will You Miss Me When I’m Gone,”

    1928

  • “Keep on the Sunny Side,” 1928
  • “Wildwood Flower,” 1928
  • “Can the Circle Be Unbroken,” 1928
  • “Motherless Children,” 1929
  • “No Depression in Heaven,” 1936
  • “Coal Miner’s Blues,” 1938

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100 Greatest Men: #33. Mel Tillis

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A comedic flair, a speech impediment, and a famous daughter have often overshadowed the fact that Mel Tillis is one of the finest songwriters and performers in the history of country music.

Tillis hailed from Tampa, Florida, and he discovered music at a young age, playing guitar and singing songs at local talent shows.  Though he had a severe stutter from age three, the impediment disappeared when he sang.  Tillis entered the military, and while stationed in Japan, formed a band called the Westerners.  Once back stateside, he moved to Nashville to jump-start his songwriting career, alternating between Tennessee and Florida until the hits started coming in.

From 1957 to the end of the sixties, Tillis would record for major labels and score a handful of hits, but he had a far bigger impact as a songwriter.  He wrote hits that are now standards, recorded by legends like Webb Pierce (“I Ain’t Never, “No Love Have I”), Bobby Bare (“Detroit City”), Ray Price (“Heart Over Mind”, “Burning Memories”) and Kenny Rogers and the First Edition (“Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love to Town.”)

However, once the seventies arrived, Tillis became a major presence on country radio, scoring dozens of hits, many of which were his own recordings of his compositions that had been hits for other artists in the sixties.   In 1976, he was named CMA’s Entertainer of the Year, the same year he was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame.  Tillis’ comedic talents made him an in-demand performer, and he was a fixture on both network and syndicated television shows during the peak years of his career.   He also appeared in several movies, with Smokey and the Bandit II and Cannonball Run being the most successful.

As with many of his contemporaries, the hits slowed down

in the eighties, even though other artists continued to score hits with his material, most notably Ricky Skaggs’ chart-topping  recording of “Honey (Open That Door)” in 1984.   He purchased radio stations that he later sold for a big profit, and he became one of the most popular draws in Branson, Missouri, where his theater was a cornerstone for tourist entertainment.

In recent years, Tillis has frequently collaborated with his daughter Pam Tillis, making appearances on her albums and co-headlining a popular Christmas show at Opryland.   Tillis was inducted into the Grand Ole Opry in 2007, and elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame that same year.  In 2010, he released his first comedy album, You Ain’t Gonna Believe This…, on Show Dog Records.

Essential Singles:

  • Heart Over Mind, 1970
  • I Ain’t Never, 1972
  • Good Woman Blues, 1976
  • Heart Healer, 1977
  • I Believe in You, 1978
  • Send Me Down to Tuscon, 1979
  • Coca Cola Cowboy, 1979
  • Southern Rains, 1980

Essential Albums:

  • Life’s That Way, 1967
  • Sawmill, 1973
  • M-M-Mel, 1975
  • Love Revival, 1976
  • Heart Healer, 1977
  • Mr. Entertainer, 1979
  • Your Body is an Outlaw, 1980

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100 Greatest Men: #34. Charlie Rich

100 Greatest Men: The Complete List

After languishing in the shadows for more than a decade, Charlie Rich suddenly rose to prominence when his soul-influenced country music achieved massive crossover success.

Rich hailed from Arkansas, but it was his air force service that jump-started his professional music career.  While stationed in Oklahoma, he started a blues and jazz outfit called the Velvetones.  Once out of the military, he moved to Memphis, where he expanded his repertoire to include R&B.   He earned some session work with Sun Records as he honed his songwriting craft.   This led to a deal with Phillips International Records, which produced a handful of minor hits and an acclaimed studio album in 1960, Lonely Weekends with Charlie Rich.

Rich would toil in obscurity throughout the sixties on Groove and then Smash Records, though some of these recordings would end up hits when re-released at the peak of Rich’s popularity in the mid-seventies.   He moved toward a polished country sound as the decade wound down, and his collaborations on Epic Records with legendary producer Billy Sherrill eventually caught the attention of country radio, starting with the hit “I Take it On Home” in 1972.

Then came the album Behind Closed Doors.  The sound was similar to his previous work with Sherrill, but the title track was an explosive hit, topping the country charts and hitting the top twenty of the pop chart.  The next single was even bigger, with “The Most Beautiful Girl” reaching #1 on both the country and the pop chart.  The combination of these two singles powered the album to sales that would eventually top four million.  His former labels flooded the market to capitalize on his success, with RCA managing to send three singles to the top of the country chart while competing with his Epic releases for airplay.

Rich dominated the award show circuit from 1973-1975, winning multiple Grammy, ACM, and CMA Awards, including the 1974 CMA trophy for

Entertainer of the Year.    During that time, his popularity peaked, with another pair of gold albums following the multi-platinum success of his breakthrough work.   The hits slowed down as the seventies drew to a close, though he received wide critical acclaim for much of his work during this period, most notably his 1976 gospel album, Silver Linings.

Rich entered semi-retirement in the eighties, and was quiet on the recording front, even as his influence became increasingly prominent among the next generation of stars.   In 1992, he returned with what would ultimately become his swan song.  Pictures and Paintings seamlessly blended country, soul, and jazz, and was hailed as a return to form for the singer.   Sadly, he would pass away only three years later.  His legacy has only grown stronger since his passing, with his forward-looking fusion of multiple styles of music making him one of the genre’s most eclectic and visionary artists of all time.

Essential Singles:

  • Life’s Little Ups and Downs, 1969
  • I Take it on Home, 1972
  • Behind Closed Doors, 1973
  • The Most Beautiful Girl, 1973
  • A Very Special Love Song, 1974
  • I Don’t See Me in Your Eyes Anymore, 1974
  • Rollin’ With the Flow, 1977
  • On My Knees (with Janie Fricke), 1978

Essential Albums:

  • Lonely Weekends with Charlie Rich, 1960
  • Set Me Free, 1968
  • The Fabulous Charlie Rich, 1969
  • Behind Closed Doors, 1973
  • Very Special Love Songs, 1974
  • The Silver Fox, 1974
  • Silver Linings, 1976
  • Pictures and Paintings, 1992

Next: #33. Mel Tillis

Previous: #35. Gene Autry

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100 Greatest Men: #35. Gene Autry

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Coming to prominence during golden ages in film, radio, and television, Gene Autry was the internationally recognized singing cowboy.

Autry was the descendants of the very first settlers in Texas, and grew up in the wide open spaces he’d later immortalize on record and in films.   He learned guitar at a young age, and was a performer in his spare time while he pursued more realistic goals.

While working as a telegraph operator, he was killing his boredom by singing and playing his guitar.  By chance, a customer named Will Rogers heard him, and encouraged him to pursue a career in radio performance.  Within a year, he was auditioning in New York, releasing demos and singles for Victor and Columbia before signing an exclusive deal with the American Record Corporation.

His first big release, “That Silver Haired Daddy of Mine”, sold more than half a million copies.  Throughout the thirties and forties, he would go on to release singles that sold in the millions and defined the Country & Western sound, like “Tumbling Tumbleweeds” and “Back in the Saddle Again.”    Through his popularity on national radio programs as Oklahoma’s Yodeling Cowboy, he brought Western music to a wider audience.

His singing cowboy image was cemented by his appearances in online pharmacy no prescription more than ninety films, where he sang his songs and played roles consistent with his “Home on the Range” image.    He is widely credited for reviving the Western film genre, and his popularity on the silver screen further fueled his record sales.   His career was briefly detoured by a stint in the army during World War II, but he returned to the states as popular as ever, and the experience led to his classic hit, “At Mail Call Today.”

As popular tastes changed, Autry moved into the arena of television, starring in his own show from 1950-1956.  While his Western records had decreased in popularity, Autry’s ability to handle pop material led him to record a handful of secular Christmas singles that are still played on radio more than sixty years later, along with perhaps the only successful attempt at a secular Easter single with “Peter Cottontail.”

Autry moved away from performing and toward business interests later in life, most notably an ownership share in the Anaheim Angels and a stint as Vice President of the MLB American League.   By the time he passed away at age 91, he’d been inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame and the Radio Hall of Fame.  He is also the only performer in history to have five stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, one in each of their five categories: motion pictures, radio, recording, television, and live theater.

Essential Singles:

  • That Silver Haired Daddy of Mine, 1932
  • Tumbling Tumbleweeds, 1935
  • Back in the Saddle Again, 1939
  • South of the Border (Down Mexico Way), 1939
  • Blueberry Hill, 1940
  • You are My Sunshine, 1941
  • At Mail Call Today, 1945
  • Home on the Range, 1947
  • (Ghost) Riders in the Sky,1949

Essential Holiday Singles:

  • Here Comes Santa Claus (Down Santa Claus Lane), 1947
  • Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, 1949
  • Peter Cottontail, 1950
  • Frosty the Snowman, 1950

Next: #34. Charlie Rich

Previous: #36. Ricky Skaggs

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100 Greatest Men: #36. Ricky Skaggs

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A brilliant bluegrass musician that became the unlikeliest of superstars, Ricky Skaggs moved seamlessly into mainstream country music and popularized bluegrass among a wide and willing audience.

Many musicians can claim mastery of their instruments at an early age, but few can compete with Skaggs, who taught himself to play the mandolin at age five and was performing on stage the same year.   As early as seven, he made a television appearance on Flatt & Scruggs, and he was a featured player in his family’s band throughout his childhood.  As a teenager, he met up with Keith Whitley and joined Ralph Stanley’s supporting band, the Clinch Mountain Boys.

After a few more stints in other bands, he recorded a solo album for an indie label, then formed his own group, Boone Creek.  This caught the attention of Emmylou Harris, who invited him to join her Hot Band several times.  He finally accepted and replaced outgoing member Rodney Crowell.    While influencing Harris’ sound, he also continued to release albums with Boone Creek and on his own.  Finally, his Sugar Hill setSweet Temptation caught the attention of Epic Records, and they signed him to their label.

Without any concessions to the Urban Cowboy sound of the time, Skaggs was a surprisingly huge success, and throughout the eighties he dominated the charts.   In 1982, he was the first artist to win both the Horizon Award and Male Vocalist of the Year at the CMA’s.  His bluegrass sets received huge critical acclaim while selling gold and platinum.  He recorded old classics mixed in with new material, with his musicianship front and center.  He even innovated on the video front, releasing the eye-popping “Country Boy” music clip, still widely regarded as one of the best country music videos of all time.

Once the Epic hits slowed down in the nineties, Skaggs returned to the bluegrass scene.  Amazingly, his work became more prolific than ever, winning him multiple Grammy awards as he collaborated with everyone from the Whites to Bruce Hornsby.   He drew heavily on his southern Gospel roots, and became a mainstay at festivals around the world.   The award-winning albums have continued ever since, now being released on his own Skaggs Family record label.

Today, he is the symbol of the very bluegrass traditions that he has always honored and preserved, and despite artists like Alison Krauss and Nickel Creek making waves in recent years, he remains the bluegrass star who has had the most mainstream success in country music.

Essential Singles:

  • Crying My Heart Out Over You, 1982
  • Heartbroke, 1982
  • Highway 40 Blues, 1983
  • Don’t Cheat in Our Hometown, 1983
  • Honey (Open That Door), 1984
  • Uncle Pen, 1984
  • Country Boy, 1985

Essential Albums:

  • Waitin’ for the Sun to Shine, 1981
  • Highways & Heartaches, 1982
  • Don’t Cheat in Our Hometown, 1983
  • Country Boy, 1984
  • Live in London, 1985
  • Ancient Tones (with Kentucky Thunder), 1999
  • Salt of the Earth (with the Whites), 2007

Next: #35. Gene Autry

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100 Greatest Men: #37. The Louvin Brothers

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They would both go on to successful solo careers, but it was the music that Ira and Charlie Louvin made together that earned them a place in the annals of history.

Born in to Appalachian poverty, the Louvin Brothers began their public singing career by performing gospel standards at church.  Their distinctive harmonies and instrumental skills soon earned them a spot on AM radio in Chattanooga.  After Charlie did a brief tour with the Army, the duo moved to Knoxville, where their sound reached a wider audience.

By the late forties, the labels came calling. as did a publishing deal.  The Louvins released a few moderately successful singles before Charlie was sent back overseas, but when he returned, the brothers began incorporating country into their repertoire, a move largely influenced by their appearances on the Opry.   Throughout the fifties and early sixties, they released many of the most significant country compositions of all-time, including standards like the #1 hit “I Don’t Believe You’ve Met My Baby” and the top ten  “Cash on the Barrelhead.”

They never abandoned their gospel roots, as reflected in a series of classic albums with a spiritual focus.   One of their essential works was the LP Satan is Real, which became notorious for its vivid album artwork along with its music.   The increasing popularity of rock and roll slowed down their success, which sadly led to an alcohol addiction for Ira, who was encouraged to drop his signature mandolin from their sound.   His deterioration was the primary reason the duo disbanded in 1963.

Both brothers pursued solo careers, with Charlie forging out on his own and Ira performing with his new wife, Anne Young.  Tragically, Ira and Anne were killed in an automobile accident in 1965, preventing a reconciliation of the brothers.   Charlie proudly carried on the legacy of the Louvin Brothers, recording and performing right up until his death in 2011.

As years have gone by, the songs and recordings of the Louvin Brothers have become increasingly influential, shaping the sounds of the Byrds, Gram Parsons, Emmylou Harris, and others.  In 2002, a tribute album by contemporary country, bluegrass, and pop artists was a huge success, winning the Grammy for Best Country Album.   Their sound lives on in the work of every duo built around harmony, from the Everly Brothers to the Judds, their songs have been covered by artists as diverse as James Taylor and Dolly Parton, and their themed albums with powerful artwork are regarded as essential classics by both musicians and graphic designers.

Essential Singles:

  • When I Stop Dreaming, 1955
  • I Don’t Believe You’ve Met My Baby, 1956
  • Hoping That You’re Hoping, 1956
  • You’re Running Wild/Cash on the Barrelhead, 1956
  • My Baby’s Gone, 1958
  • The River of Jordan, 1959
  • How’s the World Treating You, 1961

Essential Albums:

  • The Louvin Brothers, 1956
  • Tragic Songs of Life, 1956
  • Ira and Charlie, 1958
  • Satan is Real, 1959
  • My Baby’s Gone, 1960
  • Sing and Play Their Current Hits, 1964

Next: #36. Ricky Skaggs

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100 Greatest Men: #38. Vince Gill

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He spent most of the eighties struggling for recognition, but thanks to his smooth ballads and country’s suddenly expanded audience, Vince Gill emerged as one of the biggest superstars of the nineties.

Born and raised in Oklahoma, he followed in the footsteps of his musician father, but while it was a hobby for his dad, it became Vince’s life mission.  His ability to play several different instruments and his talent for harmonizing earned him a place in local bands, and he moved to Kentucky and then to Los Angeles seeking out further opportunities.  An audition for the Pure Prairie League in 1979 resulted in him becoming their new lead singer, and Gill had his first taste of success when their single, “Let Me Love You Tonight”, topped the adult contemporary charts and cracked the pop top ten.

He left the band to join Rodney Crowell’s backing group, Cherry Bomb, only a few years after he had played a similar backing role for Ricky Skaggs.  His time with Cherry Bomb connected him to Tony Brown, the musician and record executive who signed him to RCA in 1981.   For the next several years, stardom remained just out of reach for Gill, who managed to score just three top ten hits with the label.  He was better known for his session work as a guitarist and as a harmony singer, with his distinctive vocals appearing on #1 hits by Rosanne Cash (“I Don’t Know Why You Don’t Want Me”) and Patty Loveless (“Timber I’m Falling in Love.”)

When Brown left RCA for MCA records, Gill followed shortly thereafter.  In 1989, he released the dramatic ballad “When I Call Your Name”, featuring harmony vocals from Loveless. The record made him one of the genre’s hottest stars, setting up a decade of dominance at radio and retail.  Throughout the nineties, Gill racked up a stunning run of hits and big-selling albums, with I Still Believe in You selling more than five million copies on the strength of four #1 hits.

Gill alternated between rave-ups that featured his guitar prowess and power ballads that brought country’s traditional heartache sound into the late twentieth century.  Despite his new  popularity, he still did as much session work as ever, happily accepting offers to sing and play on the albums of anyone who requested him to.   He became known as the genre’s leading gentleman, and his quick wit led to him hosting the CMA awards for more than a decade.  Because of both his talent and his work with other artists, Gill dominated the two award shows voted on by his peers, winning more than a dozen Grammys and CMA awards.  He is tied with George Strait for the most CMA Male Vocalist trophies, and holds the record for the most wins in the Song of the Year category.

As radio support slowly dwindled toward the late nineties, Gill focused on making ambitious albums, most notably the four-CD set These Days, which earned him another pair of Grammys and a platinum award.      He was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2005, and he was one of the youngest inductees in history to the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2007.  A marriage to fellow singer Amy Grant has kept him focused more on family than music in recent years, but he still tours regularly and remains an Opry staple.  His most recent set, Guitar Slinger, hit shelves in 2011 and earned him multiple songwriting nominations for the lead single, “Threaten Me with Heaven.”

Essential Singles:

  • When I Call Your Name, 1990
  • Look at Us, 1991
  • I Still Believe in You, 1992
  • Don’t Let Our Love Start Slippin’ Away, 1992
  • Whenever You Come Around, 1994
  • Go Rest High on That Mountain, 1995
  • Worlds Apart, 1996
  • If You Ever Have Forever in Mind, 1998

Essential Albums:

  • When I Call Your Name, 1990
  • I Still Believe in You, 1992
  • When Love Finds You, 1994
  • High Lonesome Sound, 1996
  • The Key, 1998
  • These Days, 2006

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100 Greatest Men: #39. Faron Young

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As comfortable with a honky-tonk number as a pure pop melody, Faron Young was an influential performer that helped smooth country music’s trip uptown.

Born and raised in Louisiana, Young started playing country music in high school, and managed to make it on the radio show Louisiana Hayride early in his career, leaving college to tour with the program.   On the show, he met Webb Pierce, and the duo became a popular touring combination in the southeast.   A pair of singles for independent label Gotham caught the attention of Capitol Records, and the

label bought out his contract so they could release his music to a national audience.

His career was diverted by his drafting into the Army, but it was back on track as soon as he returned to the states.   He had several popular country hits in the fifties that were steeped in honky-tonk sounds, aided by a  little Western swing.   His photogenic looks also got the attention of Hollywood, and soon Young was known as the Hillbilly Heartthrob, appearing in several movies while continuing his dominance at radio and on stage.

Young was significant for his ability to identify new songwriters with promising talent.   He was the first to score a big hit with a Don Gibson song, taking “Sweet Dreams” high up the charts several years before Patsy Cline did the same.  He also brought Willie Nelson to Nashville’s attention when he turned the quirky “Hello Walls” into a massive hit in 1961.    Soon after, he switched from Capitol to Mercury, and at this time his music took on a more pop-oriented sound.

His ability to adjust his style kept him relevant for a longer time than most of his fifties counterparts.  He was still a consistent presence on the radio throughout the sixties and much of the seventies, even topping the charts with “It’s Four in the Morning” in 1971 and reaching the top forty as late as 1978.   He switched to MCA records late in his career, but it didn’t rekindle his success at radio.

Throughout the eighties and early nineties, he remained popular on stage and on television, making frequent Opry appearances as one of the organization’s most senior performers, having joined in 1954.   Sadly, illness sidelined him, and his depression over his weakened state led to his death in 1996 by a self-inflicted gunshot wound.  Despite the tragic end to his amazing career, his significance was immortalized in 2000, when he joined the hallowed ranks of the Country Music Hall of Fame.

Essential Singles:

  • Live Fast, Love Hard, Die Young, 1955
  • All Right, 1955
  • Sweet Dreams, 1956
  • Alone With You, 1958
  • Country Girl, 1959
  • Hello Walls, 1961
  • Wine Me Up, 1969
  • It’s Four in the Morning, 1971

Essential Albums:

  • This is Faron Young!, 1959
  • Hello Walls, 1961
  • Story Songs for Country Folks, 1964
  • Unmitigated Gall, 1967
  • Wine Me Up, 1969

Next: #38. Vince Gill

Previous:  #40. Hank Snow

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100 Greatest Men: #40. Hank Snow

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Long before Anne Murray and Shania Twain achieved worldwide fame, Hank Snow crossed over the Canadian border and became a country music superstar.

Snow was a child runaway, escaping home at age twelve and finding solace in the music of Jimmie Rodgers.   The four years he spent traveling before returning home laid the foundation for the realism that would bleed into the traveling songs he became famous for.   Snow built up a following in Nova Scotia, and then made the move to Halifax.   Living in the city caused great financial hardship for Snow and his young wife, but his unpaid appearances gave him enough notoriety to finally earn some paying gigs.

Throughout the forties, his success grew in Canada.  He had several local country hits and became a popular radio performer throughout his native country.  But it took him much longer to get a shot in America, where his RCA label refused to release his work until he became better known in the states.  He got his stateside break when Ernest Tubb invited him to the Opry stage, and that was enough to convince RCA to release his music in America.

After many years of toiling in obscurity, he was a huge success out of the gate.  Snow’s honky-tonk sound and worldly lyrics dominated the charts throughout the fifties, with many of his singles topping the charts for weeks on end.   “I’m Moving On” is tied with two other hits as the longest-running #1 single in Billboard history, spending 21 weeks at the top, and “I Don’t Hurt Anymore” is close behind, spending twenty weeks in the penthouse.

He had many other classic hits in this decade, most notably “Yellow Roses” and “Let Me, Go Lover!”    After forming a management company with Colonel Tom Parker, Snow was influential in encouraging Elvis Presley to record country music, and dabbled in some rockabilly himself, though he rarely strayed too far from his country roots.

Even as the Nashville Sound began to dominate, Snow remained relevant, scoring big hits throughout the sixties and early seventies, most notably the #1 hits “I’ve Been Everywhere” in 1962 and “Hello Love” in 1974.    Snow released many LPs that were united in themes like traveling and tragedy, and also many that paid tribute to his musical influences like Rodgers and the Sons of the Pioneers.

As his career winded down through the latter half of the seventies, Snow was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1978 and the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1979.  In 1981, he parted ways with RCA after forty-five years, but he remained an active performer on the Opry stage well into the nineties, before his death in 1999 at age 85.

Essential Singles:

  • I’m Moving On, 1950
  • The Golden Rocket, 1950
  • The Rhumba Boogie, 1951
  • I Don’t Hurt Anymore, 1954
  • Let Me Go, Lover!, 1954
  • Yellow Roses, 1955
  • I’ve Been Everywhere, 1962
  • Hello Love, 1974

Essential Albums:

  • Country Classics, 1956
  • When Tragedy Struck, 1958
  • Souvenirs, 1961
  • More Hank Snow Souvenirs, 1964
  • Travelin’ Blues, 1966
  • Tracks & Trains, 1971
  • Hello Love, 1974

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