Pop Goes The Country is an ongoing feature where I explore country music’s biggest crossover hits.
If you were to read any country music history book, you’d find a lot of parallels between the end of World War II and country music’s growth as a genre. Freed from wartime restraints, Americans were now looking for the stability they were denied in earlier years. As for the music business, without wartime restrictions, records could now be produced in higher quantities than before, and the public was ready to buy them.
After the war, at least 65 recording companies were releasing country music records. Radio was another huge way of exploiting country, or rather, “hillbilly” talent. By 1949, at least 650 radio stations featured live country performers.
Nashville’s rise as a center for the country music business is entirely a post-World War II narrative. It was the formation of Acuff-Rose Publications in 1942 that provided Nashville with its first commercial music business independent of WSM and the Grand Ole Opry. Their joint publishing venture took advantage of BMI’s presence and provided a way through which earnings could be allotted to Opry-connected songwriters. The larger meaning of this was that these funds stayed in Nashville, in the hands of local writers, and in the hands of Acuff-Rose.
Publishing money became Nashville’s largest source of locally controlled music capital, furthering Nashville’s growth as a legitimate country music center. The defining moment for Acuff-Rose was the arrival of a skinny, near-sighted kid from Montgomery, Alabama to Nashville in 1946 who went by the name of Hank Williams, but that’s a story for another time.
This particular story is focused on country music in a post-World War II context, and really, this edition of ‘Pop Goes The Country’ is a split tale between Red Foley, the singer behind this edition’s crossover hit of “Chattanoogie Shoe Shine Boy,” and Acuff-Rose, the publishing company responsible for its release.
There’s a lot of myth surrounding “Chattanoogie Shoe Shine Boy,” but two things that are generally regarded as facts are that Fred Rose wrote it, and Harry Stone and Jack Stapp wound up with the writer’s credits. In How Nashville Became Music City U.S.A., author Micheal Kosser recalls an elevator ride with Stapp that helped to illuminate some of the uncertainties surrounding the song.
“In the mid-’70s, [Jack] Stapp and I were riding a very slow elevator from the ground floor to the third floor of Tree International, of which Jack was the chairman of the board. I asked him how he had come to write the song, and he replied, ‘I didn’t write it, Harry Stone gave me half the song’ ‘How did he come to write it?’ I asked. ‘He didn’t write it either. Fred Rose gave it to him.’ Ironically, in making the gift of that song, Fred Rose might have furnished the seed money for the publishing company that would some day supplant Acuff-Rose as the premier music publishing company in Nashville.”
“Chattanoogie Shoe Shine Boy” is what’s known in country music as a boogie tune. Country music had long demonstrated an affinity for the blues and other African American-derived forms, but the term itself didn’t appear on a country record until Johnny Barfield recorded “Boogie Woogie” in 1939. The post-war preoccupation with the style began with the Delmore Brothers’ recording of “Hillbilly Boogie” (the Delmores actually did at least eleven more songs with “boogie” in the title after this). Between 1945 and the early 1950s, several artists had a fascination with this style, including the Maddox Brothers and Rose, Jack Guthrie, Moon Mullican, Tennessee Ernie Ford and of course, Red Foley (among others). As a No. 1 country and pop hit, “Chattanoogie Shoe Shine Boy” was unarguably the biggest “boogie” song.
As for Foley himself, he was an artist who wore many hats. He was a singer, a television host and an actor who contributed greatly to country music’s rise following World War II. Going back to Nashville’s rise as a music center though, during this time, the Grand Ole Opry had undoubtedly become the king of barn-dance radio shows. Known then as “hillbilly heaven,” regardless of commercial origins, most country performers dreamed of being invited to become members of the Opry cast. Membership lent prestige to an individual as well as indispensable aid in obtaining bookings everywhere. It was the mecca of country music.
Of course, as the Opry grew in size and prominence, it lost both its original geographical identity and much of its down-home atmosphere. Still, “good old boys and girls” made up the majority of its roster, and a sense of family and informality survived. By 1950, it had a cast of around 120 individuals. Although millions of Americans heard the show, many heard only the thirty-minute NBC segment hosted for eight years after 1946 by Clyde Julian “Red” Foley. As mentioned before, Foley wore many hats and could interpret many different styles from country to boogie, blues and jump tunes.
As for the song itself, there’s not much to say. Like with most of the crossover hits explored in this feature, the song features a very smooth vocal performance with equally smooth production. It’s clean, but it’s not smooth to the point of being unenjoyable. It’s got a nice, easy, rollicking feel to it, another trait for most of these crossover hits thus far. It’s no wonder pop crooners such as Frank Sinatra and Bing Crosby decided to cover this.
This piece was written thanks to the following sources:
- Country Music U.S.A. by Bill C. Malone, with an excerpt taken from Chapter 7, The Boom Period: The Emergence of a Big Business, 1946-1953.
- Country: The Music and the Musicians by the Country Music Foundation, with an excerpt taken from Chapter 13, The Bottom Line: Business Practices That Shaped Country Music (by Bill Ivey).
- How Nashville Became Music City U.S.A. by Michael Kosser, with an excerpt taken from Chapter 3, It All Begins With A Song (the specific quote comes from page 25).