Bob Dylan and Hank Snow: Little Buddy, Drunkard’s Son, Moving On.


By Larry Fyffe

Everybody knows that Canadian Maritimers rule the world even though the popular music industry, dominated by American promoters, underplay the fact.

The persona that Bob Dylan takes on when he starts out on his musical journey is that of Hank Snow of Nova Scotia.

Hank Snow’s father works for low wages in lumber mills, but poverty leads to the family splitting up; Hank is treated badly by his parental grandmother. He rejoins his remarried mother whose mail-order guitar he learns to play, but his step-father mistreats him.

Later on, Hank works on a fishing boat. A fan of the southern ‘Singing Brakeman’ Jimmy Rodgers, whose life is rather like that of the Nova Scotian, Hank Snow moves to the southern United States at the age of twenty-one, and eventually becomes an American citizen. Naturally, Hank and his songs remain very popular with Canadians, especially in the Maritime Provinces of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Prince Edward Island.

Movie mogul Louis B. Mayer, actor Donald Sutherland, singers ‘Stompin’ Tom Connors and Anne Murray, as well as poet Elizabeth Bishop, are famous figures in the arts and entertainment field who come from the Maritimes.

As a youngster in snowy Minnisota, Bob Dylan listens to the Maritimer’s songs, such as:

Kneeling close by the side
Of his pal and only pride
A little lad these words he told to me
He was such a lovely doggy
And to me he was such fun
But today as we played by the way
A drunken man got mad at him
Because be barked in joy
He beat him and he’s dying here today
(Hank Snow: Little Buddy)

The sorrowful words of that song, Dylan retains in his memory:

The windows are boarded
With paper mache
And even the dog
Just ran away
(Bob Dylan et al: Shirley Temple Don’t Live Here Anymore)

Strongly influenced by a Jimmie Rodgers’ song, Hank Snow pens the following lyrics:

Oh why are you lying up here in the cold
What makes you lie on this hard bed?
My father’s a drunkard, and he beat me today
My darling old mother is dead
I’m hiding from my father, and please, sir, don’t tell
He beat me ’cause I would not steal
He said he would kill me the next time I failed
And I’m so afraid, sir, that he will
(Hank Snow: Drunkard’s Son)

(It’s pointed out by others that Dylanologist Clinton Heylin confuses the song above by Hank Snow with the song written and sung by Jimmie Rodgers).

The lasting effects of Hank Snow’s lyrics (Dylan covers Snow’s “I’m Moving On”) show up in the following lyrics:

And if I pass this way again, you can rest assured
I’ll always do my best for her, on that I give my word
In a world of steel-eyed death and men who are fightin’ to be warm
“Come in”, she said, “I’ll give you shelter from the storm”
(Bob Dylan: Shelter From The Storm)

And again in this song that Dylan sings with Johnny Cash:

If you go when the snowflakes fall
Where the rivers freeze and summers end
Please see for me if she’s wearing a coat so warm
To keep her from the howling winds
(Bob Dylan: Girl From The North Country)

Below another song, a cover by Hank Snow, that the young Dylan listens to:

That old rain is cold and slowly fallin’
Upon my window pane tonight
And though your love is even colder
I wonder where you are tonight
(Hank Snow: I Wonder Where You Are Tonight – composer~Johnny Bond)

Bob Dylan, a bit later, warms up the cold weather with some ironic humour:

Well, I got the fever down in my pockets
The Persian drunkard, he follows me
Yes, I can take him to your house, but I can’t unlock it
You see, you forgot to leave me with the key
Ohh, where are you tonight, Sweet Marie?
(Bob Dylan: Absolutely Sweet Marie)

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  1. Thanks. Hank deserves to be remembered.

    What about A Fool Such As I x2, Ninety Miles An Hour and Nobody´s Child – songs made famous by Hank. Part of the story, and of Dylan´s fascination for Hank Snow.

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