“Hello?” I said when I picked up the telephone receiver.
“Is this Les Kerr?” drawled the voice I heard.
“Yes, it is,” I said.
“This is Hank Snow.”
Stunned, I took a deep breath and said, “Hello, Mr. Snow. I’m honored to hear from you!”
It was August, 1987, about five months after I had moved to Nashville. Before I left Mobile, Alabama where I had lived for seven years, I recorded a twelve-song cassette of songs I had written called Sand in My Shoes. One of those songs, The Little Rebel, was inspired by my grandfather who had spent his adult life working for the Gulf, Mobile and Ohio Railroad. “The Rebel” was billed as “The South’s First Streamlined
Air-Conditioned Train” on its official GM&O timetable and fare brochure. It was Granddaddy’s favorite train, always the one he recalled most fondly.
Hank Snow still appeared regularly on the Grand Ole Opry in 1987. He always opened his portion of the show with his classic train song, I’m Movin’ On. Among my favorite Hank Snow train songs is The Golden Rocket and that summer, I bought his album, Hank Snow Railroad Man. While listening to it, I thought, “The Little Rebel would fit right into this album! Who knows, maybe he’ll do another railroad record and include my song.”
The letter I wrote to the Country Music Hall of Fame member that accompanied the tape I sent probably went like this:
Mr. Hank Snow
c/o The Grand Ole Opry
2804 Opryland Drive
Dear Mr. Snow,
I have long admired your work and enjoy hearing you perform on the Grand Ole Opry. Of all your songs, the ones about trains and railroads are my favorites. Here is a song I wrote about a train that ran on the Gulf, Mobile and Ohio Railroad called “The Little Rebel.” I’m sending it to you in hopes that you will consider recording or performing it.
Thank you for your consideration.
So when Hank, himself, called me on the phone to discuss the song, I thought I was dreaming. As we talked, it occurred to me that my answering machine recorded incoming messages on cassette tape. While trying to be as cool as possible on the phone, I did my best to make the machine start recording. It never did and I’ve often wondered if Hank Snow heard the clicking noise caused by pushing the record button that never engaged throughout the conversation.
“I like your song,” The Singing Ranger said. “It tells a good story and it’s a solid railroad song.”
My excitement was building like a head of steam on a six-eight wheeler as our conversation moved down the track. “Hank Snow likes my song and he called to tell me so!” blew through my mind as loudly as an air horn on a diesel locomotive.
But just as air brakes can slow a train moving at breakneck speed down a dangerous grade, my enthusiasm was about to come to a screeching halt.
“I wish I could help you out with it but I’m not doing any recording these days,” said Hank. “I just wanted you to know how much I appreciate you sending me the tape. Would you like for me to send it back to you?”
The image of Hank Snow, probably dressed in one of his rhinestone covered Nudie suits, going to the post office to mail my tape back to me flashed in my mind’s eye for a split second. Then, like an engineer sensing just the right moment to throttle back, I regained my composure.
“No sir,” I said. “I would hate for you to go through that trouble. But if you know anyone else at the Opry who might be interested in my song, feel free to pass it along to them.”
“Mighty fine, Son. Keep on writing and good luck.”
“Thank you Mr. Snow, I will.”
Text and photos copyright 2015 by Les Kerr.