Born Knowles Fred Rose, 24 August 1898, Evansville, Indiana
Songwriter / vocalist / publisher / producer / talent scout. In 1969 I acquired a copy of the second Champs LP, "Everybody's Rockin' With the Champs". It wasn't quite as good as the first LP ("Go Champs Go!"), but I particularly liked the closing track, "Foggy River" and noticed that it had been written by one Fred Rose. I had never heard of the man then. Since then I found out that "Foggy River" has been recorded by many artists, including Bill Monroe, Moon Mullican, Jean Shepard, Don Gibson, Carl Smith and Conway Twitty. I also know a lot more about its composer now. There are no less than 350 songs by him in the ASCAP database.
Fred Rose was a principal figure in the rise of the Nashville music industry between 1942 and 1954. He grew up in St. Louis, where he supplemented the family income by playing piano for tips in local saloons. By 1917 he had moved to Chicago, where he found similar work in bars of the South Side. During the 1920s, Rose made his name as a successful songwriter, authoring or co-authoring "Deed I Do", "Red Hot Mama" and "Honestly And Truly" for Sophie Tucker. During this decade he also recorded piano rolls, broadcast on several Chicago radio stations and recorded for the Brunswick label. In 1933, having lost his Chicago radio job because of a drinking problem, Rose moved to Nashville to work on WSM. While continuing to write pop material, he began to work closely with the Vagabonds and the Delmore Bothers at WSM and also wrote songs for cowboy singer Ray Whitley. In about 1935, Rose converted to Christian Science, a faith that would guide his personal and professional life from then on and helped him overcome his drinking problem.
In 1936 he scored his first pop-western hit, "We'll Rest at the End of the Trail", recorded by Tex Ritter, the Sons of the Pioneers and Bing Crosby. He spent most of the years 1938-1942 in Hollywood, penning a series of hits for cowboy film stars Gene Autry, Ray Whitley and Roy Rogers. With Roy Acuff, for whom he wrote hits like "Fireball Mail" and "Blue Eyes Crying In the Rain", Rose founded Acuff-Rose Music in October 1942, Nashville's first major country publishing house. Fred's son, Wesley Rose (1918-1990), became general manager in 1945, handling most of the business functions of the firm, thus allowing his father to focus on the creative side of the company. Fred Rose continued to write or co-write many country standards, while serving as an expert editor, most notably for Hank Williams, who was signed as a writer in 1946. Great as Hank was, he had very little schooling and Rose helped to polish many of his hits, but took co-writing credit in only a few cases, like "Kaw-Liga" and "I'll Never Get Out Of This World Alive". In addition, Rose served as MGM Records' unsalaried, Nashville-based A&R man. (Hickory Records, the later outlet for many Acuff-Rose copyrights, was not founded until early 1954, shortly before Rose died.) Fred recruited Hank Williams for MGM and supervised most of his sessions, but also acted as a talent scout for other labels. He also made Acuff-Rose a solid institutional base for aspiring songwriters such as Boudleaux and Felice Bryant. As a singer, Rose scored only one hit, "Tender Hearted Sue" (Okeh 6747, # 5 country), which came out under the name "The Rambling Rogue" in 1945.
Rose's work is of the greatest importance in post-war popular music. When country songs began to cross over to the pop market, they were Acuff-Rose songs, especially those by Pee Wee King and Redd Stewart ("Slow Poke", "Bonaparte's Retreat", and the biggest of all, "Tennessee Waltz", # 1 for 13 weeks by Patti Page). It was Wesley's contacts in New York City that helped place Hank Williams's songs with Mitch Miller in the early 50s. As a result, "Cold Cold Heart" became a million seller for Tony Bennett (1951), followed by other crossover hits like "Jambalaya" by Jo Stafford and "Hey Good Lookin' "by Frankie Laine.
When Fred Rose died in 1954, Roy Acuff immediately recognized Wesley as his natural successor. For his tireless promotion of country music within the American music industry, Fred Rose was elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1961, the first year that the honour was bestowed by the Country Music Association. He was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1970 and into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1985.
Acknowledgements : Several encyclopedias were useful, especially "The Encyclopedia Of Country Music" edited by Paul Kingsbury (1998) and "The Penguin Encyclopedia Of Popular Music"edited by Donald Clarke (2nd ed., 1998).
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