If Fred Rose had only been Hank Williams‘ creative confidant, his contribution to country music history would have been immense. But that’s only part of the story of a giant of Nashville and beyond.
Rose also wrote hits for artists from Gene Autry to Bing Crosby, served as A&R man for not just Hank but Bob Wills, the Louvin Brothers and others, and co-founded one of Nashville’s biggest song publishing companies, Acuff-Rose. No wonder that, in 1961, he was one of the first three inductees into the Country Music Hall of Fame. We’re remembering the life of a man born on 24 August 1898.
Knowles Fred Rose grew up in St. Louis, where he showed early musical prowess before moving, still a teenager, to Chicago. His talents as a songwriter were established as early as the 1920s, when he co-wrote one of Sophie Tucker’s best-loved releases, ‘Red Hot Mama,’ a 1924 hit on Okeh; ‘Deed I Do,’ also recorded by Tucker and popular in ’27 for Ruth Etting and Johnny Marvin; and ‘Honest and Truly,’ which sold well for both Henry Burr and Ben Selvin. Rose also recorded himself, for Brunswick.
A move to Nashville in the 1930s brought Rose into the orbit of the Grand Ole Opry, but he also worked in New York, where he scored his first country-flavoured success as a writer with ‘We’ll Rest At The End Of The Trail,’ which attracted versions by Bing Crosby, Tex Ritter and the Sons of the Pioneers. For part of the Second World War years, Fred was writing in Hollywood for cowboy movies.
The move that would eventually make him one of the most important figures came in 1942, when Rose moved back to Nashville and co-founded the town’s first music publishing company, Acuff-Rose Music, with Grand Ole Opry star Roy Acuff. Its noble goal, which helped it to be widely respected around the industry, was that “no man, or girl, that entered our door would be cheated our of a song, or one penny of anything that they’ve got coming.”
The firm would flourish for decades to come, with its offices on 8th Avenue South, where legend has it Hank Williams came to write the song that inspired Rose to take him under his wing, ‘I Can’t Help It (If I’m Still In Love With You).’
Rose’s influence grew all the more widely as he took on an unpaid A&R role with MGM Records, for whom Williams became one of the company’s biggest stars. The pair would have unbroken success, with Hank’s songwriting and Fred’s production, until Williams’ untimely death in 1953.
Rose had other notable landmarks as a writer, especially with ‘Blue Eyes Crying In The Rain,’ recorded in 1947 by Roy Acuff and his Smoky Mountain Boys and by western swing family outfit the Sleepy Hollow Ranch Gang. It went on to attract endless covers, and to become a signature song for Willie Nelson. In his A&R capacity, he was a crucial figure for MGM and other labels, securing the Louvin Brothers a deal with Capitol among other signings.
Rose died of heart failure, at just 56, in late 1954, when his son Wesley took over his role at Acuff-Rose Music. But there was no replacing Fred’s singular presence as one of Nashville’s most creative authorities, and when the Country Music Hall of Fame opened in 1961, he was among its first trio of honorees with Jimmie Rodgers and the man who had so much to thank him for, Hank Williams.
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