Foley, Red (Clyde Julian)

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Foley, Red (Clyde Julian)

Foley, Red (Clyde Julian), American country singer and radio and television host; b. Blue Lick, Ky, June 17, 1910; d. Fort Wayne, Ind., Sept. 19, 1968. One of the major country music singers of the 1940s and 1950s, Foley helped popularize country music through extensive radio and television appearances, notably on The National Barn Dance and the Grand Ole Opry on radio and Ozark Jubilee on television. Among the 56 Top Ten country hits he scored between 1944 and 1956, the most popular were “Chattanoogie Shoe Shine Boy/7 “Smoke on the Water,” and “Birmingham Bounce.”

Foley was the son of Ben and Kate Foley; his father played the fiddle. When he was a child, the family moved to Berea, Ky, where his father ran a general store. His father gave him a guitar when he was six, and he also learned to play harmonica. But he showed particular talent as a singer, winning a contest sponsored by the Kent-Atwater radio manufacturing company when he was 17, after which he began taking singing lessons. He graduated from high school in 1930 and earned a voice scholarship to Georgetown Coll. in Georgetown, Ky, but during his first semester he accepted a job performing with the Cumberland Ridge Runners on the WLS Barn Dance radio show in Chicago. He recorded with the group on the Conqueror Records label between 1933 and 1936.

Foley’s first wife, Pauline Cox, died giving birth to his first daughter, Betty, on Feb. 3, 1933. Betty Foley grew up to be a country singer and performed with her father. He remarried, to Eva Overstake, a singer on the Bam Dance who performed under the name Judy Martin. They had three daughters, including Shirley Lee, who later married Pat Boone; in turn, their daughter Debby Boone also became a successful singer.

On Sept. 23, 1933, a one-hour segment of the Barn Dance was picked up for national broadcast, becoming The National Barn Dance. In October 1937, Foley, along with other employees of the show, left to set up the Renfro Valley Barn Dance, which also gained network distribution. During 1938 he also appeared on the Plantation Party series, and from October 1938 to July 1939 on Avalon Variety Time, a comedy-variety series that starred comedian Red Skelton starting in January 1939.

Foley returned to Chicago and The National Barn Dance in 1940. In 1941 he signed to Decca Records and, in June, appeared in the film The Pioneers. He first reached the country charts with “Smoke on the Water” (music and lyrics by Earl Nunn and Zeke Clements), which went to #1 in September 1944 and also made the Top Ten of the pop charts. “Shame on You” (music and lyrics by Spade Cooley) was Foley’s second country #1 in November 1945; the record was credited to Lawrence Welk and His Orch. with Red Foley.

On April 13, 1946, Foley joined the Nashville-based Grand Ole Opry as the star of its Prince Albert Show segment, the portion of the program that was broadcast nationally; he replaced Roy Acuff. He continued to score country hits, topping the charts with “New Jolie Blonde (New Pretty Blonde)” (music and lyrics by Lew Wayne and Moon Mullican) in May 1947 and “Tennessee Saturday Night” (music and lyrics by Billy Hughes) in March 1949. In early 1950 he enjoyed his biggest hit, “Chattanoogie Shoe Shine Boy” (music and lyrics by Harry Stone and Jack Stapp), which topped the country charts in January and the pop charts in February, selling a million copies. “Birmingham Bounce” (music and lyrics by Sid “Hardrock” Gunter) went to #1 in the country charts in May, as did “Mississippi” (music and lyrics by Curley Williams and Billy Simmons) in July. Foley and Ernest Tubb’s recording of “Goodnight Irene” (music and lyrics by Lead Belly) topped the country charts in August and made the pop Top Ten. In September, Foley peaked in the pop Top Ten with “Cincinnati Dancing Pig” (music by Guy Wood, lyrics by Al Lewis).

Foley’s 1951 recording of Thomas A. Dorsey’s gospel song “(ThereTl Be) Peace in the Valley (For Me)” became his second million-seller. The same year, his wife committed suicide in the wake of revelations about his affair with radio singer Sally Sweet; he married Sweet in 1954. His recording of “Midnight” (music and lyrics by Boudleaux Bryant and Chet Atkins) topped the country charts in January 1953; that year he left the Grand Ole Opry and moved to Springfield, Mo., where he joined the radio show Ozark Jubilee. “One By One” (music by Johnnie Wright, Jack Anglin, and Jim Anglin), a duet between Foley and Kitty Wells, topped the country charts in July 1954.

Foley launched a network television version of Ozark Jubilee in January 1955 that ran until November 1961. During the 1962–63 television season, he had a feature role on the situation comedy Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. In the last five years of his life he toured extensively. He was elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1967 and was nominated for a 1967 Grammy Award for Best Sacred Performance for the album Songs of the Soul. He died of a heart attack in 1968 at age 58 while on tour.


Hot Today (1941); Just a Closer Walk with Thee (1950); John Edwards Memorial Collection, ca. 1950s (1959); Lift Up Your Voice (1951); Hillbilly Fever in the Ozarks (1954); Red and Ernie (1956); Souvenir Album (1958); He Walks with Thee (1958); My Keepsake Album (1958); Beyond the Sunset (1958); Let’s All Sing to Him (1959); Let’s All Sing with Red Foley (1959); Company’s Comin’ (1961); Songs of Devotion (1961); Red Foley’s Golden Favorites (1961); Dear Hearts and Gentle People (1962); The Red Foley Show (1963); The Red Foley Story (1964); Songs Everybody Knows (1965); I’m Bound for the Kingdom (1965); Red Foley (1966); Songs for the Soul (1967); Red Foley’s Greatest Hits 1937—39, Vol. 1 (1968); Gospel Favorites (1976); Country and Western Memory Lane, Vol. 3 (1985); Country Music Hall of Fame (1991). Patsy Cline: Live, Vol. 2 (1989). Rex Griffin: Last Letter (1996). Hank Snow: Singing Ranger (1959). Ernest Tubb: Let’s Say Goodbye Like We Said Hello (1959). Kitty Wells: Queen of Country. Various Artists: Heroes of Country Music, Vol. 2; Heroes of Country Music, Vol. 3.

—William Ruhlmann