Red Foley – Nashville’s 1st Country Star

Clyde Julian Foley, also referred to as Red Foley was a well-known musician, radio and television personality whose influence caused the rise and spread of Country Music following the end of World war II. He sold more than 25 million records for the three-decade-span that he was a recording artist.  His fame also brought commercial success to the recognition of Country Music as a valuable genre.

Red Foley then became the first country artist to do a recording in Nashville, Tennessee. He cut songs like “Tennessee Saturday Night”, “Blues in the Heart” and “Tennessee Border” during the session at WSM-AM’s Studio B on January 17, 1945.


A Modest Start

Red Foley was born on June 17, 1910, in Blue Lick, Kentucky and began playing harmonica and guitar at a young age. By the time he was 17, he had taken the first prize in a statewide talent competition. Though Foley was a great athlete, right after he graduated, he joined a local talent contest and won which gave him a voice scholarship in Georgetown College, Kentucky.

While a freshman in 1930, a talent scout from Chicago’s WLS radio spotted him. He quit college and got into John Lair’s Cumberland Ridge Runners on the WLS National Barn Dance. The band made a lot of music with Foley during those times and in 1937, he helped in originating the Renfro Valley Barn Dance Show which was broadcast from Cincinnati, Ohio until 1939.

Red Foley remained in the program until late 1939 doing everything such as ballads, boogies, and blues. He then became the first county singer to host his network radio program, Avalon Time, at the same time which was co-hosted by a comedian, Red Skelton, and performed extensively in theaters, clubs and at fairs.

Singing Career

After that year, the singer moved back to the WLS Barn Dance and signed with Decca Records. One of the earliest hits he made came with the self-penned “Old Shep.” It’s a weepy song about his dog that became more popular for about fifteen years later when recorded by a famous singer, Elvis Presley.

Red Foley was signed to Decca Records in late 1940, an association that will last for the next twenty-seven years. He made his first session for his new label in Chicago, but this time, it was accompanied by a string band which was provided by the WLS Rangers. “Old Shep,” and Gene Autry’s “Be Honest with Me” were one of the records he made.

In the year 1941, Red Foley made his film debut with Tex Ritter in the Western film,  The Pioneers. In 1944, “Smoke on the Water”, his first chart single, topped the charts for 13 consecutive weeks. In 1945, he was the first country singer to record in Nashville.  Foley signed on to emcee and performed on a segment of the Grand Ole Opry program broadcast on NBC which was The Prince Albert Show in 1946. His fame among avid listeners was frequently credited to the establishing of Opry as the pre-eminent radio show of the country.

Red Foley began to record more singles with his backing band, The Cumberland Valley Boys at the beginning of 1947. He then earned another number one single with “New Jolie Blonde (New Pretty Blonde).” He made seven Top Five hits in the years 1947 to 1949 with the group, including “Tennessee Saturday Night” which topped the chart in 1948.

Hits and Accolades

He adored number one country hits with songs like “Shame on You,” “New Jolie Blonde,” “Tennesse Saturday Night,” and “Mississipi.”

Red Foley was the first country singer to work with the legendary Jordanaires on the making of his records, with the 1950 hit “Just A Closer Walk With Thee.”

At the end of  1949, Red Foley and Ernest Tubb worked together.  In 1950, their singles “Tennessee Border No. 2” became a Top 3 hit while its B-Side, “Don’t Be Ashamed of Your Age” became the Top 10. He then followed these records with “I Gotta Have my Baby Back” and “Careless Kisses,” both were included in the Top 10. Then he issued the song “Chattanoogie Shoe Shine Boy” which remained No. 1  for thirteen consecutive weeks, and soon became his trademark tune.

Red Folley was inducted in the Country Hall of Fame in 1967. On September 19, 1968, he performed in Fort Wayne Indiana. Sadly after the performance, Red Foley had a heart attack which resulted in his death.

Performing a lot of works from sentimental ballads to boogie, Gospel, rockabilly and blues, Red Foley remained to be one of the biggest names in the music industry selling more than twenty million records throughout his career.