In 1933, Red Foley and Arthur Williams co-wrote the song “Old Shep”. This tear-jerking song is about a dog that Foley owned when he was a child.
Although Foley’s neighbor originally poisoned his dog, he made a good song about a dog. “Hoover” was the name of his Good Shepherd companion. In 1935, Foley first recorded the song. The second and third were in 1941 and 1946, respectively.
The story went around the narrator named Jim and his dog, Shep. As Shep was getting older and was becoming frailer, the vet tells Jim that he needs to put it down. To end its life, the narrator picks up a gun to end its misery. But, he simply cannot. He was singing, “Just couldn’t do it, I wanted to run / And I wished that they’d shoot me instead”.
As if the Old Shep was human, he puts his head on the owner’s knee and knowingly looks at him before peacefully passing away. In the final verse, Foley sings sweetly about Doggie Heaven, where “Old Shep has a wonderful home”.
As it became a country classic, here is a list of artists who covered it:
Hank Williams 1942, Elvis Presley 1956, Hank Snow 1959, Walter Brennan 1960, Dave Dudley 1965, Johnny Cash 1975, Everly Brothers & Garrison Keiler 1988, Pat Boone 1994, Burton Cummings (as Elvis) 1994, Alabama 2006
Elvis Presley’s Cover
On October 3, 1945, a young aged (10) Elvis Presley sang “Old Shep” for his first public performance. He performed it as his piece for a singing contest at the Mississippi-Alabama Fair and Dairy Show. Dressed as a cowboy, Presley stood on a chair to reach the microphone. The track placed him fifth, winning him $5 and a free ticket to the fair rides. As a teenager (16) in 1951, Elvis sang it again for a talent show at L.C. Humes High School. He was a student here and his encore performance made him win. In 1956, Elvis’ cover version was released.