Chattanooga Has Inspired Classic Songs

I’ve always been a train buff, and since I’m also a fan of big-band music it stands to reason that one of my favorite songs of all time would be Glenn Miller’s “Chattanooga Choo-Choo.” I especially like the long version, which includes a ‘jive’ reprise. That performance, which features an 18 year-old Dorothy Dandridge and the Nicholas Brothers (one of whom she’d marry a year later), is available below as an excerpt from the the 1941 film, Sun Valley Serenade.

ddBut even though Miller’s version was #1 on the charts in 1941 and also won the recording industry’s first-ever gold record, it wasn’t the only game in town. Lots of other bands performed the song, which was a popular piece both during and after World War II — and later a suspiciously similar song would become a hit for a country music star.

Clyde Julian ‘Red’ Foley came out of Kentucky during the Depression, determined to make it in music. A talented guitarist and singer, he began building his fame by winning talent contests and making radio appearances in the Chicago area. Before long he became a regular on the popular radio show, National Barn Dance, and over the next several years became an audience favorite.

By the time World War II started, Foley had become established enough to co-host his own radio show (with young comedian Red Skeleton) and had even shown up in a Western movie with his buddy, Tex Ritter. However, he still hadn’t hit the big time in record sales. That would change in 1944, when his “Smoke on the Water” rocketed up to number one on the charts, where it would remain for 13 consecutive weeks.

In the post-war years, Foley confirmed his country music stardom with a series of hits that he recorded with his own band, the Cumberland Valley Boys. Some of the most popular included “New Jolie Blonde (New Pretty Blond),” and “Tennessee Saturday Night,” but in 1950 he recorded the song I mentioned earlier, and it became one of his best-known.

Chattanoogie Shoeshine Boy” certainly owed a lot to the original big-band hit, but was apparently different enough to sidestep any legal difficulties. It was recorded by a number of singers — even Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra — but it was Foley’s version that hit the top of the charts and stayed there for three months.

However, not everything was working out well. The singer’s wife committed suicide the following year — reportedly due to his infidelity — and even though he continued to churn out hits for the rest of the decade, he began spending more time with his family (including daughter Shirley, who would later become Mrs. Pat Boone).

He continued working well into the Sixties, but died in 1968 — just a year after his induction into the Country Music Hall of Fame.

2 thoughts on “Chattanooga Has Inspired Classic Songs

  1. Love this song but I have to confess that it no longer reminds me of trains as it use to but rather it reminds me of one of my favorite jokes involving Roy Rogers, his cowboy boots and a rouge bob cat. I am sure you may have heard the joke at some point but in case not…..

    One day Roy Rogers was passing the boot maker’s shop when he noticed a pair of boots in the window that were the most beautiful he had ever seen. He entered the shop and told the proprietor that he must have the boots that were in the window. The proprietor said the boots were made for someone else, but, if they fit Roy, he could have them and he would make a new pair for the other customer.

    So Roy proudly left the shop wearing his new boots. However, on the way back to his ranch, it began to rain and as he walked up to the ranch house, his new boots got all muddy. He left them on the porch and entered the house.

    While he was eating his dinner, a bob cat snuck up onto the porch and grabbed boots in his mouth and ran off with both of the boots. Fortunately the cook saw the theft and called Roy. Roy was livid. He whistled for Trigger and took off at a gallop after the bob cat.

    A few hours later he returned with a dead bob cat across the front of his saddle. The once beautiful boots were hanging out of the saddle bags. They were torn to shreds. As he rode up, the cook hailed Roy. When the cowboy drew near the cook looked curiously at the bob cat slug across Trigger’s back and shouted, “Pardon me Roy, is that the cat that chewed your new shoes?”

    When you present the punch line to the joke you present it in a similar sounding refrain from the song Chattanooga Choo-Choo, which is….. “Pardon me boy, is that the Chattanooga Choo-Choo.?” It is rather funny but your listeners need to be familiar with the song. 🙂


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