NEW GLASGOW – Yesterday marked the 100th anniversary of the birth of Hank Snow, The Singing Ranger.
Though he passed away in 1999, his music has continued to entertain and inspire listeners around the world.
One such listener was New Glasgow native Allan Gene Bonvie, a gifted self-taught musician known as ‘Pictou County’s Hank Snow.’
Philip MacKenzie, an avid guitar player and musician, often played with Bonvie.
“Al Bonvie is an entertainer whose recognition was long overdue,” he said. “I consider him one of the best entertainers of Pictou County’s history.”
Though ‘Pictou County’s Hank Snow’ passed away in 2005, MacKenzie believes that many will remember his excellent musical talents and voice that sounded like Snow himself.
MacKenzie has put together a CD of Bonvie’s recorded music to raise funds for the Atlantic Burn Camp in Cape Breton.
Born in 1939, Bonvie grew up in what was affectionately known as Rabbit Town or the Coal Chutes on the Westside of New Glasgow. He lived nearby Bob George, another local musician who played with the Blue Cats Band, and the two often played guitar together.
MacKenzie said the two parted ways musically due to different style preferences.
“Although these guys were in the same interest of music, Bob wanted to play rock and roll and Allan’s priorities were with his idol Hank Snow.”
When Snow performed in New Glasgow, Allan made sure he shook hands with the man who would inspire his singing style.
But music wasn’t a primary source of income for Allan so he sought work in the county after completing Grade 11. His first job was with the Town of New Glasgow from 1957 to 1967. MacKenzie said that job entailed cutting grass along the side of the road using a scythe.
“He had his sights set on working in a parts department and later achieved this.”
Allan got a job at Scott Paper in 1967 and worked there until his retirement in 1999.
Back in the 1960s, Snow played a Gibson acoustic guitar so it was only natural that Allan play a Gibson as well. He acquired one for $225 with a hard shell case.
MacKenzie, who also grew up near the Coal Chutes, picked up guitar at age 12. It wasn’t long before they started collaborating musically and Bonvie became a regular fixture in the kitchen, recording Snow’s songs on a cheap cassette tape recorder.
“He asked me on different occasions if I’d take up the bass guitar,” said MacKenzie. “So I purchased an El Degas bass and a Vox amp, low-end equipment pricewise.”
Soon he was slapping bass to old-time fiddle music and learning runs and techniques. One day, he decided to invite Bonvie for a jam session in the hopes he’d make a tape.
“So after a few songs on guitar and switching to bass, Allan and I played for five hours straight.”
MacKenzie tried to convince Bonvie to schedule a recording session with Doug Freeman at his home studio but something always came up. After he passed away, he gathered up old tapes from different jam sessions and put together a CD.
“There were 44 different cassettes I reviewed and pieced together to form this CD,” MacKenzie said.
This labour of love received the blessing of Bonvie’s son who said his father would have been honoured to have his music help raise funds for the Atlantic Burn Camp.
Bonvie would have no doubt been honoured to hear what Snow’s band mates thought of his voice too.
MacKenzie met and struck up a friendship with Kayton Roberts, Snow’s steel guitar player for 30 years. He sent along a CD to Roberts and got a handwritten reply.
“The fellow Allan Bonvie sure sounds like Hank Snow,” the letter from Roberts read. “I enjoyed listening to him. He also plays like Hank on guitar too.”
It’s a fitting tribute to Bonvie, Pictou County’s Hank Snow, from the person who knew his musical talents best.
CDs of Bonvie and MacKenzie can be obtained by a free-will offering of $10. Donations will be given in memory of Allan Bonvie. All proceeds will go the to the Atlantic Burn Camp in Cape Breton to assist with operation and activity costs.
*Special thanks to Philip MacKenzie for assembling information for this story*
On Twitter: @NGNewsJohn
DID YOU KNOW…
Country music legend Hank Snow and his son Jimmie performed at the IOOF Hall in Sunny Brae when Snow was touring the Maritimes in 1947. Snow was dressed in a white Stetson, embroidered shirt, gun belt, pistol, riding britches and cowboy boots. Hank and Jimmie sang a number of songs to a full house.
Snow also brought along Shawnee, his chestnut brown and snow-white trick horse, which performed outside the hall after the performance.
In 1997, Jimmie and his wife were special guest at the Christian Fellowship Church where they exhibited their musical skills.
*With thanks to Clyde MacDonald and his book Sunny Brae: A Village Since 1802*