The music publishing business is very interesting. A music composer and a lyric writer come to you and give you a piece of paper, usually with 32 bars of a melody on it. As the publisher, you're expected to create something that the whole world is going to sing. We were able to do that 300 times between 1945-1963; that's one hit song every month. That's why I was inducted into the Songwriters' Hall of Fame on June 15, 2000.
Most songs really have their own story. One time, I was friendly with a pal of Eddie Arnold's. He told me about a song he loved that he had always known, leading him to believe that it must be in the public domain. The name of it was "Anytime" and he sang it for me and then for Eddie, who liked it so much he wanted to record it. We didn't know the name of the songwriter or how to find him, but I had an idea and said to my brother that we should hire a detective agency to locate him. It didn't take 48 hours before the agency called us and said the song was written by Happy Larson, who was in prison for bouncing checks. We got in touch with the warden, and made a deal for the song. Eddie Arnold recorded it and so did Eddie Fisher. It was a top hit and one of the most successful songs we ever had.
Here's another example of how the music publishing business works. A small man named Jack Rollins came to me. He told me he knew nothing about music but was an excellent lyricist. He had been working for the Pennsylvania Railroad, and had never made more than $50 per week. He said if I gave him $1000 he would sign a three-year exclusive songwriter's contract with me, which I did after I'd read his lyrics. I teamed him with composer Steve Nelson, with whom I'd been working for a number of years. They asked me what they should write. I asked them who was the most important songwriter in the U.S. Of course, it was Irving Berlin. Then I questioned them as to which of Berlin's songs were the most important and they said the seasonal songs. So I told them to write some. They had a concept for a tune about a snowman named Frosty. But they lacked an idea about how Frosty could come to life. The next day I told them, "Why don't you put a magician's hat on him?" They did. During the first year after the song was recorded they sold millions of records (and did for years thereafter). The song was on the cover of the Montgomery Ward Christmas catalogue. In that year, the Company sold 24 million dollars' worth of Frosty the Snowman merchandise. We had an agreement giving us 4% of merchandise sales, or $1.2 million, which we shared with the writers. Jack Rollins suddenly became a wealthy man, moved to California, and bought a house very near ours. From then on, he made a very good living from songwriting.
A third example of how music publishing functions is illustrated by a tune written by one of our songwriters, Jenny Lou Carson. She was in Washington State and called about some songs she wanted me to come listen to. It was wintertime, and my brother didn't want me to fly from L.A., so I took the train to Tacoma. It was a long ride. When I got there it was snowing and quite wonderful. Carson lived with a bandleader named Tiny Hill who weighed over 400 pounds. They lived at the crossing of two rivers, the White and the Blue; it was called Inamaclaw (an Indian name). I liked one of her melodies very much called "Let Me Go Devil." The lyrics were heartbreaking and all about alcohol, so I thought no one would buy the song with that title and those words. I proposed she call the song "Let Me Go Lover" and change the words. She did not want to do it by herself, so I took the composition to a team of songwriters in New York. They wrote great lyrics for it. I then went to see the recording manager of Columbia Records, Mitch Miller, with whom I had become friendly. He loved the song and wanted to do something special with it, and I should just wait. Sometime later, he called me and said he wanted to use it in the background of an hour-long television play. Less than two weeks after that, he called again and asked me to come see him. He told me Columbia had orders for over 1 million records-the song was number one. It's still popular and a moneymaker even today.
Finally, there's the story of Hank Snow. One day in my L.A. office on Melrose Avenue, I looked out the window and saw a horse in a U-Haul and a Cadillac. A short man in cowboy clothing came up to the office and introduced himself as Hank Snow. He said to me that he was very well-known in Canada but completely unknown in the United States. He was in Los Angeles to see two music publishers. His agent had left him penniless. American Music had refused to give him any money as a songwriter and he wanted to sign an exclusive contract with me, if I would consider it. He played a tape for me. I liked the songs very much, so I gave him the $3000 he asked for; he insisted he needed a job, too, to earn some money. So I called Ernest Tubb, who said he knew Hank Snow very well and would call me back. About an hour later, he called and said to put Hank on the phone. Ernest had gotten Hank a job at a radio station in Texas. Hank was overjoyed and left right away. While Hank was there, I got in touch with Steve Sholes, the recording manager for RCA. I said, "Look, Steve, you already have Hank Snow under contract for Canada. Why don't you give him an agreement for the United States? He's very talented and I know you'll be satisfied with the results." He went to Texas and recorded a song called "I'm Moving On." It went immediately to the top of the country hit parade. I called my friends at the Grand Ole Opry and Ernest Tubb gave Hank a spot, which he kept for the rest of his life.