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Rock & Roll Saturday – Remembering Phoebe Snow

April 30, 2011

By all rights and circumstance, Phoebe Snow could have sung the Mississippi Delta blues right along side Robert Johnson, Memphis Minnie, or Howlin’ Wolf. Lord knows she had plenty to be blue about.

Phoebe sang to a generation lost in space with a soft touch and strummed your very soul right along with her Martin guitar. Her 1974 song Poetry Man was a torch song of love, infatuation,  and admiration, done in a poetic style, of which she was especially adept. It was a defining hit of the seventies when music was branching out, unfolding new genres almost daily.

I think it safe to say, Phoebe Snow knew something about love.

The spotlight of fame flashed on this wonderful voice for a relatively brief period. Shortly after her 1974 success with Poetry Man, Phoebe gave birth to a daughter, Valerie Snow in December of 1975. Her daughter was born with a severe brain injury. Vowing to not institutionalize her daughter, Phoebe chose to care for her at home and did so until Valerie’s death in 2007 at the age of 31. The decision certainly impacted her music career and she nearly faded to obscurity in the coming years.

Born 1950, in Teaneck, NJ, Phoebe Ann Laub grew up in a blue collar home where music constantly played in the background. Her father Merrill Laub, was an exterminator by trade, but he was also an avid collector and antique restorer. Her mother was a dance instructor and alumni of the Martha Graham Dance Group.

After graduating from Teaneck High School and a short stint at Shimer College in Mount Carroll, IL, she returned home and began draging her Martin guitar playing amateur night in small clubs around Greenwich Village. It was on one of these evenings in 1972 when music producer Denny Cordell noticed her performance and signed her to his Shelter Records label. The end result of that chance meeting was the 1974 release of her self-titled album, Phoebe Snow. The third track was Poetry Man, which subsequently climbed the Billboard Top 100 charts, topping out at #5.

She took her stage name from a fictional advertising icon created from the early 1900s for the Delaware, Lackawanna and Western Railroad. This was Phoebe Snow, a young woman who appeared on boxcars traveling near her hometown and always portrayed in a white dress.

During her career Snow has performed with numerous artists including Lou RawlsLadysmith Black MambazoDave GrusinAvenue Blue with Jeff GolubGarland JeffreysJewelDonald FagenPaul SimonBilly JoelQueenHiroshi FujiwaraJackson BrowneDave MasonLinda Ronstadt,Bonnie RaittMichael McDonaldBoz ScaggsCyndi LauperRoger DaltreyChaka KhanCeCe PenistonTake 6Michael BoltonThelma HoustonMavis StaplesLaurie AndersonTracy Nelson and The Sisters of Glory (with whom she performed at the second Woodstock festival), among others.

Snow had a cerebral hemorrhage in January of 2010. Over the next several months she endured  bouts of blood clots, pneumonia, and congestive heart failure. Snow died on April 26, 2011 at age 60 in Edison, New Jersey.

People come and people go throughout our lives. Some leave little impact and others carve deep emotional attachments we will never forget. In her own unassuming way, Phoebe Snow quietly chiseled her voice and character into anyone that was fortunate enough to love her music. Her passing leaves a void not easily filled.

In her own words from “Poetry man” …

So once again
It’s time to say so long
And so recall the call of life, la, la, la
You’re going home now
Home’s that place somewhere you go each day

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