On March 1, 1917, Clifford Gilpin Snyder (Cliffie Stone) was born in Stockton, CA. He was the only child of Nina Belle and Clifford Herman Snyder (known as Herman), who was a traveling salesman for a large Oregon seed company when he met and married Nina Belle, who lived in Stockton with her family. When Cliffie was five years old, his parents relocated to Burbank, CA. They bought five acres of rural land and started a nursery (“Snyder Nursery”) as well as a dog kennel (basically for Herman’s hound dogs). Herman loved dogs and trained them to obey him especially when he took them hunting. He was a gregarious man who became friends with his customers – some of whom worked at the movie studios which was located about five miles from the Snyder Nursery. If they needed a movie “extra” or any of his dogs to be “atmosphere dogs” in the background scenes, they would call and hire Herman.
The Great Depression was near at hand and the Snyder family struggled to make ends meet. But Herman was a survivor and he did a variety of work to make a living: musician (piano/stringed instruments); salesman; small business owner; movie “extra” and dog trainer wherein he’d hire out his dogs to the studios. One of the movies Herman and his hound dogs were in was I Am A Fugitive From A Chain Gang starring Paul Muni, who was wrongly convicted of a crime and who had escaped and was being chased by guards and hound dogs. But the movie that changed the Snyder family’s life was The Big Trail, starring John Wayne. Herman was one of the rugged pioneers; and he and his dogs were hired to be in background scenes. The director, Raoul Walsh, told his actors and extras to grow beards and long hair, which Herman did. During the three months of filming in Oregon, the crew sat around the campfire at night and Herman played songs like ‘Oh, Suzanna’ on his banjo to entertain them. But the crew’s main activity was playing poker – and Herman excelled at poker! Nina Belle not only received his paychecks through the mail, but also his poker winnings. Nina would say to Cliffie, “We’re in high cotton!”
Being an only child and living in a rural area where he had no playmates (except his classmates at school), Cliffie and his mother grew very close. Cliffie did his best to help his mother run the nursery business whenever Herman was out of town. He dearly loved her and she taught him to respect and honor women, which he would do throughout his entire life. (To the right, is a photo of Nina Belle and Cliffie when he graduated from Burbank High School.)
When Herman came home from Oregon, the director called and hired him to play ‘Oh, Suzanna’ on his banjo, which was scored for The Big Trail. A dynamic radio personality, Stuart Hamblen (who had a popular radio show called Lucky Stars on KEHE) saw The Big Trail movie; and when he heard the banjo playing Oh, Suzanna, he called the director and got the musician’s phone number. The moment Stuart saw Herman, his mouth dropped because Herman still had his beard and long hair from The Big Trail gig. Stuart hired him to be in his band and nicknamed him, ‘Herman the Hermit’ which became his stage name. Thus, Herman got a steady gig and paycheck playing banjo on Stuart’s show. When Stuart’s bass player failed to show up for work for several days, he started auditioning bass players. Herman quickly called Cliffie and encouraged him to audition, which he did. Stuart hired him, and gave him the stage name of Cliffie Stonehead. Cliffie’s main job was playing bass on Stuart’s Lucky Stars radio show in the afternoon. As time went by, Stuart would also have Cliffie sing and do comedy skits with him, which was the beginning of a lifelong friendship. (To the left is a photo of Cliffie, his father, Stuart and the small radio station band.)
Since Cliffie’s dad was a multi-talented musician, Cliffie was exposed constantly to numerous musical instruments being played around the house during his childhood. Thus, his main interests in junior high and high school were music, then football and acting. His first instrument was the tuba. However, he fell in love with the bass after hearing its deep soulful sounds. He took lessons from Phil Cushman (a top bass player in the Los Angeles area at that time) and faithfully practiced two or more hours a day. Cliffie’s teenage years were extremely busy: school activities, his afternoon music gig on Stuart’s radio show, then two hours of practicing his bass. When Cliffie graduated from Burbank High School, he was offered a football scholarship to college, but he was already immersed in his music career. (To the left is a photo of Cliffie playing his bass.)
The ever popular Stuart Hamblen had gotten himself another radio show, Covered Wagon Jubilee, which was on in the morning and Cliffie played bass on that show as well. Eventually, other music opportunities opened up for Stuart and he decided to pursue them; so he quit his aforementioned radio shows. The sponsors (Star Outfitting Company) decided to hire Cliffie because he had filled in for Stuart in the past whenever he wasn’t there. Since Cliffie would now be doing the commercials, he wanted a simpler name; so he shortened his name to Cliffie Stone. Cliffie was very grateful to Stuart for hiring him, because he had learned so much from him about show business: how to dress; how to be impressive on the stage; and not to be afraid of taking over his new radio show responsibilities. Cliffie started playing records on Covered Wagon Jubilee in the morning; and he changed the name of Lucky Stars to Star Time. At this point in time, Cliffie was now taking bass lessons from an elite bassist, Arthur Pabst, who played 1st chair with the Los Angeles Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra. Cliffie learned how to read grouped notes, how to play jazz and classical music as well as how to use the German and French bows. (To the right is another photo of Stuart Hamblen’s band which had just won a “Best Cowboy Band” trophy: Top Row (L to R): Archie Wallace, Skeeter Hubbert, Joe Espitallier, Jerry Hutchison, Rufus “Goofus” Brewster, Darol Rice, Cliffie Stone. Bottom Row (L to R): Vince Engel, Lyn Dossey, Stuart Hamblen, Sonny Dawson, Herman ‘the Hermit.’ In 1971, Stuart received the ACM’s Pioneer Award.)
Cliffie never forgot the financial hardships of the Depression! So early on in his professional career, he freelanced to make extra money. He would do his daytime radio shows; then in the evenings and on weekends, he’d work as a bassist with big bands such as Anson Weeks and Freddie Slack. He’d also play bass on gigs at recording studios such as Radio Recorder’s Studios. When Cliffie worked for Stuart, he experienced being in the spotlight on the front microphone; although Cliffie deeply loved playing his bass, he wasn’t content with being in the background – he wanted to be at the center stage mic. So whenever he had gigs at nightclubs, such as Slapsy Maxies - a hangout for top comedians (Jackie Gleason, Milton Berle, Red Skelton) - they would inevitably get on the stage and perform. Cliffie would write down every joke they told as well as listen to how they delivered their lines. He felt this would someday help him to get closer to his dream - the center stage mic.
Cliffie was so highly regarded as an A-list bassist that the famous 1920’s crooner, songwriter & pianist, Gene Austin (who had sold an estimated 86 million records in the U.S.), hired him to be part of his trio as Kandy of the Koko & Kandy routine. At the time, Gene was co-headlining with vaudevillian showman, Ken Murray and his Blackouts at the El Capitan Theater in Hollywood, CA. After Gene’s trio act was over, Cliffie would then watch Ken Murray perform; he wrote down every joke that Ken told, observed his attitude, how he dressed and what he did with his cigar, which was part of his act. Cliffie proudly kept a 1942 souvenir program of his gig with Gene Austin (For more info, see ‘Early Years’ Gallery; Row 1, Photo 5 and read its caption.)
During this time frame, Cliffie also studied acting at the Pasadena Community Playhouse for awhile. He learned two important things as an actor: 1) to dress the part, because it helped you to feel and act the part; 2) how to memorize and think while moving around on stage. Cliffie left the acting field because he was getting more involved in all areas of the music industry, which paid his bills.
Let’s segue to Cliffie’s personal life during this time frame. He met and fell in love with a beautiful singer, Dorothy Darling, who performed with a very popular trio called The Three Aristocrats. After a lengthy courtship, they got married in 1939. They bought a home in the San Fernando Valley area and in due time, they started a family. They had four children: Linda and Stephen; ten years later, they had Curtis and Jonathan. Eventually, Dorothy and Cliffie moved their family to a twenty-one acre ranch in Canyon Country in the Santa Clarita area. Ironically, his good friend and music associate, Stuart Hamblen and his wife, Suzy, also bought a ranch in that area and they lived about six miles from Cliffie. Dorothy and Cliffie were always involved in their children’s activities and in their community. They became one of Santa Clarita’s most popular and prominent families. Cliffie would also produce and perform in an annual concert at Hart Park on Labor Day, and he always included the local talent. Cliffie was also a horseman and he would have small rodeos on the ranch that his neighbors would participate in. Both Dorothy and Cliffie were so proud of their children: Linda went to college and became a special needs teacher for children with hearing disabilities; Stephen was a piano player, songwriter, record producer and an executive music publisher for major companies; Curtis was a talented bass player, songwriter and one of the original members of the ACM and CMA award-winning Highway 101 band; and Jonathan held a number of executive positions with top publishing companies – one of them being President of Windswept Pacific, located in Los Angeles, CA. (To the right is a ranch photo of Cliffie, Dorothy and their children.)
Cliffie was a deejay on ‘Wake Up Ranch’ on KFVD from 7 a.m. to 9 a.m., which opened a lot of doors for him in the record business. He’d interview artists who had hit records such as Gene Autry, Lefty Frizzell and Tex Williams. Sometimes fans would drop by the station hoping to meet Cliffie and one of them was a Los Angeles policeman, Steve Stebbins. He told Cliffie that he was a big C/W fan and that he’d like to be involved in the music business, such as booking acts; and he wanted Cliffie’s opinion. Cliffie simply said, ‘It’s wide open.’ In his off duty time, Steve started booking Cliffie and his band on Saturday nights at various venues in Southern CA. Then Cliffie and Steve started Americana Corporation Booking Agency.They signed up various country artists to Americana and got them bookings whenever they toured the West Coast. Years later, when Ernie Ford’s ‘Sixteen Tons’ became a worldwide hit and Cliffie became Ernie’s full time manger, he gave his share of Americana to his good friend and partner, Steve Stebbins. (To the right is a photo of Cliffie on ‘Wake Up Ranch.’)
In this time frame, Cliffie developed a one hour musical show called Dinner Bell Round Up, which was broadcast on KXLA radio from the Huntington Hotel in Pasadena, CA. KXLA was owned by Pacific Coast Broadcasting Company and Loyal K. King was one of its general managers. Loyal was a true Western fan and he played an important role in promoting Cliffie and his musical shows. (The Western band that Cliffie put together for ‘Dinner Bell Round Up’ at the Huntington Hotel on KXLA. L to R: Harold Hinsley, Billy Leibert, Eddie Kirk, Judy Hayden, Cliffie, Herman the Hermit, Merle Travis and Ernie Ford. Seated: the Armstrong Twins)
Eventually, Cliffie changed the name of Dinner Bell Round Up to Hometown Jamboree, which became very popular on the radio and later on television (for a combined total of thirteen years). The time period was in the late 1940’s and 1950’s. The So. California TV stations that Hometown was on was Channel 13; and, later, Channel 5 every Saturday night. Hometown’s sponsor was a furniture store called Gold’s. Cliffie’s show became so popular that he moved it from the Huntington Hotel to the American Legion Hall (which held 4,000 people) in El Monte, CA. To quote Cliffie from his talent book: “World War II had started and during the early 1940s, California was inundated with hundreds of defense plants and its share of Army, Marine and Naval bases. These plants and Armed Service bases were primarily staffed and filled with people from every state in the union. These displaced folks were homesick and they missed their own hometowns. I realized this so I decided to call both my radio and TV show ‘Hometown Jamboree.’ I made it a homespun, fun-loving environment that would remind them of their close-knit communities back home. It was truly a fun and wholesome show for the entire family.” Although Hometown Jamboree wasn’t a talent show, Cliffie loved presenting new talent. The featured guests - as well as some of his cast members who would become famous - includes country artists who were touring on the West Coast. They include: Tennessee Ernie Ford, Molly Bee, Merle Travis, Tommy Sands, Barbara Mandrell, Eddy Arnold, Jim Reeves, Johnny Bond, Johnny Cash, Eddie Dean, Dallas Frazier, Lefty Frizzell, Freddie Hart, Johnny Horton, Ferlin Husky, Maddox Brothers & Rose, Hank Thompson, Tex Williams, Tex Ritter, and the list goes on. (To the right is a publicity photo of ‘Hometown Jamboree’ with many of its original cast members and musicians: Back Row (L to R): Roy Hart, Billy Leibert, Ray Merrill, Herman “The Hermit,” Billy Strange, Speedy West, Les Taylor and Al Williams. Middle Row (L to R): Jimmy Bryant, Bucky Tibbs, Jonell McQuaid, Cliffie Stone, Glenell McQuaid, Jonie O’Brien and Harold Hensley. Bottom Row: (L to R): Tennessee Ernie Ford, Molly Bee and Gene O’Quinn.)
One of Cliffie’s most fulfilling achievements occurred when he was signed by Capitol Records in a dual capacity: 1. A Capitol Records’ recording artist; 2. An A&R (Artist & Repertoire) man for Lee Gillette (Head of Capitol Records’ A&R Department) wherein Cliffie worked with Ken Nelson (Head of Capitol’s Country Division).
Cliffie recorded 6 albums: They include: The Party’s On Me; Cool Cowboy; Cliffie Stone Presents The Original Country Sing-A-Long; Square Dances with Cliffie Stone’s Band; Square Dance USA, Volume 2 - called by Don Stewart with Cliffie Stone’s Music LP.
Being one of Lee Gillette’s A&R men, Cliffie worked with Ken Nelson (producer and head of Capitol’s Country Division). He helped to discover and sign new artists and was instrumental in building Capitol’s Country roster with future country legends such as: Tennessee Ernie Ford, Hank Thompson, Buck Owens, Merle Haggard, Rose Maddox and Stan Freberg. During this time frame, Cliffie was also one of the partners in a publishing company called Central Songs (Lee Gillette and Ken Nelson were the other partners), which developed a huge catalog of classic country songs. (Go to Cliffie’s Gallery to see photos and captions of the above mentioned stars.)
In this time frame, Cliffie became the producer of Ernie Ford’s daytime TV show on NBC. In the near future, he would be the executive producer on Ernie’s weekly primetime TV show on NBC called the Tennessee Ernie Ford Show and sponsored by the Ford Motor Company. After Sixteen Tons became a worldwide hit, Ernie asked Cliffie if he would consider becoming his full-time manager. Cliffie discussed it with his wife, Dorothy, and then he made major career changes so that he could devote all his time to managing Ernie’s meteoric career. Cliffie was Ernie’s manager for over twenty years and they became lifelong friends. (See Ernie Ford photo’s in Cliffie’s Gallery.)
In the ensuing years (after Ernie Ford moved to San Francisco and semi-retired), Cliffie stayed involved in all areas of country music. He produced the first two years of Gene Autry’s Melody Ranch, which was on KTLA-TV. Cliffie performed several times on Hee Haw with hosts, Buck Owens and Roy Clark. On May 18, 1973, Cliffie produced and performed on a Hometown Jamboree Reunion concert – featuring Ernie Ford, Molly Bee, Merle Travis, Billy Liebert and other original cast/band members, which was “sold out!” Cliffie and Ernie also performed together at the 1981 Vintage Invitational Golf Tournament in Indian Wells, CA. Another family-oriented show that Cliffie produced and performed in was called “Showdown, USA,” which ran three consecutive summers at “Alpine Village” in Torrance, CA. It was a family affair and among the regular performers was Cliffie and Dorothy’s son, Curtis, who was in the Electric Cowboy Band.
As the years went by, Cliffie became a legendary force in all areas of the music industry. He was a master at juggling three or four jobs at one time. This multi-talented man wore all the musical hats with great success! They include: bassist; disc jockey; master of ceremonies; comedian; singer; radio, television and record producer; songwriter; publisher; artist’s manager; booking agent; author; and executive positions at notable record labels and publishing companies - such as Central Songs and ATV Music Publishing.
Musicians Union (Local 47): Cliffie was first and foremost an accomplished bass player! He always championed the rights for all musicians so that they would be fairly compensated for their work. For decades, Cliffie proudly served as a Trustee on the Board of the Directors of the Musicians Union (Local 47), which is located in Hollywood, CA.
Academy of Country Music: Cliffie (along with Gene Autry and other dedicated C/W people) was one of the original founders and members of the Academy of Western & Country Music, which was located in Studio City which is near Hollywood, CA. Later, its name was changed to the Academy of Country Music (hereinafter referred to as the ACM). Cliffie served on its Board of Directors as president, vice president and in later years, as the ACM’s Historian. Two of Cliffie’s sons, Jonathan and Stephen, were also involved in the ACM at one time or another. In 1972, Cliffie Stone and Gene Autry were both recipients of the ACM’s Pioneer Award. After Cliffie passed away on January 16, 1998, Gene Weed and the ACM Board nicknamed the Pioneer Award as “The Cliffie” to honor him for his massive contribution to country music. In 2007, the ACM Board of Directors officially changed its name to the “Cliffie Stone Pioneer Award.”
Country Music Association: Cliffie was one of the original members of the Country Music Association (hereinafter referred to as the CMA). He served on the CMA’s Board of Directors as Vice President. Because he lived on the West Coast, he couldn’t participate on its Board of Directors as fully as he would have liked. However, he was always a member and stayed in close contact with other CMA board members and close friends, such as Paul Corbin, Bobby Bare and Jo Walker Meador. In 1989, Cliffie was inducted into the CMA’s Hall of Fame. In 1990, Cliffie’s lifelong friend and associate, Tennessee Ernie Ford, was also inducted into the CMA’s Hall of Fame. (To the left, is a photo of Cliffie and Ernie before Ernie received his CMA Hall of Fame award on the CMA show on CBS/TV.)
In the 1988 time frame, Cliffie was thrilled when his longtime friend and music associate, Gene Autry, hired him to be the Director/Consultant of his publishing companies, namely Gene Autry’s Western Music Publishing Company and Ridgeway Music Company.
When Cliffie’s beloved wife, Dorothy, passed away, it was one of the saddest and most difficult periods of his life! It was his passionate love for life and music that saw him through his grief journey as well as the support from his and Dorothy’s four children: Stephen, Linda, Curtis and Jonathan - who were also going through their individual grief journeys. Many of Cliffie’s closest friends were also there to support him. When Cliffie wrote his songwriting book in 1991, on its “Dedication” page, he wrote this about Dorothy as well as his four children: My late wife, Dorothy – who gave me roots by standing lovingly and faithfully, by my side while I chased “my elusive dream”; “My wonderful daughter, Linda – who has always been there to support all my endeavors and whose enlightened poetry has only made the bond between us deeper”; My three sons (my buddies) – Steve, Curtis and Jonathan – who followed in my musical footsteps to find their ‘place in the sun,’ and now I’m learning from them.”
In 1989, Cliffie married his second wife, singer and songwriter, Joan Carol. The beautiful love story that they shared during the years they were together were very special to both of them. In 1991, Cliffie wrote this about Joan Carol on the “Dedication” page in his songwriting book: “My best friend, Joan Carol Stone – whose love has brought new meaning and dimension into my life and without whom this book would never have been written.” With Joan Carol by his side helping him, Cliffie continued performing for his fans on his “Hometown Jamboree-Today” concerts in various venues located in San Diego, Palm Springs, and the San Fernando Valley area. His cast included singers such as Molly Bee, Eddie Dean, Tommy Sands, Roberta Linn and comedian, Pat Buttram and a very talented band. He also continued the tradition of producing and performing on his annual concert at Hart Park on Labor Day, which was sponsored by the Musicians Union, Local 47.
Cliffie and Joan Carol also attended numerous Award shows which included: The Nashville Songwriters Association’s International Hall of Fame Award show; CMA Award shows on CBS/TV in Nashville; and ACM Award Shows on NBC/TV at the Universal Amphitheater in CA; ASCAP Awards dinner shows in Nashville; and BMI Awards dinner shows in Nashville and Los Angeles. (In the past, Cliffie and the publishing companies he once was associated with had received numerous BMI Awards for their songs). On the left is a priceless photo of Cliffie and his three sons (Stephen, Jonathan and Curtis) which was taken at the 1989 BMI Awards show in Nashville wherein Curtis and Highway 101 had received a BMI Award. The following day, Cliffie would receive his prestigious CMA Hall of Fame award on CBS-TV.
Cliffie had a great sense of humor and a great memory; and he appeared on many of The Nashville Network’s cable shows, such as Grand Ole Opry interviews; Nashville Now with Ralph Emery; and the Crook and Chase show wherein he was interviewed by Lorianne Crook about a variety of subject matters including the members of Highway 101 (Curtis Stone, bass/vocals; Paulette Carlson, head vocal; Jack Daniels, guitar; and Cactus Moser, drums).
In the last ten years of Cliffie’s life, he produced seven albums for aspiring West Coast artists. Except for performing on stage, there was no other place that Cliffie would rather be than in a recording studio with creative, talented singers and musicians - such as John Hobbs (who used to hang out at Cliffie’s ranch and jam with Curtis and his musician buddies). On most of Cliffie’s aforementioned albums, John wrote the arrangements and played piano/keyboards. (John received the ACM’s ‘Piano/Keyboard Player of the Year’ award - ten times. He relocated to Nashville. On March 10, 2012, John was honored as part of the CMA’s Hall of Fame & Museum’s quarterly ‘Nashville Cats Series,’ which pays tribute to musicians who have played an integral role in the history of country music.)
Cliffie loved presenting, encouraging and nurturing new talent. He loved being the emcee at talent shows, which he did for years at nightclubs such as the historic “Palomino” in Southern CA as well as national talent shows, such as True Value Country Showdown. For years, he thought about writing books on songwriting and talent shows, which he finally did with his talented wife, Joan Carol: “Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Songwriting…” (1991); and a talent show book entitled, “You Gotta Be Bad Before You Can Be Good “ (2000). (Note: Cliffie’s talent show book was published posthumously. For five years, Cliffie recorded his thoughts about talent shows on a tape recorder. After he passed on, Joan Carol transcribed Cliffie’s tapes and edited them. She knew how much this book meant to him; and she did everything that needed to be done to make his book a reality. Joan Carol contacted Kyle Young, the Director of the Country Music Foundation, and arrangements were made for the release date and promotional party, which was held at the CMF’s Hall of Fame building on Music Row on May 23, 2000. Bruce Hinton (Chairman of the CMF & Chairman Emeritus, MCA Nashville) was the emcee. The event was filmed and edited by The Nashville Network, and segments of the show were televised on the Grand Ole Opry. The speakers included: Bruce Hinton, Kyle Young, Joan Carol, Jo Walker Meador, Jeffrey “Buck” Ford, Bobby Bare and Sherry Bond. Many of Cliffie’s friends/music associates attended including Billy Strange, Paul Corbin and Cliffie’s son, Curtis.) In both of the above mentioned books, Cliffie not only shares his knowledge gathered from decades of experience in the music business, he also shares numerous autobiographical anecdotes. To quote Billboard Magazine (Edward Morris): “…Not only are there the nuts-and-bolts tips, but also hundreds of colorful and historical anecdotes about the business.” The above books’ promotional interviews included the Larry King Show, various cable/TV shows on The Nashville Network and countless radio stations worldwide.
This multi-talented music man and humanitarian had an amazing sixty-four year music career! He made his transition with courageous dignity on January 16, 1998; and he left an inspirational legacy for future generations of country artists and songwriters to come.
*ACADEMY OF COUNTRY MUSIC’S “PIONEER AWARD” – 1972
COUNTRY MUSIC DISC JOCKEY’S HALL OF FAME - 1979
STAR ON THE HOLLYWOOD WALK OF FAME – 1989
COUNTRY MUSIC ASSOCIATION’S HALL OF FAME – 1989
WALK OF WESTERN STARS – 1990