Clyde Julian Foley was born on June 17, 1910 in Blue Lick KY, USA. He began playing guitar and harmonica at a young age. When Foley was 17 he had taken first prize in a statewide talent competition. After high school, he started Georgetown College in Kentucky, but was invited to appear on WLS National Barn Dance in Chicago.
In 1930, he joined John Lair's Cumberland Ridge Runners, and after 7 years returned to Kentucky with Lair to help him establish the famous "Renfro Valley Barn Dance" on WHAS Louisville. Red Foley remained with the program until late 1939, performing everything from ballads to boogie and blues. At the same time, he became the first country artist to host his own network radio program named "Avalon Time" (co-hosted by comic Red Skelton) , and performed extensively in theaters and clubs and at fairs. After exiting the "Renfro Valley Barn Dance", Foley returned for another seven-year stint at the "National Barn Dance Show". In 1941 he made his film debut with Tex Ritter in the "Western The Pioneers" and signed a lifetime contract with Decca Records.
Between 1944-59, Foley charted 41 solo country entries of which 38 were Top 10 hits. There were six more country number one, including his 1950, million-selling "Chattanoogie Shoe Shine Boy", which also topped the pop charts. During this time he also had many major hit duets with various artists including Evelyn Knight, Betty Foley (his daughter), Ernest Tubb, and six with Kitty Wells. His performances of gospel numbers were so popular that recordings of "Steal Away" (1950), "Just A Closer Walk With Thee" (1950) and "Peace In The Valley" (1951; this song was also covered by Elvis Presley) all became million-sellers. He also recorded with the Andrews Sisters and in the late 1950s, even cut some rock 'n' roll recordings such as "Crazy Little Guitar Man". The first number he recorded was "Old Shep" (a song he had written in 1933). His first chart success came in 1944, when the patriotic wartime song "Smoke On The Water" topped the charts for 13 consecutive weeks.
In April 1946, Foley signed on to emcee and perform on "The Prince Albert Show" (a segment of the Grand Ole Opry program broadcast on NBC). From 1947 Red Foley began recording with his backing band, the Cumberland Valley Boys, earning another number one single with "New Jolie Blonde (New Pretty Blonde)". With his group, he recorded seven Top Five hits between 1947 and 1949, including "Tennessee Saturday Night" (a chart-topper in 1948). In 1954, he moved to KWTO Springfield MO, as the host of the "Ozark Jubilee", which, in 1956, became one of the first successful network television shows.
Though studio musicians in those days rarely received credit for their work, Martin's Red Foley never lost his love for country music. His voice was mellow and had none of the raw or nasal style associated with many of his contemporaries. His importance to the country music scene is often overlooked and little has been written about him but he was rightfully elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1967.
Red Foley died of a heart attack in 1968, Setember 19th, Lewisburg, Fort Wayne IN, USA.
For more information see Country Artist Database.