Born Phoebe Laub, July 17, 1952, in New York, N.Y.; daughter of Lili Laub; children: Valerie. Addresses: Record company-- Elektra Records, 665 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10022.
Singer-songwriter Phoebe Snow, proficient in many musical genres--including pop, folk, blues, and rock--first came to fans' attention in 1974 when her self-titled debut album was released. Phoebe Snow launched her first hit, "Poetry Man"; since then the recording artist has also scored critical acclaim with songs like "Cash In," "No Regrets," "Every Night," and her 1989 comeback "Something Real," from the album of the same name. People reviewer David Hiltbrand has lauded her "mercurial, often thrilling vocal style," and Holly Gleason cited her "shimmering alto" and "impeccable phrasing" in Rolling Stone.
Snow was born Phoebe Laub in New York City, New York, on July 17, 1952. From a musical standpoint she had an interesting childhood and adolescence; her mother was a friend of many of the folk artists who were prominent during the 1950s and 1960s. One of them was famed musician Pete Seeger, who taught young Phoebe her first blues song, and introduced her to the standards of folk and blues singers of even earlier eras. Thus Snow's early artistic influences included the likes of Seeger, Woody Gutherie, and Leadbelly. Yet she also enjoyed the pop and rock she was exposed to by watching television programs such as "American Bandstand." In her teens, she took guitar lessons; later she tried out for a jug band that had been formed by one of her friends, and was rejected because the other band members felt she was too good to squander her talent upon them.
By the time Snow became a young woman, she was interested in becoming a performer, but frightened of trying to entertain people by herself. She began to study singers whom she felt had extraordinary stage presence, especially Judy Garland. Snow finally found the courage to begin singing and playing in clubs in and around New York City, and though later commentators have speculated that the reason that she is more of a critical success than a popular one is that her talent does not come across as well in live performance as it does in the recording studio. She put on a brave show during one of her early gigs at a club called the Bitter End. One of her guitar strings broke in the middle of a song, but she coolly borrowed one from another musician, restrung her instrument, and continued to sing. Both her presence of mind and her vocal talent impressed an executive of Shelter Records who sat in the audience, and he signed her to a recording contract.
Shelter was responsible for the change of her last name from Laub to Snow, which they apparently thought would make her more attractive to record buyers. They released her first album, Phoebe Snow, in 1974, and the single "Poetry Man" set the critics gushing with praise and became one of her biggest hits. But despite her newfound success, Snow was dissatisfied with Shelter and tried to get out of her contract. The legal wrangling had some ugly moments; Shelter claimed that they--and not the singer herself--had the exclusive rights to the stage name Phoebe Snow. Eventually, however, the young woman emerged triumphant, signed with Columbia Records, and released her second album in 1976, Second Childhood. This disc, like her debut, earned her a gold record and critical acclaim, and included trademark cuts such as "Inspired Insanity" and "All Over."
But while Snow was expanding as a recording artist, she was suffering personal setbacks. Just before the release of Second Childhood, she gave birth to a daughter, Valerie, who proved to be handicapped. As might be imagined, Snow had a great deal of difficulty adjusting to the child's problems. She managed, however, and her music actually provided her with a means of temporary escape from her woes--she continued to release albums on Columbia throughout the late 1970s.
Columbia dropped Snow at the beginning of the following decade, however, because her record sales did not keep pace with her critical acclaim; she bounced back by signing with Atlantic Records' Mirage label, and releasing a more hard-driving sound on the 1981 album Rock Away. But her professional relationship with Mirage was not to last long. After Rock Away, Snow sent them a demo tape for her next album; when they asked her to recut it, she "got very defensive," as she explained to Sheila Rogers in Rolling Stone. "I said, 'No, I like it the way it is.'" Snow promptly left Mirage and tried to find another company to release it, but none of them were interested.
Meanwhile, Snow had developed a love relationship with guitarist Gary Roda, who encouraged her to tour with him. So she spent almost eight years performing on the road, which she "considered to be a lot of touring for someone who's not signed [to a recording contract]," she told Rogers. But while Snow toured, she began to put new material on demo tapes, and she also earned money by singing commercial jingles. When the relationship with Roda ended in 1987, she began to think about recording again, and she won a contract with Elektra. Some of the material she had recorded on demos over the past several years eventually became part of her successful 1989 comeback album, Something Real. The title cut, a tribute to her mother who died in 1986, has brought Snow back to the attention of music fans. The album, which has also been praised for tracks like "Touch Your Soul" and "If I Can Just Get Through the Night," prompted Hiltbrand to declare: "she's still got it." Gleason went even further, concluding that "Phoebe Snow has never sounded better."
by Elizabeth Thomas
Phoebe Snow's Career
Vocalist, songwriter, guitarist; folk, blues, rock, jazz, pop. Recording artist and concert performer, 1974--.
Phoebe Snow's Awards
At least two gold albums.
- Selective Works
- Phoebe Snow (includes "Poetry Man"), Shelter, 1974.
- Second Childhood (includes "Two Fisted Love," "Cash In," "Goin' Down for the Third Time," "No Regrets," "Sweet Disposition," "All Over," "Isn't It a Shame?" "Inspired Insanity," "Pre-Dawn Imagination," and "There's a Boat That's Leavin' Soon for New York"), Columbia, 1976.
- It Looks Like Snow (includes "Autobiography," "My Faith Is Blind," "Teach Me Tonight," and "Shaky Ground"), Columbia, 1976.
- Never Letting Go (includes "Love Makes a Woman," "Elektra," "Something So Right," and "Garden of Joy Blues"), Columbia, 1977.
- Against the Grain (includes "Every Night"), Columbia, 1978.
- Best of Phoebe Snow Columbia, 1981.
- Rock Away Mirage, 1981.
- Something Real (includes "Something Real," "Best of My Love," "Touch Your Soul," "I'm Your Girl," and "If I Can Just Get Through the Night"), Elektra, 1989.
- Also released a duet single with Paul Simon in 1975, "Gone at Last."
- Audio, April 1988.
- People, May 1, 1989.
- Rolling Stone, May 18, 1989; June 15, 1989.
- Time, May 1, 1989.