Remembering Gordie’s greatness in song

Verdun, Que., singer and songwriter Bob Davies presents Detroit Red Wings legend Gordie Howe with a 78 rpm demo copy of Gordie Howe (Is The Greatest Of Them All) in Howe’s Montreal hotel room in early 1963.
Courtesy Bob Davies

Whether Detroit Red Wings Hall of Famer Gordie Howe was the greatest of them all, regardless of the record book, might forever be debated by hockey fans. But in the spring of 1963, when Howe was celebrated in a hit song by Verdun, Que., native Bob Davies, there was no doubt.

On tonight, the man they call Mr. Hockey will be joined by a handful of other Red Wings legends at the Bell Centre when the Canadiens pay tribute to one of their Original Six rivals as part of the Habs’ ongoing celebrations leading to their 2009 centennial.

In Stouffville, Ont., just outside of Toronto, 70-year-old Bob Davies will be thinking warmly of Gordie Howe – both the superstar, 79, and the song, 44.

Dave Stubbs spoke with Davies and Howe about the first song ever recorded about a hockey player – it helped define Davies’s career and it embarrassed Gordie, though clearly he remains delighted by it to this day. You’ll find the feature story here.

Davies would also write hockey tributes to the Canadiens’ Jean (John) Béliveau and Chicago’s Bobby Hull. And with his kind permission, those songs, and others, are available to Inside/Out readers below for listening or free download.

With Bob Davies’s permission, here are digital files of his hockey songs, as well as a tribute to the Montreal Alouettes. They’re free for listening or download, for non-commercial use only:

Gordie Howe (Is The Greatest of Them All), original recording, 1963, Globe Records

Gordie Howe (re-recorded when Howe went to the WHA Houston Aeros), 1975, Broadland Records

Gordie Howe (B-side instrumental for lounge singalong use), 1975, Broadland Records

Big John Béliveau, 1963, Click Records

Here’s To Bobby Hull, 1964, Click Records

Hockey Medley, recorded live at Toronto’s Brown Derby, 1970s, NPS Records

The Mighty Als of Montreal (ode to the CFL Alouettes), 1963, Click Records

 

Gordie Howe (Is The Greatest Of Them All)
By Bob Davies and Mo Chapman
Released 1963, Globe Records

(Lyrics reprinted with permission)

(Chorus:)
Gordie Howe is the greatest of them all
The greatest of them all
Yes, the greatest of them all
You can have your choice of all the rest
If you’re a Howe fan, you’ve got the very best

From Floral, Saskatchewan, his story all began
It didn’t take him long to be known throughout the land
He’s all-star right-winger of the NHL today
Hockey fans from everywhere just love to see Howe play

He’s one of the Red Wings, a team of great renown
And when it comes to hockey, Howe’s the best in town
He sets up all the rookies playing on his line
We know they all thank him, because he is so fine

(Chorus)

So Howe is a big man, he stands 6-foot-2
He plays defence, centre, and on the wings, too
We can say without doubt he can even play nets
We know that Gordie Howe is Abel’s best bet

Just count all the trophies big Gordie has won
Records on records, he makes it look like fun
For total points, he has them all beat
And the goal record Howe will soon meet

(Chorus)

There was Howe, Lindsay, Abel, a line we can’t forget
The greatest line in history, not to be equalled yet
Sid would pass to Lindsay, Ted then back to Howe
He flicked his wrist in lightning speed
And a big roar from the crowd

We mentioned before of his talents galore
And how Howe makes it so easy to score
We all think he’s great, his name will never fall
Gordie Howe is the greatest of them all

Gordie Howe is the greatest of them all
The greatest of them all
Yes, the greatest of them all

You can have your choice of all the rest
If you’re a Howe fan, you’ve got the very best
If you’re a Howe fan, you’ve got the very best
If you’re a Howe fan, you’ve got the very best (fade)

 


PHOTOS, FROM TOP (record courtesy Norm Aubé, Musiquest; other photos courtesy Bob Davies’s collection):

The original 45 rpm Gordie Howe single of 1963, on Globe Records, plays on a Lenco turntable;

Davies (right) with rock ‘n’ roll TV show host Mike Stephens, also of Montreal’s CJAD radio, on the set of Burlington, Vt., WCAX-TV. The puck labelled 544 ponders when Howe would tie Canadien superstar Maurice (Rocket) Richard’s all-time NHL goal-scoring record. Gordie did so in October 1963, just a few months after the tribute song was released and shortly after this TV appearance took place;

Davies with his 1950s band, the Rhythm Jesters. From left: Norm (Curly) Robertson, Rick Munro, Bob Davies and Emmett McGoogan;

A 1963 publicity shot of Davies;

An autographed 1950s portrait of Howe by the late football legend and accomplished painter Tex Coulter.

 

15 Comments

  1. RH says:

    The “Rocket” will ALWAYS be the GREATEST #9 to play this wonderful game.

  2. 24 Cups says:

    Wow! I wan’t ready for this article. I remember the song and I bought the record. In fact I’m singing it in my head right now. There’s even a line (I believe) about Gordie passing the Rocket’s record for total goals scored in a career. To top it all off, Mr. Davies lives in Stouffville (23,000) and so do I. I’ll email him for sure.

    #9 certainly holds a special place in the annals of the original six team NHL. Howe, Richard, Hull, Bucyk, Bathgate, and Duff all wore this beloved number. (I believe Hull may have eventually switched over to #16). The NHL has retired Gretzy’s #99 so no member of the league can ever wear it again. It might be fitting to do the same for the number 9 too.

    I remember Gordie Howe like it was yesterday. He was my favourite player and I would always be him when we played road hockey. His hockey card was sacred. He played forward and defense, scored goals, hit hard and clean, and had the best elbows in the history of the game (just ask the Habs’ Lou Fontinato). He played without fanfare as he was basically a shy man. No overblown ego like some of the prima donnas of today. Alas, the Red Wings organization and the NHL at times didn’t always acknowledge how great he was as they sometimes took advantage of his laid back demeanour. Just a quiet boy from the prairies who loved the game for what it was. Gretzky, Orr, and Lemieux are considered the best players of all time these days but for me Gordie Howe will always be the greatest of them all. Thanks Dave for rekindling such special memories of an era gone by.

  3. Peter Young says:

    As a Canadiens fan through most of the Fifties–when our main rivals were not the Leafs but the Red Wings–I will follow the maxim that when you have nothing nice to say, say nothing.

    And as for the claim that Davies song on Howe was the first song about a hockey player, I remember a song from the Fifties–before Davies on Howe–about the Rocket, the Pocket and the Boom?

  4. Peter Young says:

    I should add that I don’t begrudge Howe getting tributes at his age, but I just think they ought to come from elsewhere. Will we be seeing the Red Wings paying tribute to the Canadiens and Maurice Richard? I think not, but am always willing to be pleasantly surprised.

  5. Dave Stubbs says:

    Peter, I’m hearing from hockey historian Stu Hackel about the song on the Rocket. I’m checking into it, but “Gordie Howe” certainly was by miles the most successful. Independent sources tell me it sold well in excess of 100,000 copies, which is astonishing when you think about it.


    Dave Stubbs

    Habs Inside/Out
    Sports Feature Writer, Montreal Gazette

     

  6. Dave Stubbs says:

    The tribute tonight is not solely for Howe. It marks the 81-year rivalry between the Canadiens and Red Wings, one of five Original Six evenings the Habs are doing in the leadup to their centennial in 2009. The next one, probably featuring the likes of Glenn Hall, Bobby Hull and Stan Mikita, will take place Jan. 8 when the Blackhawks are in town.

    Dave Stubbs

    Habs Inside/Out
    Sports Feature Writer, Montreal Gazette

     

  7. Peter Young says:

    Hmmm, your piece looks like a tribute to Howe to me and not the Red Wings in general, and I had both your piece and the Canadiens’ tribute in mind.

  8. Dave Stubbs says:

    The piece today absolutely is about the song written to honour Gordie Howe, published today in keeping with the Red Wings tribute. It could have run any day, but it made sense to publish it today, with Gordie in town.


    Dave Stubbs

    Habs Inside/Out
    Sports Feature Writer, Montreal Gazette

     

  9. Peter Young says:

    No intent on my part to tell you what and what not to post, Dave. You seem to be doing a wonderful job without my help!

    But I do doubt that a tribute to the team we’re playing that same night and to that team’s icons is the best way to approach a game, even if some of our own icons are there, too.

    On reflection, I’m not sure the song titled or with a line in it saying “the Rocket, the Pocket and the Boom” was even recorded. It may have been a song in a musical revue of some sort. And I don’t doubt it was never as successful as the song about Howe. But it was a song about the Rocket (and others) and so the song about Howe was not the first about a hockey player. No doubt you can tell it’s not my practice to give an inch on matters Richard vs. Howe.

  10. Peter Young says:

    Dave,

    The song I remember–“the Rocket, the Pocket and the Boom” may have been the title or a line in it–may have been mentioned in Andy O’Brien’s 1961 biography, Rocket Richard. That’s my memory of 47 years ago, anyway. I don’t have the book handy; it’s in storage among 5,000 others, and it’d take me forever to find it.

    Sorry I’m a little touchy on Gordie Howe. Before Maurice Richard left us in 2000, I went through 40 years of listening to how great Howe was with comparatively little or nothing said about Maurice. (I don’t live in Quebec or even Canada.) But Maurice has gathered much more recognition since he died (a development which actually began a year or two before his death, when he first became seriously ill).

  11. Robert L says:

    Dave – where’s the guitar tabs?

    The Beliveau tune is a treat. I always knew I’d heard this in my youth. Thanks for reassuring me (temporarily) that I’m not nuts!

  12. Dave Stubbs says:

    It was great fun putting this package together, Robert, and both Bob Davies and Mo Chapman are true gentlemen. Needless to say, it’s always a thrill calling Gordie Howe and chatting with Mr. Hockey. The feature story will be linked in the morning.

    Bob would be delighted to hear from folks by email. Feel free to send him your regards at bdavies@gileschev.ca

    He’s delighted that his music lives on at Habs Inside/Out, and we’re more than happy to share it with readers.


    Dave Stubbs

    Habs Inside/Out
    Sports Feature Writer, Montreal Gazette

     

  13. nightmare_49 says:

    Memories, i bought that record and it was one of the 1st 45’s i ever purchased , at Bluenotes in Verdun , the 1st was Wolverton Mountain , man i’m getting old.

  14. Gilles Poisson says:

    Thank you Mr. Stubb for making us remember those songs. I hope Guillaume will do the Gordie Howe hat trick for me tonight. If you like the music and the hockey Dave Bidini will be on the English sports radio today. Me I collect songs of hockey and I have one on the cassette that I stole from the radio but I don’t know who it is singing. Maybe one of the hockey analysts will help me. It goes something like this:

    Chicoutimi, dans la belle province de quebec,
    where everyone i know is unemployed.
    Thats because the multitechien in Ontario got all the job
    An all we got was the(censored)ing BS.
    So everyday I go down to the lake
    I’m learnin how to check, Im learnin to skate
    cause there’s a forum down in montreal
    where the quebecois can get it all
    I dont speaka the English very well
    But I can shoot and skate just like a bat out of hell.

    I’m gonna play hockey, Im gonna skate and fight.
    Youre gonna see me on the CBC every saturday night.
    Gonna play hockey, sellin Molson beer
    Gonna play hockey, and make a million a year.

    Theres two more verse about Moscow and Cold Lake but I don’t want Mr. Stubb to get mad at me. Maybe if Dave Bidini was listening to me right now he will help me to know who was singing that song. Thank you.

  15. Naila Jinnah says:

    What a great read for the train ride in. Thanks! :D


Leave a Comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.