Born this day in 1923, Hank Williams would have been 86 years old today.
Hank Williams passed away on New Years Day 1953 at the young age of just 29 years old. His recording career had only just begun less than 6 years prior in 1947, yet he produced an amazing catalogue of songs in that short breadth of life.
11 #1 singles and a passel of top 10 singles, Hank was on about every juke box in the country as well as all over the radio and the fledgling TV. He wrote and sang the most rollicking of Honky-Tonk party songs as well as the most heart/gut-wrenching broken-hearted-love-pain songs ever to come out of a song writers pen. So young, yet he seemed to know more about the joys and heart-aches of life than one who had lived twice or even three times as long. His songs have been recorded by everyone from Dinah Washington, Louis Armstrong, Ray Charles right up to today with folks like Norah Jones...all feeling personally what Hank wrote and sang and wanting to sing it themselves.
Hanks driving, bouncing rhythms (all with a beat produced by his guitar, drums were not allowed on The Grand Ol' Opry back then) and fluid lyrics, not to mention real heart-felt emotions on his sleeve, were a true foundation for the advent of rock and roll. Which wasn't fully born until 2 years after his death.
Here's Hank singing one of his happy go lucky tunes on the Opry...being introduced by a young June Carter:
Hank was indeed a drinker. Hank also had an addiction to pain medication which was prescribed to him for a chronic back problem. Both are rough on the heart. I see also a man who loved too easy and hurt too hard when love turned on him. That's rough on the heart too.
Hank was due to play a concert on January 1, 1953 in Clinton, Ohio. Weather was bad so he couldn't fly, so he hired a car and lay in the back seat all the way. Before leaving his hotel, he gave himself an injection of a cocktail of vitamin B-12 and morphine. Laying in the backseat would let him relax his back, so he had a couple beers and even began scribbling notes on a piece of paper for a new song. Sometime during the night his heart decided to call it quits and Hank never made it.
Ironically fitting, his last recorded single was titled "I'll Never Get Out of This World Alive".
Dying this young with such a promising fount of creativity and talent still just barely tapped...and dying on the road, is probably the first in the tragedies which also find it's home in the lore of rock and roll. Hank Williams, just like Buddy Holly, Steve Gaines, Ronnie Van Zant, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, Ritchie Valens, Kurt Cobain and others...it seems their job is "to burn, not rust".
Here's Hank singing "Cold, Cold Heart" one of his iconic signature songs, the video also features again, June Carter and a second song. Anita Carter singing Hanks "I Can't Help It If I'm Still In Love With You" to a smiling Hank Williams.
You may not need your crying towels, but you better tighten the straps on your hearts anyway.
Over the years many song writers and singers have performed songs which pay tribute to Hank and his legacy. Hank Williams Jr. probably has done a dozen or more, my favorite being "Family Tradition". Waylon Jennings did "Are You sure Hank Done it This Way?", Jerry Jeff walker did "I Feel Like Hank Williams Tonight", Kris Kristofferson did "If You Don't Like Hank Williams, You Can Kiss My Ass" and many, many, many more.
Back about 16 or 17 years ago it occurred to me after pondering this, that everybody writes a Hank Williams song. ...and what's wrong with that? It was also a New Years Eve when I thought this, the anniversary of Hank's death. I had to write one too.
Here's an Uncle Jeffy original song called "Everybody Writes A Hank Williams Song".
Thanks for all the songs and inspiration Hank. 56 years after your last guitar strum, you still got it!