Hank was the stenographer of human emotions; he was it for us (country music). It was a good thing we had first claim on him, because the world has him now.
You can hear the strains of Chuck Berry and Elvis that are coming around the corner,” the late pioneer (Hank Williams) was a stepping stone in the growth of American music.
-Tom Hiddleston (actor)
Hank Williams Gets Me Through Hard Times
To me, Hank Williams is the first rock-and-roll star.
– Rodney Crowell
Hank Combined the Blues with Country & Rock
Perhaps no other entertainer in American history has done more to marry country, blues and rock ‘n’ roll sensibilities than
Hiram King (Hank ) Williams.
His list of accomplishments, despite dying at the very young age of 29, gives strong evidence to that sweeping claim.
When Giants Roamed the Earth
The artist Hank Williams most reminds me of is the iconic bluesman, Robert Johnson. These two cultural giants were road warriors in the purest, most basic sense. They toured before there were giant arenas, agents and tricked out dressing rooms. They were both mythical in their out-sized influence on the world musical cultural scene. Both died very young and dissipated. However, they both created legends and songs that haunt and drift down the ages with a force all their own.
In fact, one of Hank’s favorite quotes was about the brawls that would frequently break out break in the rough and tumble joints he would preform in.
“There ain’t nobody I’d rather have alongside me in a fight than my mama with a broken bottle in her hand.”
Here, for posterity’s sake, is a quick rundown of Hank’s life. His still vibrant legacy and overwhelming cultural influence, like the afore mentioned Robert Johnson, brings to light an essential, burning question about the creation of art, in almost any form: Do you have to burn the candle at both ends until the Devil or whomever controls the fates takes you before your time? Would having their other worldly talent and charisma, and dying young, insure your immortality? Hank was like a bright, fiery falling star that illuminated the path for others and died far before he could ever see the trail he blazed.
Hank Straight Up and Neat
“Hiram King “Hank” Williams (September 17, 1923 – January 1, 1953) was an American singer-songwriter and musician.
Born in Mount Olive, Butler County, Alabama, Williams relocated to Georgiana with his family, where he met Rufus Payne, who gave him guitar lessons in exchange for meals or money. (This student-pupil relationship is parallel to that of Lynryd Skynyrd founder Ronnie Van Zant and his black mentor, Curtis Lowe.) Payne had a major influence on Williams’ later musical style, along with Roy Acuff and Ernest Tubb. Williams would later relocate to Montgomery, where he began his music career in 1937, when producers at radio station WSFA hired him to perform and host a 15-minute program.
After life long success there, Hank was eventually dismissed by the Grand Ole Opry because of his unreliability and alcohol abuse. On New Year’s Day 1953, he died suddenly while traveling to a concert in Canton, Ohio at the age of 29.
We’re all Under the Influence.
Many artists covered songs Williams wrote and recorded. He influenced Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis and Bob Dylan, among others. Williams was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame (1961), the Songwriters Hall of Fame (1970), and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (1987). The Pulitzer Prize jury in 2010 awarded him a posthumous special citation “for his craftsmanship as a songwriter who expressed universal feelings with poignant simplicity and played a pivotal role in transforming country music into a major musical and cultural force in American life.”
A Hank Night in Georgia
My first real introduction to Hank Williams was sitting in the house of a good friend and writer, John Davis. John and I were going to an Atlanta Braves baseball game that evening and were going to have a few cold ones on this humid sticky night in Atlanta. John said, “I’ve got one that will kick off the night right. He proceed to play George Thorogood’s sublime cover of Hank’s Move it On Over. The playful, insightful lyrics, the rocking slide guitar did indeed get the evening off to a galloping start. I asked John, “did George write that tune?” “No, he said. Hank Williams did.” Well, I went home after the game that night with the powerhouse ear worm buzzing in my ear. Next day, I went to Tower Records on Peachtree street and bought a copy of Hank Williams 40 Greatest Hits.
Bingo, presto, I had the two-record vinyl set of an unforgettable artist spinning on my turntable from then till now.
So, No Hank
No Hank Jr.
Perhaps No Elvis Rockabilly
No Move it On Over
Perhaps No Chuck Berry
No George Jones
No Merle Haggard
No Chris Stapelton
Perhaps No Bob Dylan Nashville Skyline
No George Thorogood
No Bad to the Bone
No Lynyrd Skynyrd
No Allman Brothers Band
No Flyimg Burrito Brothers
No Wild Horses/Dead Flowers/Far Away Eyes/Torn and Frayed/I’ve Just Seen a Face/Act Naturally/Streets of Bakersfield/Pancho & Lefty…I could go on ad infinitum
No Townes Van Zanadt
No Country Outlaws etc.
In his short life, he became one of the musical giants of the 20th century, creating the sound and sensibility of modern country.
I’ll close with a Quote from a kindred spirit of Hank’s.
“When he shall die,
Take him and cut him out in little stars,
And he will make the face of heaven so fine
That all the world will be in love with night
And pay no worship to the garish sun.”
― William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet