Hank Williams was a singer/songwriter and rhythm guitarist from Mt. Olive, Alabama. His economical songs of love and life influenced the course of popular music, and helped country music cross over into the mainstream of American culture. Immensely popular in the late forties and early fifties, Hank Williams suffered from increasing back pain, believed to be an undiagnosed case of spina bifida. The demands of stardom, together with an increasing dependence on alcohol and pain medication, dramatically cut short his life. Hank Williams died on New Year’s Day, 1953, at the age of 29 years, 3 months.
Hank Williams (1923-1953), singer, songwriter, guitar
I originally listened to Hank Williams to broaden my horizons, because that’s what the history books suggested. I purchased a vinyl greatest hits album in the late eighties, after hearing “Why Don’t You Love Me?” a couple times on the KFOG “Ten At Ten” broadcast. Eventually, I purchased Hank Williams’ 40 Greatest Hits for the compact disc collection, a fine collection with most of his best songs. Today, there are greatest hits compilations with superior sound available.
“Williams’ chief gift as a songwriter was to marry words and music in simple but direct and memorable combinations. ‘Nobody I know,’ Mitch Miller has said, ‘could use basic English so effectively.’, while the critic Henry Pleasants has remarked that ‘Hank’s melodies were the music of language.’ This natural conversational quality has impressed and guided country songwriters ever since. As a singer he belongs in the blues tradition of Jimmie Rodgers, but he removed the ironic distance between the Rodgersian “I” and his listeners, communicating with extraordinary sympathy the texture of everyday emotional life.”
— Phil Hardy and Dave Laing, “The Faber Companion to 20th- Century Popular Music”
Amazon.com Link to “The Faber Companion to 20th Century Popular Music”, by Phil Hardy and Dave Laing
Williams was raised primarily by his mother; his father, shell-shocked by World War I combat, was committed to a Veterans hospital in 1930. She was a hard working woman, and a dominant presence in Hank’s life, helping him to gain entry to show business as a teenager. Hank took terrible care of himself. He started drinking by age eleven, and during his last few years of life, when he had achieved stardom, was an alcoholic and heavy user of pharmaceutical painkillers to manage his back pain. He ate poorly, and by his mid-twenties was gaunt and pale. Similarly, his love life was a mess, with two unhappy, unstable marriages marred by fighting and infidelity.
In their fine analysis, Richard Leppert and George Lipsitz argue that Hank’s music is defined by these circumstances. Raised without a strong nuclear family, his many love songs are often concerned with the seduction and conquest of a desired mate, rather than the permanence of a loving relationship. The flip side of seduction is rejection, and many of Williams’s songs deal with the deep pain of being ignored and without love. Also, Hank’s deteriorating physical condition gave him a particularly bleak view of his future. His tall, boyish physique, together with his songs of desperation and loneliness, made him an exceptionally desirable among women.
Hank Williams music was the antithesis of prevailing post-World War II optimism. While most popular music championed the “American dream”, with a stable family unit and a home in the suburbs, Williams sang about the troubles of an unstable life that resonated with a rural America still dealing with the aftermath of the Great Depression. His authenticity made him a country music star. Though he was constantly ill, he toured the country relentlessly, playing over two hundred “one night stands” a year. The rhythm and inflection in his voice, and his gift for describing life’s emotions in the simplest of phrases, raised the bar for songwriters who followed.
Hank Williams Song Notes:
1. All selected songs can be found on The Complete Hank Williams.
Hank Williams Songs:
Move It On Over, Hank Williams ✭✭✭✭
I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry, Hank Williams ✭✭✭✭
Why Don’t You Love Me?, Hank Williams ✭✭✭✭
Honky Tonkin’, Hank Williams ✭✭✭✭
Cold, Cold Heart, Hank Williams ✭✭✭
Lovesick Blues, Hank Williams ✭✭✭
I’ll Never Get Out Of This World Alive, Hank Williams ✭✭✭
Hey, Good Lookin’, Hank Williams ✭✭✭
Your Cheatin’ Heart, Hank Williams ✭✭✭
Alone And Forsaken, Hank Williams ✭✭
The Angel Of Death, Hank Williams ✭✭
I Just Don’t Like This Kind Of Living, Hank Williams ✭✭
(Last Night) I Heard You Crying In Your Sleep, Hank Williams ✭✭
Cool Water (Undubbed), Hank Williams ✭✭
Lost Highway, Hank Williams ✭✭
My Bucket’s Got A Hole In It, Hank Williams ✭✭
Long Gone Lonesome Blues, Hank Williams ✭✭
You Win Again, Hank Williams ✭✭
Moanin’ The Blues, Hank Williams ✭✭
I Can’t Help It (If I”m Still In Love With You), Hank Williams ✭✭
Half As Much, Hank Williams ✭✭
Jambalaya (On The Bayou), Hank Williams ✭✭
Nobody’s Lonesome For Me, Hank Williams ✭
I Saw The Light, Hank Williams ✭
Honky Tonk Blues, Hank Williams ✭
Kaw-Liga, Hank Williams ✭
Beyond The Sunset, Hank Williams ✭
Men With Broken Hearts, Hank Williams ✭
A House Without Love, Hank Williams ✭
Your Cheating Heart, Ray Charles ✭
Jambalaya (On The Bayou), Fats Domino ✭
Cool Water, The Sons Of The Pioneers ✭✭
Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way, Waylon Jennings ✭✭✭
Ain’t Misbehavin’, Hank Williams, Jr. ✭✭
A Country Boy Can Survive, Hank Williams, Jr. ✭✭
(The) Living Proof, Hank Williams, Jr. ✭
Country Heroes, Hank Williams III ✭✭