The King of Country Music
A timeline of Hank William’s life can be found at the link below, however this post is centered Hank’s career and his legacy. http://www.pbs.org/wnet/americanmasters/hank-williams-timeline/735/
Hiriam (Hank) Williams is known as the “King of Country Music” and remarkably so seeing as how his music career was only around 8 years. Mr. Williams was born in Alabama in 1923 and died at the age of 29. Growing up, Hank was different from other kids as he had a spinal condition, Spinal Bifida, which is why he wanted to learn to play music at the age of 8, as a way to better connect with others. Williams learned how to play folk and country; he also learned how to play the blues from an African-American street musician named Rufus Payne. He grew up listening to the yodeling star and the Father of Country Music himself, Jimmie Rodgers. (Editors)
Hank made his first radio appearance at age 13 and by 14 he had his own band, Drifting Cowboys. Unfortunately, due to his back pain Hank began to struggle with alcoholism and was deemed an ‘unreliable performer’ by Nashville. He thought that this was the end until 1946, when Williams traveled to Nashville to meet with music publisher Fred Rose. What started out as a contract to write for another singer turned into a recording contract with MGM. Although Hank continued to struggle with alcoholism, he wound up getting a regular slot on late night television. It was on this station that he debuted a number one hit, “Lovesick Blues,” a throwaway rendition of an old show tune. This rendition grabbed the attention of viewers to include members of the board at the Grand Ole Opry. (Escott)
Hank Williams was invited to sing at the Grand Ole Opry in 1949 and his performance was legendary. He received 6 encores, which is unheard of even today. Here is an interview that demonstrates his charisma as an individual from the GRand Ole Opry that day.
Over the next several years he churned out a number of other big hits. Williams recorded 35 singles that reached the Top 10 of the Billboard Country & Western Best Sellers chart, 11 of which ranked number one. Most of his songs have the original country timbre to them: they have a guitar, a strained voice that is higher than usual and sort of nasal sounding, and a looser sound going note to note by sliding rather than a direct jump/leap. Many of his songs are very simple instrumentally and have slower tempos. (“Hank Williams: The Man who Transformed Country Music”)
- “Lovesick Blues”
- “Long Gone Lonesome Blues”
- “Why Don’t You Love Me”
- “Moanin’ the Blues”
- “Cold, Cold Heart”
- “Hey, Good Lookin”
- “Jambalaya (On the Bayou)”
- “I’ll Never Get Out of This World Alive”
- “Your Cheatin’ Heart”
- “Take These Chains from My Heart”
Hank also wrote 14 spiritual songs, which is news to me. Apparently, he wrote a number of religious songs under the pseudonym Luke the Drifter, and he recorded a cover of one of my favorite gospel songs, “I’ll Fly Away” originally written by Albert Brumley. (“Story Behind the Song: I’ll Fly Away”)
Hank Williams left a lasting legacy in the Country Music world. He was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1961. He later was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987. Hank Williams was recently praised by the Pulitzer Prize “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.”
Who Hank Williams Influenced
According to Rolling Stone, Hank Williams influenced “scads of rock & rollers” through his expressed intense, personal emotions with country’s traditional plainspoken directness. This approach to music was revolutionary for its time. He influenced many artists from George Jones and Willie Nelson to Gram Parsons and Dwight Yoakam. (Shmoop) The King of Country Music was even named as a key source of inspiration for The King (of Rock and Roll) himself, Elvis Presley. (“Hank Williams Biography”)
“Story behind the song: ‘I’ll Fly Away’.” St. Augustine Record. January 01, 2016. Accessed July 09, 2017. http://staugustine.com/living/religion/2015-12-31/story-behind-song-ill-fly-away.
Editors, Bibliography.com. “Hank Williams.” Biography.com. August 31, 2016. Accessed July 09, 2017. https://www.biography.com/people/hank-williams-9532414.
Escott, Colin. “Hank Williams: Honky Tonk Blues About Hank Williams.” PBS. August 10, 2005. Accessed July 09, 2017. http://www.pbs.org/wnet/americanmasters/hank-williams-about-hank-williams/734/.
“Hank Williams.” Wikipedia. July 06, 2012. Accessed July 09, 2017. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hank_Williams.
“Hank Williams Biography.” Rolling Stone. Accessed July 09, 2017. http://www.rollingstone.com/music/artists/hank-williams/biography.
“Hank Williams: The Man Who Transformed Country Music.” Diane Rehm. October 18, 2010. Accessed July 09, 2017. https://dianerehm.org/shows/2010-10-18/hank-williams-man-who-transformed-country-music.
Shmoop Editorial Team. “Hank Williams Influences.” Shmoop University, Inc. Last modified November 11, 2008. Accessed July 9, 2017. http://www.shmoop.com/your-cheatin-heart/influences.html.