Archive for January, 2009

Bob Dylan has identified Robbie Burns as the greatest influence on his work. Not a bad choice on Bob’s part, although he has identified Hank Williams, Woody Guthrie, and Smokey Robinson as idols and major influences in the past.

The Dylan revelation came in an HMV advertisng campaign called ‘My Inspiration’ which is asking hundreds of artists to name their biggest influence. So maybe Bob was being a bit tongue and cheek, knowing it was a commercial endeavor.

Hank Williams is sometimes called the “Hillbilly Shakespeare”, but “Hillbilly Burns” might be a more accurate reference to classic British poets. 

Burns (1759-1796) died young probably didn’t look after himself very well, and was a notorious womanizer and drinker. He  was born of a poor family in a remote part of  Scotland far from the centres of learning and sophisticated society. He had a limited education and worked from a young age. His overall health may have been frail and hard work did not help. Many of his famous poems were written as songs. His lyrics were pure emotion based on personal experience, but he often used old traditional melodies.Over two hundred years  after his death his 250th birthday this Sunday will be celebrated around the world.

Burns became very famous at a young age and moved from his rural home area to the big city where he became a sort of hillbilly celebrity. One critic says his life was often painful, sordid and remorseful, but at the same time there were many times of joy and exhaltation.

I guess we can say for sure that Hank Williams would have been familiar with at least one of Burn’s songs, Auld Lang Sang (Old Long Ago) which he certainly would have had to sing at a few New Years Eve celebrations he must have been booked into during his career. So there’s a connection!

Dylan’s reference to Burns comes in a brief article in the The Guardian Newspaper where he names ‘A Red, Red Rose’ written in 1794 as the work that influenced him the most. This poem is template for the kind of simple but memorable poetic language used by accomplished love poets such as Burns, Hank Williams, Leonard Cohen, , and Bob Dylan.

My luv’s  like a red, red rose,

That’s newly sprung in June,

O my luv’s like the melodie,

That’s sweetly play’d in tune.

In ‘Highland Mary’ there’s a line that reminds me of Hank:

But Oh! fell death’s untimely frost,

That nipt my flower so early,

Now green’s the sod, And cold’s the clay,

That wraps my Highland Mary.

The final lines of Burn’s greatest poem, ‘To a Mouse’ also reminds of many of sentiments Hank expressed through his own an other’s  work, and through his Luke the Drifter character. Burns  says to the Mouse:

Thou are blest compared with  me,me

The present only toucheth thee,

But, Oh, I backward cast my eye on prospects drear,

And forward tho I canna see, I guess and fear!

 So enjoy Robbie Burns day this Sunday, the 250th anniversary of his birth. Although our 20 and 21st century folk, country, and blues singer- songwriters  may never  realize it consciously, the  Scottish heritage from Burns worked its way down through the centuries from Burns, to Hank Williams, and Bob Dylan and scores of others.

I guess we owe Bob Dylan a thank you for passing on the reminder.  

Here’s the link to the Bob Dylan quote in Britain’s ‘The Guardian’.

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I don’t have a strong opinion one way or the other on whether it’s important to reinstate Hank as a member of the Grand Old Opry.

If they decided to do it, they would probably make it a big media event  and they would get more out of it financially, with ratings, sales  etc than Hank will. He’s doing just fine thanks. Not so sure about the Opry.  So I don’t know whether the petitioners have really thought this through!

So although Hank’s reputation sure doesn’t need this, I’m sure a lot of old time Hank fans will see it as a victory although I guess most of the original participants in the firing are gone.

But I see that over 34,000 people have signed, so for my little handful of readers, here’s the site where you can cast your vote for Hank.

I will sign, so there.

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The impact of the ‘Unreleased Recordings’ on the reputation, particularily the international reputation, of Hank Williams is immeasurable. I’ve posted some of the links to international reviews earlier.

These writers from around the world are finding that the wide range of songs that interested Hank Williams as he prepared and recorded the ‘Mother’s Best’ shows, and the power and control in his vocal performances has added something new to the Hank Williams legacy. 

The BBC, British Broadcasting Corporation,  is the biggest broadcaster in Britain with several TV channels and about 10 radio stations and a multi page web service. When the BBC  reviews an artist, it means something.

I think I neglected to discuss the BBC  review earlier, and also forgot to list a fine review from a major music website called PopMatters.

Just for the real fans out there I thought I should quote a comment which follows the review on the BBC website.

A real find anything new by Hank is always a bonus but these are a gem .A great addition to any Hank fans collection and it may inspire others to become fans of the king of country musice and one of the 5 great entertainers of the 20th century .Only Elvis , Sinatra , Louis Armstrong and Ella bear comparison.

The review by Jon Lusk  zeroes in on Hanks vocals:

 Williams’ extraordinarily nasal, moaning drawl frequently sends shivers down the spine. He really swoops into the notes on the stark version of I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry and the ghostly waltz, At The First Fall Of Snow, epitomises his ability to inhabit another writer’s storytelling, as does From Jerusalem To Jericho, itself a skilful retelling of the ‘Good Samaritan’ parable. Cool Water is among the finest vocal performances, while the stark Pictures From Life’s Other Side – a late-19th century morality fable to which he adds a verse referencing the Korean war – demonstrates his flair for updating vintage material.

Over at PopMatters Jill LaBrack can’t say enough about Hanks standing in the music world:

He’s in the top echelon of artists, period.  He inhabits a world that speaks to forlornness, desire, and alienation in such heartfelt manner that few can touch him for his combination of portrayal and sincerity.  He puts words to feelings that seem obvious, but only because they’re plainly true: “I’m so lonesome I could cry”.

At the end of her essay, she laments, as many do, the time she allowed the incoming rush of new music to get in the way of listening to Hank:

I have sometimes gone months and months without listening to Hank Williams.  There are all these new sounds to hear and so many of them are exciting.  Then, I find my way back, and as soon as his voice comes through the speakers, I wonder why I have stayed away so long.  I have even wondered why I listen to anything else, such is the power of this man.  The Unreleased Recordings, maybe even more than purchasing that first revelatory collection, is a living, breathing body of work that keeps one foot in the daily drudgery, the other foot in the world of the unflinching artist, and both hands reaching out to a place that we can only hope will ease his pain, and maybe one day ours as well.

Of course, there is a theme emerging in this blog and  from the response around the world to the ‘Unreleased’ . That more than almost any other figure in music or literature, Hank Williams took a fairly simple art form with very prescribed perimeters or boundaries and using these simple conventions took that art form to levels unimagined by his contemporaries.

I feel that many of the earlier writers and even biographers have overlooked his achievment or at least greatly underestminated it, as they spent far too much time on tales of scandalous personal   conduct.

I prefer to go with what  Don Helms said,and I don’t have the exact quote, but something like, the Hank Williams I read about in articles and biographies is not the person I knew.

Here is the BBC link.

And the PopMatters link


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Reviewers of the Unreleased Recordings have often found the Son’s of the Pioneers Bob Nolan song ‘Cool Water’ to be Hank Williams greatest performance on the 3 CD Box Set.

I should say that ‘On Top Of Old Smokey’ runs a strong second with many reviewers as Hank’s greatest vocal performance  on the Box Set, if not ever.

As noted by Ellis Widner  in the Arkansas Gazette,  Hank’s version of ‘Cool Water’ takes the song to new levels:

But the best track? It just may be his cover of the Sons of the Pioneers’ hit “Cool Water,” a Bob Nolan song that has been sung around many a campfire, but rarely with the depth Williams brings to it. His desolate voice embodies the song’s loneliness and amplifies its spiritual/ psychological metaphors.

Every Hank Williams fan has had to deal with this issue. What is it about Hank’s vocals that is so special, and that some listeners seem to miss?

Both Widner in the Arkansas paper and Citizen K ,a blogger I sited earlier, tried to deal with this issue. Citizen K  had this to say about ‘Cool Water’:

He turns the campfire song “Cool Water” into a Conradian , a tale of a parched soul pleading for deliverance only to find that redemption is a mirage. Through this performance, Williams reveals his ultimate fear: That the journey is not the reward, but just another part of the horror. Even so, moving on beats standing still, which leads to madness. Accompanied only by an acoustic guitar, a fiddle, and the occasional whisper of a pedal steel guitar, Hank’s deliberate phrasing summons a paradoxical sense of inevitability. It’s a bravura performance, arguably Williams’ finest vocal, and by itself worth the price of admission.

I’m a late comer to this analysis, but would like to take a run at summing it up this way:

Did Hank Williams have an ability, perhaps unconscious, to reach in to the meaning of words in popular, religious, and folk songs, and see whole new levels of meaning that other performers, listeners, and even the songwriters themselves did not comprehend, and through an intensity of performance and reach of the imagination,  bring to this music a whole new level of meaning?

This what we are dealing with in ‘Cool Water’.

Despite his cowboy persona with the suits and hats and the ‘Drifting Cowboys’ band name, Hank did not specialize in cowboy or even westerrn songs. Although, as some reviewer has mentioned, the big exception was ‘Happy Rovin Cowboy’ used as the Introduction to the ‘Health and Happiness’ Shows.

‘Cool Water’  perhaps reveals a mature vocal style which, had he lived, would have dominated his work in the future. ‘Rambling Man’ and ‘Kawliga’  come to mind as later examples of his growing skill. Here we hear such a variety of tones from the raw emotional power he’s noted for in the first part of the chorus, but in then a soft, gently tone as he sings the title. All of his immense skills, except for the pure rock of ‘Honky Tonk Blues’, is revealed as seldom ever before or again in this performance.

From the quiet foreboding of the “each star’s a pool of water” ” to the brilliant clear high notes of  “souls that cry for water”, and “waiting there for you and me”,   Hank explores depths of meaning described by the writers quoted above. He certainly feels elements in this song that go so much deeper than a story of a  man and his mule crossing the western desert. What is the longing he feels in the line, “cool, clear water”?

I have never been a great follower of western songs or this particular ‘Sons of the Pioneers’ classic. When it comes to Hank’s greatest vocal performance,  I’ve always been partial to the chorus of  ‘Beyond the Sunset’.

But Hank certainly felt something in this song that inspired him to explore levels of meaning far beyond what previous performers had understood. It stands out as one of the true highlights of ‘The Unreleased Recordings’.

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Charlie Daniels is featured in the latest issue of Esquire.

I like Charlie Daniels but have never been a huge fan.

Charlie is now 72 years old.

Of course, the reason I mention the interview  is because he talks about Hank Williams in this brief quote.

That lonesome whip-poor-will, he sounds too blue to fly, the midnight train is whining low, I’m so lonesome I could cry.” Shakespeare never said it any better. But you can like Hank Williams and you can still like Shakespeare.

This relates back to the famous “Hillbilly Shakespeare” quote about Hank Williams. Some of these days I’ll do a little article on this comparison.

Here’s the Esquire link.

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Well, I think that’s what this means:

Hank Williams, la substantifiquemoelle

Trois coffrets exhument 150 inédits de l’ange déchu du blues blanc, disparu en 1953. Histoire d’une rédemption.

I don’t speak French so this will be a short post.

What you see above is the headline and sub headline to a story in Liberation which leads me to think it’s a bit of a left wing French journal. Substantifique seems to mean, well, substantive. Don’t get that ‘moelle’ part.

Anyway it’s a long article right here.

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The Montgomery  Advertiser Newspaper has  video of the Hank Williams’ Memorial at the gravesite on January 1st. Seems like a small group in attendance.

One of the letter writers in the Comment Section  of the paper says the organizers should  try to get a bit more publicity and attract more media attention.  But it certainly is good to see the people of Montgomery are keeping the tradition alive.

The Montgomery Advertiser certainly did a great job of covering the event and putting together a nice package. Well Done! Looks good on full screen too.

Here’s the link. I can’t seem to figure out how to embed it so you’ll be spared me sticking in vidoes everywhere in the articles!

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Here’s a nice little story from NBC News New York about an annual New Years Day party for Hank Williams in the Big Apple. What a great tradition.

Hank Williams died on New Year’s Day in 1953 at the age of 29, and each year he’s remembered at NYC‘s honky tonk the Rodeo Bar with a tribute by local bands on New Year’s Day. Years of hard living had caught up with the legendary singer, and by 1952, even as his records topped the charts, due to reputation for being unreliable (he had been banned from the Grand Ole Opry that August) he was reduced to playing beer halls that were not much bigger than the Rodeo Bar. 

The legend of that last ride is shrouded in myth (compounded by the recent release of his last single “I’ll Never Get Out of this World Alive”)  but the details are thus: His health failing, after playing a show in Knoxville New Year’s Eve in Knoxville, Williams hired a car to take him to his next gig in Canton, Ohio, and injected himself with a cocktail of vitimin B12 and morphine and sat himself in the back the Cadillac with a few beers for the ride. When the car stopped at an all-night service station in West Virginia, the driver checked on Williams and discovered he was dead.

So it is that each New Year’s Day the Rodeo Bar brings out the ghost of Hank Williams to dance a strum a few tunes while the hungover crowd satiates their cravings on fried pickles and hoist a few Lone Stars to the ghost. This year’s Hank-o Rama is hosted by the Lonesome Prairie Dogs (who founded the event five years ago) and will feature Tammy Faye Starlite, Sean Kershaw, Nate Schweber, Lindy Loo and other local rockabilly and country bands starting at 6 p.m.

It might not quite be ringing in the new year the right way for some, but at least you won’t be so lonesome you could cry (and if you are, at least it’ll be in a beer).

              Copyright NBC Local Media

I know there are similar celebrations around the world throughout the year. Let’s hope fans everywhere, especially the young ones, can keep these traditions alive in the years to come.


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