Archive for February, 2009

SPECIAL NOTE: For those landing here from a search, this is to let y0u know that I did a post on the new major motion picture on Hank’s life which was announced August 2009. It’s here.

AND, Here’s my post on the latest news on the film ‘The Last Ride’ being filmed in central Arkansas. (February 19, 2010)

The Register Herald newspaper in Beckley West Virginia is reporting that a film about Hank Williams life including his final days is in pre production. I hope the author and producers look at the tragic nature of that last lonley trip. Why did everybody let him down so badly?

Jeff Queen a Deputy Sheriff from Auburn Alabama plans to call the movie ‘Lonesome Cowboy’. He’s hoping to get production underway by the end of the year, and will film some scenes in West Virginia. The paper reports:

“We want to tell the real story,” says Queen, who helps keep law and order in the same town that is home to his beloved Crimson Tide.

“Just like they did in ‘Walk the Line’ with Johnny Cash’s addictions. But we certainly don’t want to tabloidize anything. We just want to tell it from the heart as real as we can make it — the good, the bad, everything in between.”

Queen drew his inspiration from “Hank,” a biography written by Ralph Moore in Lineville, Ala., a stalwart fan, one of many who have made several excursions into southern West Virginia seeking support for a Williams museum.

Queen says 22 year old Christopher Malpass is being looked at to play the title role in the film which Queen hopes can be used to boost tourism in Alabama.

The mythical status of Hank Williams is certainly well illustrated by this continuing interest in West Virginia and the area around Oak Hill where Hank’s lifeless body was found in the back of his Cadillac on New Years eve as he was being driven to a concert in Canton Ohio.

He was accompanied only by a teenaged driver, Charles Carr, who had just turned 18.

I’m not an expert on Hank Williams’ death and his final days and the multitude of details, some disputed, which have been published about that unfinished  trip from Montgomery to Canton. There have been a lot of tales and rumours published about those final days some probably more verifiable than others.

But you don’t need to know anything about the details of the journey to ask the really important question: Why was Hank ALONE?

A superstar with just a teenaged kid driving him across America, heading north in the dead of winter. No one could fault the youngster in any way, but in every real important way, Hank Williams made this journey alone.

Here we are in 2009 and music stars have entourages, body guards, handlers, flacks, public relations and media reps and whatever, all offering layers of protection and eating up their money.

Now we all know it was far different in late 1952.

I’m not blaming anybody, and my knowledge like most fans is limited. But where were friends, family, MGM Records, Acuff Rose publications, even the Opry which had recently fired Hank?

In those days stars traveled with their bands and in this case Don Helms of the ‘Drifting Cowboys’ was going to meet Hank in Canton, and Jerry Rivers was stopped by bad weather. But  I’ll say it again, I still can’t beleive he was allowed to travel that distasnce for all intents and purposes alone.

I know Hank Williams experts, and I am certainly not one of those, will have a thousand explanations as to why this happened. First of course was the weather, which disrupted the original plan to fly to Canton. Then of course there is  Hank’s continuing back pain and ill health and his addictions  and demons. He probably wanted fewer people around and less busy bodies to interfere with what had become his tragic lifestyle.. Carr,I suppose, was somebody who could not argue or talk back.

But I can’t imagine Eddy Arnold or George Morgan, Hank Snow, Bill Monroe or imagine even a Frank Sinatra, or Bing Crosby on the road like this alone.  Never.

I hope the film can capture his triumphant life  and the lonely tragedy that engulfed Hank Williams in his final days.

I checked my small collections of biographies in writing this:

Jerry Rivers, 1967, ‘From Life to Legend’

Jay Caress, 1979, ‘Hank Williams, County Music’s Tragic King’

Colin Escott, 1994, ‘Hank Williams, The Biography’

Paul Hemphill, 2005, ‘Lovesick Blues, The Life of Hank Williams’

I find after you read this stuff you have to go back to the records for a while to get your head straight again and restore your belief in the majesty of his achievement.

The Newspaper article is here.

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The recent comment on this site by Citizen K reminded me of the great feature he has started on his blog (link on the right). He’s leading off his blog with the first lines of a written work. And this reminded me of a first line story from Jimmy Webb.

The famous composer of popular and serious music wrote a book in 1998 called  “Tunesmith: Inside the Art of Songwriting.”

Here’s the first parasgraph of his Wikipedia entry.

Jimmy Layne Webb is an American songwriter. His compositions include “Up, Up, and Away,” “By the Time I Get to Phoenix,” “Wichita Lineman,” “Galveston,” and “MacArthur Park”. His songs have been recorded or performed by Glen Campbell, The Fifth Dimension, Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley, and Bob Dylan, among others. According to BMI, his song “By the Time I Get to Phoenix” was the third most performed song in the fifty years between 1940 to 1990.[1] He is the only artist to have ever received Grammy Awards for music, lyrics, and orchestration.[2]

A few years ago a CBC (public radio similar to NPR) radio program in Canada did about an hour long tribute to Jimmy Webb, with a lot of his songs, biography, lengthy interview including comments about his songwriting book.

Near the end, the host said I’m going to fire a few quicky questions at you. Webb agreed. One of those questions was this: “What is the best opening line of any song you have ever heard?”

Webb instantly replied: “That’s easy:


I passed you,

On the street.

And my heart,

Fell at your feet.

And that’s my Hank Williams first line story, with a hat tip to Citizen K.

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Grammy update

The Ernest V. Stoneman album I mentioned earlier did not win the Grammy for best Album Notes.  Writer and producer Hank Sapoznik had been nominated for the historic country music album. The winner was the 50th anniversary release of  Miles Davis’  ‘Kind of Blue’.

Polk Miller and his Old South Quartette album was nominated for  best Historical Album, but also failed to win. The winner in the historical category was ‘Art of Field Recording Volume I, a compilation produced by a company called Dust to Digital. Great name. Hank Williams: The Unreleased Recordings should be eligible in this category next year.

Alison Krauss won several Grammy Awards for her collaboration with rocker Robert Plant, including Record of the Year, and Album of the Year.

Ricky Scaggs won best Bluegrass Album for ‘Honoring The Fathers of Bluegrass: Tribute to 1946 and 1947’.

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Hank Williams was very knowledgeable about the Bible and meaning of Bible stories,  and certainly had a near obsession with death and the afterlife.

‘The Unreleased Recordings’ from Mother Best Flour Shows reflect this with a large number of hymns and sacred or morality based songs many written by other people and given a whole hearted, committed, Hank Williams rendition.

There is an excellent discussion of Hank Williams work from a Christian perspective on a Canadian Christian website. Writer John Cody explores the tragic health and family problems Hank faced from early life. He looks at many of his works with an emphasis on the Luke the Drifter persona.

He sees a deep spiritual source for Hank’s writing:

His sister once commented, “If you want to know Hank, check Luke.”

Williams’ charismatic stage persona was invariably good-natured; but many of the performances on The Unreleased Recordings hint at a profound sadness under the happy veneer.

Ongoing marital woes certainly took a toll, but there’s more – a yearning that transcends the temporal. An added sense of foreboding is never more apparent than on the macabre final track, ‘The Pale Horse and His Rider,’ during which he explains “the Bible speaks of a pale horse, and his rider is death.” At the time, Williams was less than two years from his own death.

John Cody mentions Hanks’ relationship with Father Harold Purcell, and at the end of the article comments on Hank’s spirituality:

It would be a stretch to suggest those songs are revelations from God; but they could certainly be considered revelation from man. Hank told interviewers that, for inspiration, he would simply close his mind and let God write the songs.

Awareness of right and wrong is present throughout his work. When he was bad, he knew he was bad, and never made excuses. By all accounts he was a mess of contradictions; but one cannot discount his upbringing. Out of a pained life, Williams’ story is remarkable – and would have been that much sadder without music.

More than half a century after his passing, his music continues to bring joy to listeners everywhere.

It’s amazing as we read these many articles about Hank Williams  to feel the profound effect his words and performances have had  on  the individuals who have written  about ‘The Unreleased Recordings’. Many have focused on the power he possessed to take both his words and voice into some higher level of awareness and humanity.

Here’s the link for the article in canadianchristianity.

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There isn’t much of interest for Country Music fans at the Grammy Awards, except that the historical collection of recordings by Ernest V. Stoneman has a nomination for writer Hank Sapoznik.

The album does not get a nomination for best historical album. Go Figure. Polk Miller and his old South Quartette have a nomination for best Historical Album.

I should note that ‘Hank Williams The Unreleased Recordings’ is not eligible this year since the cut off date is September 30th.  So the historic Hank Williams collection will be eligible for Grammy Awards next year, and should get a few nominations.

The Stoneman album has a compelling title:  ‘Ernest V. Stoneman The Unsung Father of Country Music: 1925-1934’.

For those of us who are not by any means experts in Country Music History, the historical line goes something like  Vernon Dalhartt, Jimmie Rodgers, Carter Family, Hank Williams, to the present. Of course you can throw in Bob Wills, Roy Acuff and a bunch of others in the list.

This album attempts  to restore the important place of Ernest Stoneman in that lexicon. In fact the liner notes remind us that Stoneman recorded with Frank Peer before Rodgers and the Carters and he in fact arranged those famous sessions in Bristol,Virginia.

So congratulations to Henry “Hank” Sapoznik for his fine work.

I am not familiar with Polk Miller so I will have to leave explanation and discussion of that nomination to others.

Here is the Polk Miller website.

Back to Ernest Stoneman, here is an excellent article and video about Hank Sapoznik and the Stoneman album on the PopMatters site.

Elswhere in the Grammy Awards there doesn’t seem to be anything much of interest. Patty Loveless has a best album nomination for her ‘Sleepless Nights’, and there is an impressive list of Bluegrass artists in the nominees for best album in that category.

It’s all pretty much the same old faces and the same old musical chairs in the main categories, at least that’s how I see it anyway.

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The bitter cold, and unyielding winds of February drive through like a stake after we northerners endure November, December and January with no end in sight. Although the hours of sunshine seem to be expanding, the winds and ice and snow show no sign of easing.

But for one generation, the one alive and aware on February 3, 1959, this bleak month carries an additional note of sorrow.

In big city and remote local newspapers, delivered by shivering paper boys up and down snow piled streets, there was, in the words  of Don McLean, “Bad news on the doorstep.”

Of all the exciting, original singer songwriters who arrived on stages and recording studios in the mid 1950’s and were labeled with the name Rock and Roll, none followed more closely in the footsteps laid down by Hank Williams than Buddy Holly. I make this claim while noting that Elvis, for example, although the King Of Rock and Roll and an innovator of historic proportions as a singer, did very little in the way of songwriting.  And many such as Marty Robbins, Johnny Cash or Faron Young although rockers at times, did not in the end really make their final place in Rock and Roll.

Looking back, it’s surprising  to think that Buddy Holly died in that tragic plane crash in Iowa, a mere six years after the death of Hank Williams. I suppose one of the reasons many Hank Williams fans would name Buddy Holly as their favorite early rocker is because of his early death. Like Hank Williams, Buddy Holly leaves many markers as to what might have been, but also the mystery that we will never know.

The main reason I am so confident in drawing a direct line from Hank Williams to Buddy Holly is the songs. But biographically we know that Bob Montgomery, Holly’s early partner in a teen group that was active in the Hank Williams era of stardom, was a keen Hank Williams fan. Holly was born in 1936 making him between 12 and 16 when the Hank Williams classic hits were flowing. So it’s a given he grew up with Hank everywhere in Lubbock Texas.

But more important, it’s in the songs.  Because he died at only 22, the young Buddy Holly appears to have grabbed and never let go of the rock and roll side of Hank Williams.

Much of  Hank Williams tremendous achievement lies in doing what no popular singer had never done so well before. He captured the pure excitement, and joy and humor, of the ups and down of love and life in a language which was humorous, playful, full of fun and stunning unique images. These original songs were delivered  in a lively, bouncy, exciting rhythm in a voice that was full of exuberance and exaltation.

Look at ‘Hey Good Lookin’, ‘Move it on Over’  ‘Mind Your own Business, ‘Settin the Woods on Fire’.

And if you ask, was Hank Williams singing Buddy Holly style Rock and Roll in the early 50’s?

Listen to the live versions of ‘Honky Tonk Blues’ and Why Don’t You Love Me?’ on the Live at the Grand Old Opry CD.

Then you turn to Buddy Holly as a writer and performer. What a joyful catalogue and  celebration of the joy of life.

Look at ‘Rave On’, ‘Peggy Sue’, ‘That’ll Be The Day’, ‘Everyday’, ‘Not Fade  Away’ and of course the happiest of them all, ‘Oh Boy’, and many more.

There is a emphatic argument for Buddy Holly as the centuries most influential musician by Philip Norman in the British paper the Daily Telegraph on Saturday January 30th. Here’s a quote:

To call someone who died at 22 “the father of rock” is not as fanciful as it seems. As a songwriter, performer and musician, Holly is the progenitor of virtually every world-class talent to emerge in the Sixties and Seventies. The Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, the Byrds, Eric Clapton, Pete Townshend and Bruce Springsteen all freely admit they began to play only after Buddy taught them how. Though normal-sighted as a teenager, Elton John donned spectacles in imitation of the famous Holly horn-rims and ruined his eyesight as a result.

Holly’s voice is the most imitated, and inimitable, in rock. Hundreds of singers have borrowed its eccentric pronunciation and phrasing. None (except perhaps John Lennon) has exactly caught the curious lustre of its tone, its erratic swings from dark to light, from exuberant snarl to tender sigh, nor brought off the “Holly hiccough” which could fracture even the word “well” into eight syllables.

We know where the skills listed in that paragraph could also be found in Holly’s past. But there was a lot of Lefty Frizzel in those vocals as well.

Tuesday February 3rd 1959 along with January 1st 1953 are heartbreaking days in the history of twentieth century music. Two young trail blazing innovators taken before the world could even begin to realise their possibilities, revealed late in his life by Hank Williams in songs like’Kawliga’ and ‘Ramblin Man’, and by Holly in songs like ‘Raining inMy Heart’ and ‘True Love Ways’.  But what we have is enough, more than enough.

But I still hate February, and January too.

Here’s the LINK to the Telegraph article.

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