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.