The last year of Hank Williams’ life, when he lived apart from Audrey on Westwood Avenue in Nashville, is recounted in an interesting and informative article in the latest edition of the International Traditional Country Music Fan Club newsletter.
Club President Beecher O’Quinn Jr has written the 20 page illustrated history of Hank’s life from January to August 1952 in a special Hank Williams Issue of the newsletter. Beginning with a review of Hank’s position in the country music world as the year 1952 began, O’Quinn goes on to chronicle Hank’s life on an almost day to day basis from his serious back surgery on December 13th to the firing from the Opry in August.
O’Quinn has a wonderful knowledge of the recording and writing of Hank’s songs at the time. He also details all of the other country and pop singers who were recording Hank’s songs and where they were on the pop and country charts of the time.He also reviews the concerts Hank played shortly after his back surgery. Many writers have concentrated only on the ones that were missed or poorly reviewed; O’Quinn gives a more fair description of the concerts Hank did make as well as the ones missed. Quinn does not spend much time on the debilitating effects of Hank’s surgery. But I have written a commentary on the topic which I think it’s important that every Hank Williams fan read.
My article on Hank Williams back surgery is HERE.
In some of the biographies and descriptions of Hank’s life in 1952, you could get the impression that the entire year was spent in an alcohol and drug induced stupor. Yes it is true that Hank Williams behaviour and health were on a downward spiral in 1952. But the O’Quinn article also outlines his accomplishments as a writer, recording artist and touring musician.
It is in these dark times that Hank Williams made trips to New York to appear on two Kate Smith programs and one Perry Como show. As far as a I know, and I am not an expert on these matters, the videos of the Kate Smith appearances are the only decent videos or film of Hank Williams in actual live performance with sound. And those performances of ‘Hey Good Lookin’ and ‘I Can’t Help It’ among others, are extraordinary. One of the greatest vocals in the Hank Williams’ catalogue is his first line in the ‘I Can’t Help it’ performance with Anita Carter from the Kate Smith show.
I shouldn’t leave out that O’Quinn also tells the story of Hank’s romantic entanglements with Bonnie Jett and Billy Jean.
I admire the way O’Quinn acknowledges the contribution of Fred Rose to Hank’s creative output. He says,
Hank’s fans often like to downplay Fred Rose’s role in Hank’s legacy. But they are wrong or simply unwilling to face the facts. Certainly, no one in the country industry of that period ever doubted it.
What I have noticed is that Rose did not hesitate to take writing credit when he thought he deserved it. So when he takes a credit on a Hank hit that tells you something. But the reverse is true. When Rose doesn’t take a credit, it must mean that the bulk of the song was Hank’s creative work and Rose acted as an editor.Every great creative artist has had an editor who bears some responsibility for that writer’s success.
In conclusion, giving Rose full credit as an editor and a songwriter in his own right takes nothing away from Hank Williams’s achievement. I think in his short discussion of this issue O’Quinn unlike many others gets the relationship between Hank and Rose just about right. I guess I say that because I agree with him, although Quinn may hold Rose’s songs in a bit higher regard than I do.
Overall, if you want a very detailed fair description of Hank’s life in 1952, you should read this 20 page newsletter. For once a writer who does not exploit Hank’s problems for his own sensationalism, and who focusses as much on Hank’s achievements as he does on his personal life.
You can get an email address for the Traditional Country Music Fan Club web site at this location:
Reading O’Quinn’s discussion of Fred Rose has inspired me to put down some of my thoughts on the subject which I will release in a few days.