Hank Williams influence on country music songwriting will be celebrated at the Hall of Fame in Nashville on April 16th.
Of course you may recall that last year Hank received a tremendous honor for his songwriting by inclusion on a Harvard University reference book called ‘A New Literary History of Americas’. There isn’t much can be done to top that, but the Hall of Fame will present a concert headlining Rodney Crowell as part of the Hank Williams Family Legacy exhibition. The concert will also feature some people I’ve never heard of: Ashley Monroe, the Secret Sisters, and Steve Young.
Each artist in the program will sing a Hank song and then some of their own songs that were inspired by Hank Williams.
All in all it sounds like a pretty feeble, half-hearted effort to honor Hank compared to some of the world-wide recognition that has been coming his way in recent years.
Of course most people who have studied Hank Williams seriously understand that Hank’s legacy saw its real flowering in rock and roll and what he brought to country in the early 50’s was pretty well abandoned as the genre went into its disastrous Nashville Sound period in the 60’s. The nadir of this era came when record albums were produced called Hank Williams with Strings, and Nashville began pursuing sweet sounding, chart bound, pop hits.
The genre that Hank Williams virtually invented, the solitary, raw, honest, direct singer songwriter exploring the deepest human emotions, was in my opinion pretty hard to find in country. Needless to say there are many exceptions to my broad generalizations. Johnny Cash, Merle Haggard, and Loretta Lynn stand out. But I wouldn’t include singers such as George Jones or Patsy Cline although legendary country singers and interpreters, they were not for the most part writers. We are only talking about the singer songwriter in this discussion.
The Hank Williams influence as a songwriter and a performer and as a singer, as I have written before, lived through rockabilly and rock and roll. I have written a lengthy detailed essay on this topic showing how Hank Williams as a songwriter lived on in the early rock and roll of Buddy Holly, Chuck Berry, even as someone else has mentioned Fats Domino.
Then through the 60’s Hank’s persona lived in the new crop of immensely talented singer songwriters who followed the first crop of early rockers. Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, Gordon Lightfoot, Kris Kristopherson, Gram Parsons, and all the other singer songwriters of the era, much to numerous to mention.
Hank emerged again on the country side with the alt country outlaw movement of the 70’s 80’s. Maybe the Hall of fame folks could give this show some credibility by bringing in one of those guys maybe a Billy Joe Shaver as a last-minute feature.
But as you can figure out by now, I think the Rock Hall of Fame would be a more suitable sponsor for this event.
And finally here are two essays I wrote on Hank Williams and Leonard Cohen: