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Posts Tagged ‘Bob Dylan’

The contemporary country music legend who most resembles Hank Williams in spirit, genius, and style, Merle Haggard is part of the new recording which features modern stars turning unrecorded Hank Williams’ lyrics into new songs. Bob Dylan and Jack White have attracted an all-star cast to their project called ‘The Lost Notebooks of Hank Williams’ which will be released this fall on October the 4th.

In addition to Haggard,  performers include  Dylan, White, Alan Jackson, Vince Gill,  Norah Jones, Rodney Crowell, Levon Helm, Lucinda Williams, Patty Loveless,  Sheryl Crow, and Hank’s granddaughter Holly Williams.

Hank Williams’s mother Lillian Stone turned over the  box of 4 notebooks of lyrics written on pieces of paper which Hank had kept in a leather briefcase to Acuff Rose Publications in 1953 shortly after his death.

Here is the track listing for ‘The Lost Notebooks of Hank Williams’:

  1. You’ve Been Lonesome, Too – Alan Jackson
  2. The Love That Faded  – Bob Dylan
  3. How Many Times Have You Broken My Heart?  – Norah Jones
  4. You Know That I Know – Jack White
  5. I’m So Happy I Found You  – Lucinda Williams
  6. I Hope You Shed a Million Tears – Vince Gill and Rodney Crowell
  7. You’re Through Fooling Me – Patty Loveless
  8. You’ll Never Again Be Mine – Levon Helm
  9. Blue Is My Heart – Holly Williams
  10. Oh, Mama, Come Home – Jakob Dylan
  11. Angel Mine – Sheryl Crow
  12. The Sermon on the Mount – Merle Haggard
This album will be released on Dylan’s Egyptian Records, and is the combined effort of Dylan, White, The Country Music Hall of Fame, and Columbia Records.
Because some of the lyrics are in a rough early  draft form, or not always clear, the artists have  added to them  or smoothed out some of the passages as well as creating melodies.
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Contemporary singer songwriter legend Paul Simon has ranked Hank Williams in the top echelon of all songwriters from all genres in American musical history.

The short posting on a New York  website received some coverage because Simon put Paul McCartney in the top six, but left John Lennon in the second tier. In the comments section there was a bit of debate about the McCartney versus Lennon issue and the  absence of  Bob Dylan on the first tier. The top six are:

George Gershwin

Irving Berlin

Hank Williams

Paul McCartney

Richard Rodgers

Lorenz Hart

Simon put the following in his second tier:

John Lennon

Bob Dylan

Bob Marley

Stephen Sondheim

And then, “maybe I’m in there too”.

Hank Williams recently received a posthumous Pulitzer Prize for his writing as well as inclusion in a Harvard University reference book caller ‘A New Literary History of America’.

Here’s the original article.

So, is there only ONE country music songwriter who deserves to be on that list?

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Wonderful news!

An essay on Hank Williams is featured as one of 216 in a new history of American literature from Harvard University Press. The ‘ A New Literary History of America’ was edited by Greil Marcus who is a well known writer on popular music topics, and Werner Sollars a professor at Harvard. They were assisted by a 12 member advisory board. The history covers the period from 1507  to 2008. Three other popular music figures are covered as well, Chuck Berry, Bob Dylan, and Billie Holiday, as well as early Jazz pioneer Jelly Roll Morton.

The essay focussing on Hank Williams is called ‘The Song in Country Music’. It is written by Dave Hickey, a noted arts and culture critic  and a Professor of English at the University of Nevada at Las Vegas. Hickey has written for major American magazines such as Rolling Stone, Vanity Fair, and Harpers. He has been profiled and interviewed in a number of major newspapers such as the New York Times. He has  written several books including  ‘Air Guitar’, an examination of  23 love songs.

Hickey’s essay examines Hank Williams’ influence on later song writers.

I tackled this topic in an earlier post in which I discussed the Hank Williams’ rock masterpiece ‘Hey Good Lookin’ and the  influence of Hank Williams’ attitude and language on later  rock songwriters such as Buddy Holly and Chuck Berry. It’s here.

Among song writers  quoted by Hickey are Roger Miller, Willie Nelson, Billy Joe Shaver, Harlan Howard, and Waylon Jennings. They speak in detail about the specific elements of Hank’s work and specific passages that  inspired, and more importantly taught them about song writing. Maud Newton has an excerpt from the essay in her review here.

This is an emotional moving day for Hank Williams’ fans. Indeed it is one of the most significant events in the Hank Williams’ story. He truly is immortal now.

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What to do about that  insipid, heartless, watered down version of rock and roll that has taken over country music?

Not much I fear.

Marty Martel has written an essay on the survival of traditional country especially as it relates to the Grand Ole Opry and country radio. I guess a popular DJ at WSM has been sacked and the Opry itself has created ‘one hit wonder’ members who are part of the Nashville soft rock version of country. Martel’s essay was released through the Doug Davis’ County Music Classics email.

Hard to find any acts with a country music sensibility among today’s so called country music stars. Maybe an Emmy Lou Harris, Patty Loveless, and Alan Jackson sometimes have something going, but lets face it George Jones, Willie Nelson  and Merle Haggard are the last of the late golden age  of country music which could broadly be defined from 1945 to sometime in the mid to late 50’s.

And really Little Jimmy Dickens is the only surviving star that I know of from the real heart of that golden age when Hank Williams, Hank Snow, Roy Acuff, Ernest Tubb, and Lefty Frizzel,  ruled the charts and concert stages. I know I have left out some names, but I’m just mentioning favorites and the first ones that come to mind.

 A real good definition of traditional country music or what is a traditional performer is hard to nail down. George Jones, for example, did quite a few pop sounding records in his career. Johnny Cash was pretty traditional but flirted with rock and pop in his early days. Not many remember, ‘Ballad of a Teenage Queen’.

Amplification was certainly part of traditional country, as were drums.

Finding a pure traditional country performer who is not bluegrass or a tribute artist is is pretty tough. You have to stretch the definition of traditional pretty thin to include even the alt country and so called purists who generally use a lot of amplification, drums and heavy rock beats.

I suppose traditional country could be defined as a form of folk music employing string instruments in simple musical forms which often feature a solo composer  singer who expresses heartfelt and sincere descriptions in love, religion, life and death,  and other philosophic concerns  and real life issues.

One of the difficulties I have in the attempting  to defend and protect traditional country is that in the case of this blogs subject, Hank Williams, a great deal of his influence on subsequent music history can be found, not in Nashville style country or so called traditional country, but in rock and roll.

Take the style, attitude, rhythms, and words of  Hank Williams’ songs such as ‘Mind Your own Business’, ‘Move it on Over’, ‘Honky Tonk Blues’, ‘Baby We’re Really In Love’,  and of course ‘Hey Good Lookin’  and trace their influence. Who would you find? Well, for starters, Chuck Berry, Buddy Holly and a host of other early rock stars.

Take Hank Williams solo ballads by the author or his alter ego Luke the Drifter, trace their influence and who would you find? James Taylor? John Denver? Leonard Cohen, Willie Nelson, a musician who refuses labels? Oh yea! Billy Joe Shaver too.

Sure Hank had a tremendous influence on more traditional country stars such as Marty Robbins, Johnny Cash, Webb Pierce, Stonewall Jackson, but if you want to look where Hank really lives, he lives in rock and roll.

The solitary lonely figure at the centre of a stage, projecting a soliloquy like singing recitation of the deepest feelings and thoughts of a character outside of himself was the creation of Hank Williams and survives today in all musical genres.   

The current project to record some Hank Williams’ lyrics is under the direction of Bob Dylan and Jack White. And fittingly so.

So as much as I sympathize with  those who bemoan the loss of traditional country music in the modern country music industry, I don’t see it accomplishing much. What we have to do is make people aware of great legacy of not only Hank Williams but a host of other country greats who have passed:Roy Acuff, Jimmie Rodgers, the Carters,  Hank Snow, Lefty Frizzel, Marty Robbins, Johnny Horton, Webb Pierce, Ernest Tubb, Stonewall Jackson, Faron Young (a bit of a rocker in the Hank tradition) Patsy Cline, and we could go on and on.

Worrying about who’s on the Opry is a lost cause, and the Hall of Fame pretty much the same, and country radio.. If you wish to direct your attention in a worthwhile direction I would say the museums devoted to country and various artists which seem to do do a pretty good job.

Pop fans aren’t hearing too much Al Jolson, Rudy Vallee,  Bing Crosby and the Andrew Sisters either, so I guess it’s a universal problem.

I’m not expecting a new Hank or Lefty, Bing or Frank on the scene anytime soon.

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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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Hank Williams, who would have thought? It’s 2009 and you’re bigger than ever in the hot  trendy competitive world of popular music.

Everything has changed since January 1, 1953. Nashville is huge, Country Music or some version of it is more popular than ever, with what are now called superstars everywhere you look. Music is no longer made mechanically with a needle rubbing against bumps in plastic, not electronically with electric charges on plastic tape rolling past a pickup, but digitally up and down wires like a musical telephone.

You may not be surprised to know that your edgy forceful intense vocal style has for the most part been replaced in Country Music  by a more low key microphone friendly style you were able to see and likely secretly admire a bit  in Lefty  Frizzell and even the crooners Eddy Arnold, and George Morgan.

The concept of the singer songwriter which you took from the singing brakeman Jimmie Rodgers and western movie heroes like Gene Autry, and turned into an art form, has been your lasting, most powerful legacy.

Your true descendants have names like Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, John Lennon,  Johnny Cash, Buddy Holly, and Neil Young. So the recording studios and music stages are filled with men and women standing alone in the middle, trying desperately to match your creation of a lonely persona seeking to probe the depths of soul destroying despair, and the raucous exuberant joys of life and love. And see both with equal clarity.

Now your lost daughter known as Jett Williams has done you proud by helping to put together a three record set of those old Mother’s Best Flour WSM radio shows from 1952. And Newspapers from around the world and prestigious Literary Journals , and the New York Times , yes New York, and The Los Angeles Times too. Oh yea, a magazine they call the New Yorker.  And a magazine called Rolling Stone the bible of another style of music you pioneered loves the Mother’s Best shows,can’t get enough, and it’s 2009. The things they are saying about your genius, you would never believe.

Your vocal style lived on too, although not so much in Country. It flourished in something called Rock and Roll and in Rhythm and Blues. And a guy who didn’t write his songs, but had your ability to transform himself into the essence of a lyric especially  a gospel lyric, was Elvis Presley. Like you, he could take a song or hymn and make you believe every word and make you believe  that he believed which is something different.  Many  R and B stylists had some  of your powerful vocal presentation which they learned from the long southern blues tradition, say an Otis Redding,  or even James Brown!  The list of rockers who give it all every time is too long to even consider, and everyone would have their own choices.

Oh yes,and most people don’t think the Grand Ole Opry is really doing all that well anymore, and really isn’t very important in the Country Music business. As a  matter matter of fact they tried to cut one of your true musical descendants, Stonewall Jackson, but he beat em off. You would  have been proud.

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