Posts Tagged ‘Fred Rose’

Very informative lengthy taped interview with the author of the distinctive Hank Williams’ guitar sound, Don Helms.

This interview was done at the Hank Williams’ Festival in June 1997 by Tom Casesa. He is a New York based musician and visual artist.

Casera asks a lot of good questions and drills down a bit into some interesting topics. When you hear these interviews you often say why didn’t he ask this? That didn’t happen too much in this interview. Tom seems to have gained Don Helms’ trust so he’s very honest. The interview is on You Tube with still pictures.

Thanks to Robert Ackerman for sending it along and Tom Casesa for sharing it with Hank Williams fans through Robert.


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Here’s a good description of an appearance by Hank Williams in 1949. It comes from the Vancouver Sun which is collecting reports of memorable events in the city to celebrate the papers 100th anniversary. Columnists John Mackie is asking readers to share their memories from years gone by:

One of my faves came from Art Currie, who was among the lucky people who saw country and western great Hank Williams perform at the PNE’s Exhibition Gardens on Sept. 13, 1949.

Neither The Sun nor Province covered the show, so how the gig went was a mystery. In fact, few people had any idea Williams had even played Vancouver until my friend Dave Chesney came across a mention of it on a Williams timeline. So I found the original ad, wrote an item, and Currie emailed to say he’d been to the show.

Currie still has the program for the touring show of Grand Ole Opry stars like Williams, Ernest Tubb, Cowboy Copas and Minnie Pearl.

“I actually went to see Ernest Tubb, who was my favourite guy,” recounts Currie, 88. “I’d heard of Hank Williams. He had a couple of songs (that were hits). Ernest Tubb didn’t show up at the show – he was sick. But Hank Williams, the way he did his thing, I more or less fell in love with Hank Williams right then. I was a fan of his ’til the day he died.”

Currie recalls Williams doing a 20-to 30-minute set.

“He sang the Lovesick Blues,” he said. “I remember he said, ‘When I showed this to my producer when I came to do a record, I sang that and the guy told me that’s the worst’s thing I’ve ever heard.’

“(Williams) was a funny guy. He was a tall, thin, pale guy, long black sideburns. He didn’t look like a well guy, even back then. He was never well, I don’t think. But he lived awhile after that.

“So he did Lovesick Blues, and Wedding Bells. He told some jokes in between, even with his sad songs.”

This remembrance is notable in that it represents Hank with ‘Lovesick Blues’ just as he was breaking through. Many of the great hits are still to come. But even at this time over three years before his death Hank is described as obviously not being a healthy looking person.

I am always shocked when I read these reports. Whether it was his record company MGM, The Opry, publisher Acuff Rose,  family, or musician friends, he was exploited for his money-making ability, ‘sliced and sold like bologna” as he once said, with no concern for him as a person. If there had been a few true friends was saw him as a troubled genius and put his welfare number one, he might have been saved. I know Fred Rose sincerely tried to help but seemed to drop out of the picture in the final year as Hank fought his demons and the horrible aftereffects of spinal fusion surgery.

We all know the tragic ending.

But in 1949 some guy from Vancouver could see all was not well for Hank Williams.

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A fine, rich article on the Hank Williams Fred Rose composition ‘I’ll Never Get Out of this World Alive’. Davis Inman takes a pretty in-depth, scholarly look at Hank Williams’ personal situation when the song was recorded in June 1952 just six months from his death. And he examines, I think in a realistic manner, the relationship between Hank Williams and Fred Rose as songwriters.

I was noticing after reading this article a CD of Hank Williams’ greatest hits which I also have on vinyl. It was for many years the sort of definitive Hank Williams greatest hits recording. Millions of fans probably got all their Hank from this record. This is the one with the bust of Hank Williams on the front. Amazingly in this 24 greatest hits package the producer from MGM did not include ‘I’ll Never Get Out of This World Alive’.

There’s no doubt ‘I’ll Never’ was a much overlooked hank Williams song through the years. It was released in November 1952, so with Hank’s death in just a little over a month, and then the posthumous release of the massive hit ‘Your Cheatin Heart’, I’ll Never’ may have been overlooked a bit.

On the surface the song is a sort of jumble of unrelated nonsense lyrics. It almost seems in the tradition of ‘Mind Your Own Business’ and ‘Move It on Over’ but not even as coordinated and unified as the two earlier masterpieces.

But this one has a rollicking sense of humour as all the familiar silly images are rolled out. But the title brings in a dark side that seems to grow and become more disturbing as the song piles on the list of unrelated crazy images one after another.

In the end I think the contrast between the fun and the looming spectre of death begins to hit home. And Hank seems to sing it with a kind of intense seriousness which was his trademark.

Of course, if Hank Williams had lived another 40 years the poignancy of the lyric would have been lost. In his article Inman also  notes that Fred Rose lived only two years after it was recorded.

No doubt in my mind that Hank fans will enjoy the article which is right here:

Here’s the link to the American Songwriter Magazine article.

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Creative writers need editors. Every novelist, poet, filmmaker and yes songwriter needs somebody to take a second  look at his work which is often composed in a creative rush of inspiration. If we saw the original submissions of famous novels, the raw footage of classic movies, and original drafts of classic poetry and plays, we wouldn’t recognize many of them. Editors cut stuff, move things around, make suggestions, even make changes and additions. That is just how the artistic world works. And Hank Williams as Fred Rose knew was a great artist but he needed a great Editor.

As Beecher O’Quinn points out in the newsletter I wrote about in the last post, Rose had a reputation as a song writer on his own merits. O’Quinn recounts how hard Rose worked on his music, took it seriously, and went over songs over and over again. He also says Rose had a policy of not taking credit unless he wrote 80% of a song. But I think a major point is that Rose was willing to take credit when he thought he deserved it. The opposite must be true: He would not take credit is he didn’t deserve it.

Every one of the Hank Williams biographies talks about how Hank and Fred Rose would meet to go over songs. In some case Rose took a credit. In most he did not. The reason he did not is that he was a very honest man who says his role as an editor for a very gifted young artist.

I think sometimes that Hank Williams was ALWAYs young. He was a genius and a creative dynamo with an original lyric. But he was not well educated as a musician or a writer. But the help he got is similar to dozens of famous writers you could name. He needed guidance. Rose obviously saw the youth, the spark, the enthusiasm, the creative originality.

The article by Dave Hickey in the ‘New Literary History of America’ called ‘The Song in Country Music’ is about Hank Williams’   craftsmanship. This was obviously the trait that Rose saw which reminded him of himself.  The Hickey article works on the theme that Hank Williams’ lyrics were sung over and over again and that poetic devices around the use of internal rhymes and vowel repetitions came from Hank’s going over and over them as a singer. None of this work by Hank alone can be laid at the feet of Fred Rose, but he sure knew what it was when he saw it.

I wonder if Hank’s creative spark perhaps inspired Rose as much as the influence was the other way around. An up tempo Rose song like ‘Settin the Woods on Fire’ has a Hank Williams style. A ballad like ‘Take These Chains’ also has hints of Hank.

Looking at his whole output I think it’s fair to say Rose was, well let’s say it directly, “He was no Hank Williams!!”

One of his most famous  compositions  ‘Blue Eyes Crying in The Rain’ is overwritten, and overwrought,  and it’s grossly overly sentimental. It resembles some of Hank’s weaker efforts, and comes nowhere near the spare, haunting, coldly original language  we find in the best of Hank Williams. ‘Take These Chains’ is similar; great, but not Hank.

Hank Williams had a direct, burning way with words, a power over language that seared the soul. He had directness and a clean clear sparseness and poetic originality in his writing: “a picture from the past came slowly stealing”, “but now I know your heart is shackled to a memory.”

So I’m saying Fred Rose was very important. I can imagine the truth in a story I’ve  read that says he suggested a change from “I Lose Again” to “You Win  Again”  in that famous song. Definitely possible and credible. That’s what editors do. But in his own country music writing there is an element of consciously composing what he knows will fit in the picture or the genre of country melody and language, but which lacks something of the absolute directness and honesty of real country.

In short, can anyone imagine Fred Rose writing ‘Hey Good Lookin’? No. Case closed.

As regular reader’s of this blog may remember I wrote an article devoted to praising the Fred Rose and Maurice Murray composition ‘Crazy Heart’ which recently was used as the title of a country music movie. So my admiration for Rose is already on the record. Here is my post on ‘Crazy Heart’. To me that song’s forceful rhythm building on Hank’s early ‘Move it on Over’ really helped establish Hank’s claim to be an early innovator in the road to rock and roll.

This is not to say ‘The  Tennessee Waltz’ is not an all time great of country music as are other Rose compositions. But despite how closely they worked together, I see a very clear difference between the works of Fred Rose and those of Hank Williams.

Finally, I want to direct you to some information about Fred Rose and Hank Williams on the Hank Williams Appreciation Society website.

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I was very disappointed to see that the new country music movie Crazy Heart does include the Hank Williams classic recording of the Fred Rose composition in the soundtrack. Obviously the title of the movie is taken from the song.

Crazy Heart has always been one  of my favorite Hank Williams recordings, although it was  a ‘B’ side and did not make the charts. However I think it was one of the most popular of Hank Williams songs after his death. It was featured on many posthumous Hank Williams’ collections. ‘Crazy Heart’ was written by Fred Rose and Maurice Murray. It was recorded by Hank Williams July 25th 1951, and released as the B side of ‘I Heard That Lonesome Whistle’.

As opposed to the traditionally country and western styling of ‘Lonesome Whistle’, ‘Crazy Heart’ was  a hard-driving,  high energy, raw, edgy number which could have easily been an early rockabilly cover by Elvis, Jerry Lee, or Carl Perkins.

The new country music movie stars Jeff Bridges as a sort of Waylon Jennings, Kris Kristofferson character who hasn’t had a hit for years and is reduced to playing cheap bars, using local pick up bands.

Although for some inexplicable reason the soundtrack does not include Hank Williams singing ‘Crazy Heart’ it does have a few classic country records by the original artists. The main soundtrack and the songs sung by the Jeff Bridges character were written by T-bone Burnette and Ryan Bingham. Bingham sings what looks like the film’s biggest hit a song called ‘The Weary Kind’.

The traditional Country songs on the soundtrack include: Buck Owens ‘Hello Trouble’, The Louvin Brothers’ ‘My Baby’s Gone’, ‘Searching’ by Kitty Wells, the ‘Color of the Blues’ by George Jones, and finally a great 70’s classic ‘Are You Sure Hank Done it this Way’  by  Waylon Jennings.

But alas I can’t find any reference to a real Hank Williams’ classic called ‘Crazy Heart’ written by Fred Rose. I wonder if there were copyright problems or some legal issues that kept Hank off the movie. Seems very mysterious. With my limited amount of research I haven’t been able to solve it, so if you have any ideas give us a shout in the comments section below.

This movie by the way is Oscar bound. Jeff Bridges is expected to get a nomination for Best Actor.

It interesting to note that Jeff Bridges connection with Hank Williams goes back into the 60’s. As all  fans know, one of Hank Williams’  greatest triumphs came in a movie about a decaying Texas town called ‘The Last Picture Show’. A very young Jeff Bridges was brilliant in the Peter Bogdanovich film which also starred  Cybill Shepherd, Cloris Leachman, and Timothy Bottoms.. The soundtrack of that classic was made up almost entirely of original Hank Williams’ recordings with a few by Hank Snow and some others. But the black and white photography, the despair etched on the faces of the lead actors including Bridges, and the haunting ghostly sounds of Hank Williams in the distance made this an all time American classic.

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