Posts Tagged ‘Hank Williams influence’

Following Steve Earle’s new novel, ‘I’ll Never Get Out of This World Alive’ which is a fictional story  about a fictional  doctor who treated Hank Williams in his final days, comes news of two new books on Hank.

Paul MacPhail who has written a number of books on country and rockabilly stars has a new book on Hank Williams coming out this fall. It’s called ‘Hank Williams from the Cradle to the Grave’. I’m really looking forward to this one. As I understand it, the biography will cover Hank’s life on a day to day basis. This book will do a lot to get the truth about Hank out there. As we all know, Hank’s biographers such as Colin Escott have overplayed Hank’s drinking, hopelessly underplayed the seriousness of his chronic back problem and extremely experimental and dangerous surgery. They’ve tried to show him from the Opry point of view as irresponsible and lazy. A Hank Williams day by day account should dispel some of these cruel misrepresentations.

MacPhail can be reached at: p.macphail@hotmail.com

Steve Mertz has written a novel with an interesting premise, a meeting between Hank Williams and Muddy Waters in Louisiana in 1952. It’s called, what else, ‘Hank and Muddy’ and covers some hair-raising adventures in Shreveport. Now all you Hank purists don’t get your shirts  in a knot, it’s just fiction, everybody knows it’s fiction and with Hank in the grave now for nearly 60 years, it won’t do his reputation any more  harm than those slanted biographies we’ve had to read. It keeps the name and image out there.

More on Mertz’ book HERE.

The news has been full of articles about Steve Earle’s book. I wrote a little piece earlier.


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Sometimes in this media world we live in with the onslaught of self important celebrities coming at us like armies over the hills, it can be a little thing which can reveal who is  really important. Can reveal an artist  from 60 years ago whose persona and his works have survived all the onslaughts of competition from both high and low culture to remain permantly in our artistic consciousness.

This is the kind of cultursl figure who a famous writer of today can use to make a little joke at someone else’s expense and we all get it. You don’t need to explain it; we all GET IT!

I guess there’s a bit of a scandal in  American politics  about a representative who sent some naughty pictures via texting and tweeting to some questionable  women  without his wife’s knowledge.

At the New York Times the most famous political and cultural columnist is a woman called Maureen Dowd.

This week Dowd  ran a column basically tearing a few strips off this politician and a few others like him who have been caught doing really stupid things involving relationships with women they should have avoided if they valued their marriages and their political careers.

Finally the point. You can check it out. New York Times, Op Ed section Wednesday June 8, 2011.

The title of the column:

“Your Tweetin’ Heart”, that’s right: “Your Tweetin’ Heart”.

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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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This claim may seem audacious to some, but might be more acceptable if the claim was “most important rock lyric of all time”, or “most influential rock lyric of all time.” 

Certainly people who are familiar with the work of Hank Williams will soon guess the lyric I’m referring to. The song ‘Hey Good Lookin’ was recorded in 1951. Every word in the song links directly forward to the musical form that would break on to the world’s consciousness in 1954, 1955, and 1956.

But the portion of the lyric that embodies the spirit, attitude, and style of Rock and Roll comes here:

I got a hot rod Ford
And a two dollar bill
And I know a spot
Right over the hill.

There’s soda pop
And the dancin’s free
If  you want to have fun
Come along with me.

Everything that rock and roll  became, aside from the protest phase,  is right there.

This is youth culture. This is mobility. This is freedom. This is rebellion. This fun for its own sake pure and simple. Its soda pop not beer. The dancin’s free. There’s escape. But at the same time innocence, youthfull exuberance and and joy.

All of these elements were captured and expanded by artists in just a few years down the road. Listen and remember: Chuck Berry, Buddy Holly, and Little Richard.

Of course many other commentators including Colin Escot in his biography and in various liner notes have mentioned the pure rock nature of  ‘Hey Good Lookin’. In the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame article on Hank who was admitted in the 1987, several artists are mentioned as having:

adapted elements of Williams’ persona, especially the aura of emotional forthrightness and bruised idealism communicated in his songs. Some of Williams’ more upbeat country and blues-flavored numbers, on the other hand, anticipated the playful abandon of rockabilly.

For some reason the Rock Hall doesn’t mention Buddy Holly and Chuck Berry two of rock’s most important innovators. In a later post, I will take a look at some of their lyrics and styles and how they lead back to to Hank’s work even if only subconsciously.

Its interesting that Elvis Presley did not grab on to this type of song in the music he chose to record and unlike Holly and Berry did not write his own material. To his immense credit he mined the rich veins of black R and B, Blues, and Gospel. That music was important to Hank ,but not at the very centre of his contributions to the history of rock and roll.

The rock and roll spirit in Hank Williams is also found in many songs other than ‘Hey Good Lookin’.

One lyric I like comes from ‘Mind Your Own Business’ from 1949:

I got a little girl
who wears her hair up high
The boys all whistle
When she walks by.

This little snipet is pure genius. It says teenager in every precious word. It’s simple, not the complex painful look into depth of despair of a Cold Cold Heart. Pure fun and  teenage pride of first love.

Back to ‘Hey Good Lookin’ where in the last verse Hank introduces the quintesential mid 50’s teen idea of going steady:

Im free and ready,
So we can go steady,
How’s about saving
All your time for me?

No more looking
In know I’ve been tookin,
How’s about keepin
Steady company?

(I think the power of Hank Williams language and rhythm is better conveyed by keeping the lines short in setting the lyrics on the page.)

A reminder that I am reviewing some of the lyrics of famous Hank Williams’ songs that seem to point ahead to the spirit of rock and roll as represented by so many rockers including Chuck Berry, Buddy Holly, Little Richard, Gene Vincent, Eddie Cochran and many others through the years.

There was something in rock and roll that reflected the urbanization of American life, both the excitement and fear:

We’re going to the city
To the city fair.
If you go to the city
Then you will find me there.

And we’ll go Honky Tonkin
Honky Tonkin round this town.

Of course we know that Hank Williams was troubled by modernization:”We took the night life off the streets and brought into our own homes”, he said.

In ‘Honky Tonk Blues’ he serves up a line reminiscent of Chuck Berry to come.

Went out last night,
I wore out my shoes,
Woke up this morning,
Wishing I could lose,
Those jumping honky tonk blues.

I’m gonna tuck my worries
Underneath my arm,
And scat right back
To my pappy’s farm,
And lose the honky tonk blues.

One of Hank’s greatest songs in my opinion is ‘Baby We’re Really in Love’. This song rocks both lyrically and musically. In this the first of four verses each one of which shows Hank’s love of the playful fun loving use of language. He even gets in a little double entendre which is one of the most persistent features of rock music. One line, two meanings, one of them a little, just a little bit off color.

If  you’re lovin’ me like I’m lovin’ you
Baby, we’re really in  love
If you’re happy with me like I’m happy with you
Old cupid just gave us a shove

If you’re thinkin’ of me like I’m thinkin’ of you
Then I know what you’re thinkin’  of
If you’re lovin’ me like I’m lovin’ you
Baby, we’re really in love.

“Then you know what I’m think of.” In the ‘Live at the Grand Old Opry’ album you can hear the crowd go crazy on this line as its clear that Hank has winked or wiggled or done something to get the meaning of this line across.

‘Why Don’t You Love Me?’ is another Hank Williams song that explodes with the spirit of rock and roll. Remember how it jumped out of the speakers at the end of that great motion picture, ‘The Last Picture Show’?

There are four verses and a chorus in this wonderful song about losing a lover. I could pick any verse to quote here and all would fit into my thesis. But I like this one:

Why don’t you spark me like you used to do
And say sweet nothin’s like you used to coo
I’m the same old trouble that you’ve always been through
So, why don’t you love me like you used to do.

I picked the verse with the “sweet nothins” line bacuse it reminds me of the great Brenda Lee hit from later in the 50’s decade.

All of these examples of Hank Williams writing from the late 40’s and early 50’s show that the essential elements of the coming rock and roll revolution were already rolling around in the soul and mind of Hank Williams. More than any other country star of his time, Lefty Frizzel, Eddy Arnold, Roy Acuff, or even Hank Snow who had rock rhythms in his style for sure , Hank Williams was thinking about changes in the air. And he got that into his music. A playfulness of language and freedom of expression which was different than the typical so called “novelty”  songs of the period.

This dog house here is mighty small,
But it’s better than no house at all,
So ease it on over (move it on over)
Drag it on over (move it on over)
Move over old dog cause a new dog’s moving in.

And then the last verse of ‘Move it All Over’:

Remember pup, before you whine,
That side’s yours and this side’s mine,
So shove it on over (move it on over)
Sweep it on over (move it on over)
Move over cold dog cause a hot dog’s moving in.

There’s not much like it in all of country music. And it taught the coming generation how to write songs that were loose, and fun, and youthful, and playful, and joyful and full of life  and imagination.

Songs that expressed the power of youth, the rebellions to come, the mobility, the triumph of fun over duty, life with more than drudgery, life on the road, a girl and guy, goin’ steady, the new wealth and youth culture of the 50’s. Not to say Hank Williams perceived these things consciously or intellectually. But he felt it in his bones.

I got a hot rod Ford,
And a two dollar bill,
And I know a spot,
Right over the hill.

There’s soda pop,
And the dancin’s free.

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