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Posts Tagged ‘Johnny Cash’

You can’t be anything but excited to hear that a major motion picture on Hank Williams  with significant funding and the involvement of Universal Studios is in the works.

Two companies, 821 Entertainment Group and Striker Entertainment will produce the biopic which will be offered to Universal for actual production.

This sounds like the kind of financial heft and depth which could see Hank Williams get the same treatment recently offered to Ray Charles and Johnny Cash.

The key to putting the deal together appears to be the support of the Hank Williams’ estate represented by Hank Williams Jr and Jett Williams. Of course the two came together to bring the ‘Unreleased Recordings’ based on the Mother’s Best radio shows to the public for the first time last fall, and that was a respectful, classy, impressive 3 CD release.

Personally, I’m disappointed that the intellectual and artistic control of the picture will be under handed over to  Colin Escott. Escott is doubtless the number one scholar and author  on the life and works of Hank Williams.  He’s written the most comprehensive biography: ‘Hank Williams: The Biography’ on which the movie will be based. Escott has also written liner notes for numerous Hank Albums includingt the recent ‘Unreleased’ and other articles, books, and TV shows including the PBS special.  Escott will be associate producer of the new film.

My problem is that, in my opinion, Escott has greatly overplayed the negative aspects of Hank Williams’ life. Everybody and their uncle was apparently more than willing to tell an unsavory, salacious story about Hank. Every single one seems to have made it into Escott’s books. I prefer the statement from Don Helms who said he did not recognize the Hank Williams he knew for so many years, in any of the Hank Williams biographies he read.

Hank Jr has also stated that he doesn’t believe it was all gloom and doom portrayed in the Hank Biographies. I like this quote from, ironically, Colin Escott’s book ‘Snapshots from the Lost Highway’:

Some people had the misconception that Daddy was rolling and lolling in sorrow, or lived with the whiskey bottle in his hand 24 hours a day, and that’s not the way it was. . . . You can hear anything, you can read anything, but if you sit down and listen to his albums, you will know him and you can make own analysis. Just listen, you don’t need anyone to explain anything to you.

To me the tide is starting to turn: The debauchery trumps artistry portrayal is diminishing. I hope Hank’s status as an artist will triumph over  the endless stories in this new movie.

I am hopeful that the involvement  and cooperaton of the Hank Williams’ estate willl bring to the project the professionalism and style and class we saw in the ‘The Unreleased Recordings’. The involvement of the Hank Williams’ estate also means the original Hank Williams recordings can be used in the production.

That being said, I like the quotes from one of the producers, Marc Abraham:

“It is hard to measure the excitement I feel and. . . the sense of responsibility,” he said. He added, “I have loved Hank Williams’ music from the time I was a small kid growing up in Kentucky. I truly believe that a story based on the pain and glory of Hank Williams’ life – one of America’s greatest artists – can be a thrilling motion picture and at the same time, it can examine the power and influence of art and music in our lives.

The offical press release quotes Colin Escott but it’s hard to make much from his quote:

Hank Williams’ life and career almost demand to be made into a movie, and I feel that the team associated with this production can deliver the Hank Williams movie we’ve always wanted to see.”

As I reported earlier a film maker from Alabama is also planning Hank Williams movie.

And of course I recall watching a film called ‘Your Cheatin Heart’ way back in 1964 starring George Hamilton which soon disappeared from sight due to legal wrangling within the Hank Williams’ estate. I see the movie is apparently for sale on the internet in DVD format.

The tell the  truth  at the time I thought George did a pretty good job of portraying Hank. No accounting for taste I guess.

But seriously,  this is all good, and will do wonders for Hank Williams’ place in musical history if it is done well. But I  still wish they werre using the late Paul Hemphill biography ‘Lovesick Blues’ plus some of the memoirs left by Don Helms and others to portray the real Hank Williams.

Oh well, now we can settle back and speculate who among the current crop of Hollywood stars would make the best Hank Williams. And how will Audrey, Billy Jean,  and Hank’s mother be treated in the latest version of Hank’s life, and the one that will, for better or worse, become the official version of Hank’s life for millions of people  and will endure for years  into the future?

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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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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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