New Year’s Hankathon

Tomorrow, New Year’s Day 2018, marks the 65th anniversary of the death of Hank Williams; and to commemorate the date I’ve got four hours of Hank tributes from The Lost Child — the perfect soundtrack, I think, to your black-eyed peas and new year’s greens.

First, here’s the extended edition of this weekend’s show, the Hank Death Show. This is something I’ve wanted to do for a while, and this 65th anniversary seemed like good timing: we listened back to Hank’s historic funeral and heard some of the (many!) Hank tribute songs released in the wake of his death, along with some original Hank records and radio broadcasts. The extended online version includes more of the funeral than I could squeeze into my usual broadcast hour, plus a further look into all those tribute records.

That show was a sort of epilogue to this show, Hank at 90, the three-hour tribute I aired on the 90th anniversary of Hank’s birth, back in 2013. “Hank at 90” pulled together into one place many years of Hank collecting and obsessing on my part, and it’s still one of the most popular episodes of The Lost Child. There are Hank classics and obscurities, reflections from Hank’s old bandmates, a look into the roots of Hank Williams (including the evolution of the “Lovesick Blues” and “Jambalaya”), and, best of all, a world of Hank covers — including gospel, conjunto, soul, zydeco, doo-wop, ’60s psychedelic Thai pop  covers, and more. Here’s the playlist, if you’d like to follow along:

  1. Hank Williams: Honky Tonk Blues (Live, Grand Ole Opry, 1952)
  2. Dean Martin: Wedding Bells
  3. Johnny “Guitar” Watson: Cold, Cold Heart
  4. Conjunto Atardecer: Jambalaya
  5. Hank Williams: Settin’ the Woods on Fire
  6. Johnny Cash: I Heard that Lonesome Whistle
  7. The Maddox Brothers and Rose: Honky Tonkin
  8. Minnie Pearl and Hank Williams: Live on the Grand Ole Opry, 1950
  9. Hank Williams: Next Sunday Darlin’ is My Birthday (Live, Mother’s Best radio show, WSM, 1951)
  10. Piano Red: Hey Good Lookin’
  11. Billy Lee Riley: Kaw-Liga
  12. Papa Cairo: Grand Texas
  13. Chuck Guillory: Grand Texas
  14. Hank Williams: Jambalaya (Live, Grand Ole Opry, 1952)
  15. Louis Keppard: Bucket’s Got a Hole in It
  16. Washboard Sam: Bucket’s Got a Hole in It
  17. Hank Williams: My Bucket’s Got a Hole in It (demo)
  18. Esther Phillips: I Can’t Help It (If I’m Still in Love with You)
  19. Hank Williams radio interview with Mack Sanders, WFBI, Wichita, KS, 1951
  20. Hank Williams as Luke the Drifter: Ramblin’ Man
  21. Louis Armstrong: Your Cheatin’ Heart
  22. Isidro Lopez: Kaw-Liga
  23. The Five Crowns: You Win Again
  24. Kenneth “Jethro” Burns: You Win Again
  25. Bill Monroe: I’m Blue, I’m Lonesome
  26. Braxton Shooford (Braxton Schuffert): Rockin’ Chair Daddy
  27. Big Bill Lister: Countrified
  28. Big Bill Lister: There’s a Tear in My Beer
  29. Big Bill Lister: Story Behind “There’s a Tear in My Beer”
  30. Hank Williams, Sr. & Hank Williams, Jr.: There’s a Tear in My Beer
  31. Bob Log III: Settin’ the Woods on Fire
  32. Hank Williams as Luke the Drifter: A Picture from Life’s Other Side
  33. Elvis Presley: Men with Broken Hearts (Las Vegas, 1970)
  34. Dinah Washington: Cold, Cold Heart
  35. Hank Williams: You’re Gonna Change (Or I’m Gonna Leave) (Live, Grand Ole Opry, 1949)
  36. Audrey Williams: Tornado of Love
  37. Lloyd Clarke: Half as Much
  38. Lum York: Memories of Hank Williams (My Life and Times with Hank Williams, Sr.)
  39. Hank Williams: Mother’s Best radio show excerpt, featuring “I Saw the Light” (1951)
  40. Emmett Miller: The Lovesick Blues
  41. Rex Griffin: Lovesick Blues
  42. Hank Williams: Lovesick Blues
  43. Porter Wagoner: Porter and Marty (Men With Broken Hearts / I Heard That Lonesome Whistle)
  44. Link Wray: I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry
  45. Silver Sand: Kaw-Liga
  46. Hank Williams: How To Write Folk and Western Music To Sell
  47. Zelenáči (Greenhorns) & Miroslav Hoffman: Posledni hrana (Long Gone Lonesome Blues)
  48. Hank Williams: Weary Blues from Waitin’ (demo)
  49. The Golden Crusaders: Hey Good Lookin’
  50. Hank Williams: On Top Of Old Smoky (Live, Mother’s Best radio show, 1951)
  51. Preston Fulp: Wedding Bells
  52. James Brown: Your Cheatin’ Heart
  53. Hank Williams: radio interview with Bob McKinnon, Alexander City, AL, 1950
  54. Jack Cardwell: The Death of Hank Williams
  55. Dr. Henry L. Lyon: Hank Williams eulogy (excerpt), Highland Avenue Baptist Church, Montgomery, AL, 1953
  56. Johnnie and Jack: Hank Williams Will Live Forever
  57. The Five Blind Boys of Alabama: I Saw the Light
  58. Hank Williams: I’m Gonna Sing, Sing, Sing

Hank Death Show copy

In Birmingham the night before New Year’s each year is Hank Night, bandleader Chad Fisher’s annual tribute to the music of Hank Williams (Hank spent the night of January 30, 1952 in Birmingham, on his way to the gig he never made). Each year it’s an incredible night. For the last three years I’ve had the honor of introducing the band onstage and saying a few words about Hank. This is more or less what I said last night:

Happy Hank Night.

65 YEARS AGO TONIGHT(!!)
Hiram Hank Williams
pulled into the city of Birmingham
in the middle of a snowstorm

in his eggshell blue Cadillac convertible
on his way to a New Year’s gig in Canton, Ohio

He checked into the Redmont Hotel downtown and got a room for the night.
It was his last night in any bed
And the last night whose morning he’d live to see.

In the morning Hank got back on the road
but somewhere in the dark hours
between New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day
he breathed out his last breath; and
somewhere around Oak, Hill, West Virginia
his driver pulled over to discover him dead.

In life Hank wrote a litany of hits:
     “Hey Good Lookin'”
     “Jambalya”
     “Your Cheatin’ Heart”
     “Cold Cold Heart”
     “I Saw the Light”
     “Kaw-liga”
     And too many others to name

When he died DJs all over the country saturated the airwaves with his songs
and put also onto their turntables a world of Hank tribute records
so many musical eulogies they constituted a kind of miniature genre unto themselves

Songs like:
     “The Life of Hank Williams”
     “The Death of Hank Williams”
     “In Memory of Hank Williams”
     “Ode to Hank Williams” 

     “A Tribute to Hank Williams, My Buddy”
     “Hank Williams, That Alabama Boy”
     “Singing Teacher in Heaven”
     “Guest Star in Heaven”
     “Heart’s Hall of Fame”
     “That Heaven Bound Train”
     “When Hank Williams Met Jimmie Rodgers”
     “Hank Williams Will Live Forever”
     “Hank Williams Isn’t Dead”
     “Hank, It Will Never Be the Same Without You”
     And more

One of Hank’s recent hits, “I’ll Never Get Out of this World Alive,” was still on the charts
And that song, which a few months ago had just been a jokey, catchy novelty tune

Became suddenly endowed with a tragic, near-mystic significance

Hank’s record label rushed to release a posthumous anthology of all the records Hank
     had made as Luke the Drifter
     his moralizing, sermonizing alter-ego,
a collection meant to assure Hank’s fans that for all the hell-raising for which Hank was
known
Hank had believed above all in mama and God and sweet sacred things and home.

The DJs read out over the airwaves the home address of Hank’s mama, Lily Stone in
Montgomery
urging their listeners to send their condolences
So a flood of cards and letters

poured by the hundreds into her mailbox
and filled up as best as they could the empty spaces in her home

There were letters from housewives
and farmers
teenagers
and aspiring songwriters
from black listeners and white listeners

and GIs stationed in Korea and in Germany.

A letter from Eua Claire, Wisconsin, was addressed to “The Mother of Country Music”
and said, quote:
     “I’d love to come to your home and see Hank’s room
and feel his nearness everywhere.
     Do you think Hank would care?”

I grew up in Montgomery some years after all this
and Hank’s nearness could still be felt if you knew how to look for and feel it.
When the Hank Williams Museum got ready to open there in 1999
a headline appeared on the front page of the Montgomery Advertiser
     my hometown paper
announcing the appearance of what seemed to be Hank’s ghost
in a piece of plywood
at the museum’s construction site.
A contract painter, the paper said, had discovered in the wood grain
–o
n December 31, of all possible dates, just days before the museum’s opening–
the image of a cowboy hat
and then of a guitar
and next to that the letters HW;
a few days later, a cowboy boot had “appeared” in the grain
and the museum’s owner told the paper:
“We don’t know what will appear next.”
Quote: “It’s strange”

But strange things happen in country music
and God knows strange things happen in Alabama

David Allen Coe in the ’80s and Allen Jackson in the ’90s both wrote new sorts of tribute
     songs, describing run-ins with Hank’s ghost in and around Montgomery
and Waylon Jennings’s tour bus always kept one empty bunk open for Hank’s ghost,
which Waylon said came around often for the ride and a talk.

Hank just can’t seem to leave us alone.
And we can’t leave him alone either.

Hank Williams seems to fill for millions of us some kind of essential need
and 65 years after he last pulled through this town

we still have limitless room for his Ghost.

For nine years Chad Fisher has brought to Birmingham one of the greatest nights this
     city knows,
assembled on this stage one of the most joyous and inspiring lineups of talent we might
hope to hear
and it’s a joy to be with you all here tonight
for Hank Night Nine.

Ladies and gentlemen, friends and neighbors,
     Chad Fisher
     and the Hank Night Band.

One last thing or two for now, speaking of musical New Year’s traditions: here’s 20 minutes’ worth of “Auld Lang Syne” to help ring in the new — and a blog post from this time last year, with still more(!!) New Year’s listening from The Lost Child.

Happy new year, and long live Hank Williams. See you in 2018.

hank!

A Right Gude Willie Waught, & Musical Obits

On the radio for this New Year’s Eve morning I played a series of new year’s blues and jive and “Auld Land Syne,” and took a look back at some of the musicians we lost in the last year.  I’ve uploaded the show to the internet, so you can hear it here.

“This is a new year, people, the year 1936,” sings Mary Brown in “Happy New Year Blues”: “I tell all you people, I must get my business fixed.” During an instrumental break she instructs the musicians: “Play it for me ‘til I get young again!”

On January 1 of 1943 Woody Guthrie filled two pages of a notebook with 33 “New Year’s Rulin’s,” surrounded in the margins by his characteristic doodles. “STAY GLAD” is # 18 in his instructions for the new year. “DANCE BETTER” is 26. 33 is “WAKE UP AND FIGHT.”

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I used to put together for The Lost Child an annual show, usually two back-to-back shows, I called “Where Dead Voices Gather” (the title came from the Nick Tosches book): a year-end celebration of all the musicians who’d died in the last twelve months. I’d feature the same sorts of people you might usually hear on my show—bluegrass players, rockabilly guitarists, small town fiddlers, New Orleans parade musicians, radio personalities, soul singers, and more, especially those players whose deaths might have been overlooked in the media at large—and I’d end with a roll call of all the last year’s musical dead, from any genre, calling out as many as I could name. I’d solicit names from friends to include members of music communities around the country: names of record store and venue owners, church organists, music writers, folklorists, and others. The lengthy roll call was inspired by Birmingham’s beautiful Day of the Dead Festival, with a nod too to the Anglican Prayers of the People.

“Where Dead Voices Gather” was my favorite Lost Child tradition, but it was a lot of work. In 2015 the list of the dead was just so big, and my November and December were so hectic and stressed that I just scrapped the whole thing. I figured I’d scrap it this year, too, daunted again by the task. But as I put together this week’s playlist of new year’s tunes I thought it’d be nice to include some Ralph Stanley and some Merle (“If We Make It Through December” seemed fitting). And then I built around those two a long set of other musicians we lost in 2016—not so much the songwriters, singers and players who’ve been so widely eulogized this year already, but some of the contributors whose deaths drew fewer tributes: people like Joe Ligon, the incredible lead singer for the Mighty Clouds of Joy. He died earlier this month at the age of 80. (His memorial service is on Youtube and, not surprisingly, it’s full of powerful gospel.) And then there was Billy Faier, banjo playing iconoclast, traveling companion of Woody Guthrie and Ramblin’ Jack Elliot, contemporary of Kerouac and the beats. Today’s show included his wonderful banjo reworking of “You Won’t See Me,” the Beatles song.

Next year I’ll bring back the full obituaries show. In a single set like today’s, there’s just so much omitted. I left out, for example, Tommy “Weepin’ and Cryin’” Brown, an old Atlanta R&B stalwart who made his name with the vocals on this song:

 

Check out his “Southern Women,” too:

 

Rest in peace—and thanks—to Tommy Brown, and to all the others.

And to all the musicians who were born in 2016, whose music is yet to come: Welcome! We’re glad you’re here.

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One of my two favorite songs in the world is “Auld Lang Syne.” (My other favorite is the gospel song, “Glory, Glory.” One day I’ll write about both of these songs, maybe here or someplace else.) If you’re reading this post on New Year’s Eve, I hope you’ll sing the song tonight at midnight.

But here’s a link, too, to an online special I posted two years ago: 20 minutes’ worth of “Auld Lang Syne,” multiple iterations of it back to back to back. There’s a little overlap in this mix with this morning’s show, but there are some fine recordings here that aren’t there—like Aretha Franklin’s duet with Billy Preston from a 1987 TV special. There’s a nice instrumental version by James Allen Shelton, Ralph Stanley’s guitarist. And there’s one version that’s technically not “Auld Lang Syne” at all, it just shares the tune. “Plenary” is an old Sacred Harp song with lyrics by Isaac Watts—really dark ones, full of “certain gloom” and “walking … to the tomb.”

The lyrics to “Auld Lang Syne” itself, of course, are attributed to the Scottish poet Robbie Burns. Here’s my favorite verse, the last verse, in the original Scottish dialect. When you sing this verse you’re supposed to join hands with your fellow singers in a circle, reaching to your left with your right hand and your right with your left hand, tying your friendship in a knot:

       And there’s a hand, my trusty fiere!

       and gie’s a hand o’ thine!

       And we’ll tak’ a right gude-willie waught,

       for auld lang syne.

Your “fiere” is your friend; a “gude-willie waught”—those words are a joy to say, let alone sing—is a goodwill draft.

Yum.

Happy New Year’s, and cheers. Stay glad. Wake up and fight. See you in twenty seventeen.

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P.S. Here’s Woody Guthrie’s complete rulin’s.

woody-guthrie-resolutions