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