10/05/05 - hank williams

In today's excerpt - the times surrounding the emergence of Hank Williams in 1949:

"The years following the Second World War represent the golden age of country music, written and performed by southern boys and girls not a day's ride from the cotton fields or Appalachian hollows whence they had come ... there was nothing fancy about it ... all you needed was a stand-up bass and a rhythm guitar to set the beat, a jaunty fiddle, a crying steel guitar, and a singer with an ache in his voice.

"The lyrics dealt not with true love and harvest moons and life as it should be, but rather with the way it had turned out: broken hearts, dead mamas, whiskey, knife fights, prison graveyards, unrequited love, loneliness. To people in cities like Chicago and New York, especially the more sophisticated songwriters on Tin Pan Alley, country music was for losers. But for people like my [truck driver] father it was the latest news from home. On another [truck driving], trip at another time, upon hearing a dirge about a soldier in Korea getting 'A Dear John Letter' from his girlfriend ('for my love for you has died like the grass upon the lawn') he shook his head as though he had just heard it on the evening news: 'Hell of a thing to do to some old boy, ain't it?' It was music by the folks for the folks ...

"Hank Williams had come to us from out of nowhere—sprouting like a wild dandelion in the dank forests of south Alabama ... and by the summer of '49, nobody seemed to know exactly what to make of him. Only two month after his debut on the Opry with 'Lovesick Blues', a startling performance raucously received at old Ryman Auditorium in downtown Nashville, a converted tabernacle referred to as the Mother Church of Country Music, he had suddenly become the best of the best in the best of all times. Born sickly, half-educated, virtually fatherless, an alcoholic by his teen years, untutored musically, unlucky in love at every turn, he had somehow emerged as a tortured genius, a raw poet, the 'hillbilly Shakespeare', a Vincent van Gogh of the southern outback. The more traumatic his personal life got, the better he became as a songwriter. To some it was like looking at a bad wreck. If he wasn't America's greatest songwriter then he certainly was its most enigmatic."


Paul Hemphill


Lovesick Blues: The Life of Hank Williams


Penguin Group


Copyright 2005 by Paul Hemphill


barns and noble booksellers
Support Independent Bookstores - Visit

All delanceyplace profits are donated to charity and support children’s literacy projects.


Sign in or create an account to comment