HANK WILLIAMS. SUPERSTAR / C&W / White Blues Genius.  FOREWORD: In this year of 2002 the word "Superstar" is very much used and abused. We are into the age of Super-Hype, and with the great profliferation of music videos, "artists" miming to backing tracks, million dollar stage sets and wardrobes, multi digital editing and just sheer bullshit;  many non-talented non-entities are propelled to a level where they are accepted by the public as "Superstars". That's a crime. That is fraudulent. But it's BIG business. For Me there are necessary ingredients required in an Artist to justify the term "Superstar" being applied to him or her. Soul. Honesty. Sincerity, and last but not least, a degree of musical ability.   As for "technique", talent for melody, harmony, rhythm, all of these will obviously vary from person to person, as will the specific musical genre chosen. One of the wonderful things about music is it's ability to transcend time. Along with all the aforementioned this can be an indication of an artist's true measure.  Since the beginning of time a composition was handed down from one generation to the next by personal example, then later, in the European world for istance, a composition could be communicated from one musician to the next by written notation. The late 19th - early 20th century saw the introduction of the miracle of the recording of sound and it was through this medium that a TRUE SUPERSTAR was introduced to the world.  His name was HANK WILLIAMS, Born Hiram Williams in Mount Olive, Alabama on September 17, 1923. In 1953 two big events happened in my life regarding this man, one wonderful, that I carry with me to this day, and the other of a tragic nature. The wonderful thing was Hank and his music that ultimately and inevitably led to me playing the guitar. The great tragedy was that He died that same year on January 1st - New Year's Day. When I heard Hank sing - time stopped. The world ceased to exist. A meteor could have landed three feet in front of me and I wouldn't have noticed. I was lost in the wonderful, compelling, irresistible, bittersweet heartbreaking joy that was Hank Williams. Hank was what I call a natural. He sent it straight from the heart, from his soul. You'll see at the top of this page that I've used the term "white" blues genius, this is merely to heighten the fact that to my mind the BLUES genre was predominantly the Afro-American's domain in the early 1940s- 50s. As the reader may gather from my other articles, I am total anti - racist but I find it necessary to mention that Hank was white, there just weren't too many of them around  at that time.

                                                 Cold, Cold Heart video sample                                                       

Hank has always been associated with C&W and rightly so but the FOUNDATION of his music was the BLUES. Not only a 12 bar musical structure but a vehicle for great emotional content. Happy,sad, and all the shades in between, Hank injected every performance with honesty, sincerity, and total artistic integrity. Hank's Mother, Lilly, played organ in the local Baptist Church and it was from her influence that he developed his love of Gospel music. There are two different accounts of  the Black Musical influence in Hank's life, or rather who his black associates were, musically.  In the movie "The Hank William's Story - Your Cheating Heart"   the great influence in his music was portrayed as a black gentleman who worked on the William's farm. Other sources add the fact that he was known by the rather charming name of "Tea Top". Whether this  was derived from the gentleman's aptitude for smoking or drinking the stuff remains unclear. Oher sources again give Rufus Payne, a black street singer from Hank's home town, as being the influential gentleman. Hank Williams had a very tough life. Due to his father Lonnie's bad health the family were extremely poor. Lonnie was a farmer and log trim engineer. He disappeared when Hank was only seven years old and the youngster was reduced to selling peanuts and shining shoes to help support his family. By the age of fourteen He had formed his own band. C&W legendaries Roy Acuff and Ernest Tubb were two of the early influences in Hank's career. Hank was a major contributor in the development of American music - and beyond. 


In 1953, the year of his death, Hank was just about the most popular recording star in Scotland. Guys would avidly collect his records, guarding each 78 rpm like a treasure. After each play the record would be wiped clean and returned to it's cover. We would write to MGM for photographs and when we received them we'd look at them for hours, He was an Idol.  MGM. Those initials glowed in my brain. I'd look in the window of my local record store and just soak up the pictures of Hank, the record covers, and that just made me feel good. The steel guitar, The country fiddle, mandolin, the big "chunk-chunk" of the Martin Acoustic and the fat simple lines from the Bass Fiddle. These all got the Scottish Blood cooking, and Ireland was soaking it up too. And the Cajun influence from France,- that weird cry in the voice, songs of ordinary people doing ordinary things. Having a party on the Bayou. Poling the Pirot { a flat bottomed boat from France} down the Bayou. Neighbours coming round, sharing food, sharing troubles, in good times and bad. Lost loves, new loves, car rides, coca cola, chile con carni, Honky Tonks, Blues, Riding the rails, prisons and a whole lot of heartbreak, Hank could write and sing about anything. And everything.

                                             The Hits, Volume 1   40 Greatest Hits 

As a composer Hank was simply startling. Not only for his prolific output, but for the manner in which He told his story. Simple, direct, no frills, He never wasted words or added great musical ornamentation in his arrangements. And for me that's where the TRULY great Artists stand out from the not so great, They hit you with the plain, simple unadorned truth, in the content of the song and in the performance of it. Hank won an amateur competition in Montgomery, Alabama, performing his own composition "WPA Blues".  When he was sixteen he formed his legendary band -the Drifting cowboys, working mainly honky tonks and roadhouses in his formative years. During World War Two He had to quit music and take employment as a welder in a shipyard, but when the war ended He went back to his great love - Music. In 1946 he and his wife Audrey moved to Nashville where Hank signed with the Acuff - Rose publishing company and He secured a recording contract with MGM the following year. His first release "Move It On Over" landed him an appearance in the famous "Lousiana Hayride" radio show and Hank was on his way.  Fred Rose from the said publishing company was influential in bringing Hank's music to a wider public, extending it beyond the C&W charts and into the mainstream of American popular music. In 1949 Tony Bennett had a number one hit with "Cold Cold Heart" one of Hank's compositions. It made number one in both the C&W and the Pop charts. Also in 1949 Hank made it to number one in the C&W charts with "Lovesick Blues", this record stayed in the charts for an incredible 10 months ! In the top 15 !  Over the next four years He had a total of 11 million - selling singles. All together Hank cracked the C&W  top ten charts an incredible 36 times ! The rise in popularity of this Great Artist can only be described as meteoric.  He went on to make an incredible debut on The Grand Ole Opry, June 11th 1949, taking six encores.

                                                          Low Down Blues                                                         

From then on He was a regular guest on the show. By 1950 He was the biggest Star in the business and it took just four years to get there.  " Your Cheatin' Heart" "Jambalaya" "Wedding Bells" " Lovesick Bues" " Why Don't You love Me" " Long Gone Lonesome Blues" " Lonesome Whistle" " Take these Chains from my Heart" "Hey Good Lookin' "I'm So Lonesome I could Cry" - these are just a few of the wonderful songs composed and recorded by Hank and many, many other great stars. Ray Charles, Tony Bennett, Bill Haley, Gram Parsons, John Fogerty { Creedence Clearwater Revival } The Georgia Sattelites, Uncle Tupelo and of course Hank Williams jnr. number among the Great Artists who have paid tribute to Hank by recording his songs, proving that his compositions do indeed transcend, genre, colour, class and time. These songs are now classics in American Music. Hank re-organised the "Drifting Cowboys" added some very groovy studio musicians and started touring across the U.S, Canada, and entertained the American troops stationed in Germany. There is no doubt that Hank set the scene for such stars as Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins, Wee Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash and innumerable other artists. He practically re -invented the whole C&W scene, changing it from the old "Cowboy out on the Prairie"  to someone with something valid to say.  In my Heart I feel that the true magic of Hank Williams lay in the fact that through all the bullshit of showbusiness he never forgot his roots. The hard work, the poverty, the ordinary people. That's how he delivered the goods, from one guy in the street to another, told in simple straightforward language. 

                                                              20 Greatest Hits                              

In 1952 Hank returned to the Lousiana Hayride, divorced his first wife and re-married in a public ceremony.  I won't go into Hank's fight with drugs and alcohol in detail. Whatever those details are they are private family business. I just want to remember him for the wonderful, indeed beautiful words and music that he left us. Hank died of a heart attack at the age of twenty nine on his way to a show, January 1st 1953.  Shining through his music is his great unshakeable belief, respect, and love for God, the One who sent Him to us in the first place.  HANK WILLIAMS was the FIRST artist to be elected to the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame in 1961. That is indeed a tribute to this Giant of the music world..  Many years later the crew of "Apollo 13" were awakened from their Space Slumber by Hank's music. So Hank transcends Time and Space.  God Bless the Memory of Hank Williams - A True Superstar.  (c) joemoretti June 2002 


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