October 2023

Hank Williams at 100

Les Marcott | Scene4 Magazine | www.scene4.com

Les Marcott

Hank Williams is often cited by music critics as being one of the most influential singer/songwriters of the 20th century. He recorded fifty-five singles that reached the top ten of the Billboard Country & Western charts. Twelve songs reached number one. His influence was so vast, that he has been inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame, Songwriters Hall of Fame, and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. His plaintiveness, poignancy, and simplicity helped revitalize country music into a cultural force in American life.  This September marked his 100th birthday.  For those not familiar with his life and work, I highly recommend the biography Hank : The Short Life and Long Country Road of Hank Williams by Mark Ribowski and Hank Williams: The Complete Lyrics edited by Don Cusic.

But Williams during his brief career suffered from back pain, alcoholism, prescription drug use, and a tumultuous marriage. He was eventually dismissed from the Mother Church of country music – The Grand Ole Opry due to his alcoholism and unreliability. At the age of twenty-nine, Williams died in the back of his Cadillac that was full of beer cans and unfinished hand- written lyrics on his way to a concert in Canton, Ohio. He lived fast, died young, and left behind a not so pristine corpse. In his wake, he also left behind many would be acolytes chasing his ghost. For the adherents of traditional country music, Williams is the touchstone, the lodestar, the encapsulation, and definition of what country should sound…and look like.

Because he was such an influence on so many generations of musical artists, it seems only fitting to mention his inclusion in songs inspired by him. Here are five of my favorites:

Family Tradition – Hank Williams Jr.

 It's hard being the son of a legend. Hank Jr. was groomed to follow his father's footsteps at an early age. That he would succumb to the same trials, temptations, and travails of his famous father is understandable. "So, don't ask me Hank, why do you smoke? Hank, why do you roll smoke? Why do you live out the songs that you wrote?"  of course, it's a "family tradition."  At 73, Hank Jr. has managed to live 44 years longer than his dad did. Even with his own personal tragedies, he's managed to keep it between the ditches and make some damn good music.

Too Sick To Pray – Alabama 3.

 Well, there's more than three and they don't hail from Alabama. These are the guys who gave us the Soprano'stheme song, but their catalog runs much deeper than that iconic song. They are from the U.K. but have an Americana vibe. Too Sick To Pray is a testament to that genre by describing a man not quite on his deathbed, but one who is slipping into malaise, physical infirmity, or possibly madness. Maybe it's all a dream or the reality of Hank Williams "singing the Lovesick Blues from a lonely room."

Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way – Waylon Jennings.

 Early in his career, Jennings began to question those in authority ensconced in the leadership of the Country Music Industrial Complex. Because of his talent and instincts, he was able to wrest control from those record executives and producers who dominated every aspect of recordings without any regard or input from the artists themselves. He charted his own path with this hit song and helped to promulgate the "outlaw movement."  Like Williams, Jennings marched to the beat of his own drummer.

Tower Of Song -Leonard Cohen.

This is one of my favorite Cohen songs and as an added treat it mentions Hank Williams. One must be careful when analyzing his lyrics. There are layers of meaning in almost every Cohen song filtered through his religious beliefs that encapsulate Zen Buddhism and Judaism. But in my understanding of the song, Cohen borrows from the Catholic belief of purgatory. The Tower of Song is not heaven, it's not hell, but a place where songwriters dwell - continually attempting to perfect their craft but constantly failing. Cohen is still "paying his rent" (dues) every day in this purgatorial construct. Twenty-seven angels from the "Great Beyond" have tied him to a table. The table being symbolic of the stage that performers such as Cohen perform their work. If you a performer, that's your destiny – good or bad, you're "tied" to it. There is a love interest in the song, but there's a wide gulf between them suggesting love has taken a back seat to Cohen's profession. But the good news is "they don't let a woman kill you, not in the Tower of Song." Hank Williams resides in the Tower of Song. Due to his exalted status, he lives one hundred floors above Cohen "coughing all night long."  At the end of the song, Cohen bids farewell because tomorrow they're moving him "to a tower down the track."  Your popularity, stature, reputation, critical acclaim can change in an instant. One week you're on the top floor, the next week you're at the bottom in this hierarchal tower or even worse, you just start residing in a lesser tower. It is a masterful song by a skilled songwriter.

Tribute To Hank Williams – Tim Hardin

An ode to one troubled singer/songwriter to another.  When Hardin sings "I didn't know you, but I've been in places you've been", he doesn't mean only geographically, but also the tormented hell that devastated both men.

If You Don't Like Hank Williams – Kris Kristofferson

Kristofferson drops the names of musical legends in this song – many his contemporaries and personal friends. And while he has high regard for all of them and their exploits, anyone that doesn't like Hank Williams deserves special rebuke. "If you don't like Hank Williams, you can kiss my ass."

I tend to agree Kris.


Share This Page

View readers' comments in Letters to the Editor

Les Marcott | Scene4 Magazine | www.scene4.com

Les Marcott is a songwriter, musician, performer and a Senior Writer and columnist for Scene4.  For more of his commentary and articles, check the Archives.

©2023 Les Marcott
©2023 Publication Scene4 Magazine




October 2023

  Sections Cover · This Issue · inFocus · inView · inSight · Perspectives · Special Issues
  Columns Adler · Alenier · Alpaugh · Bettencourt · Jones · Luce · Marcott · Walsh 
  Information Masthead · Your Support · Prior Issues · Submissions · Archives · Books
  Connections Contact Us · Comments · Subscribe · Advertising · Privacy · Terms · Letters

|  Search Issue | Search Archives | Share Page |

Scene4 (ISSN 1932-3603), published monthly by Scene4 Magazine
of Arts and Culture. Copyright © 2000-2023 Aviar-Dka Ltd – Aviar Media Llc.

Thai Airways at Scene4 Magazine