My second inductee into Doyle’s Space: Music Hall of Fame is Hank Williams. Born Hiram Williams September 17, 1923, in Mount Olive, Alabama. His spinal bifida separated him from other children and fostered a sense of separation from the world around him. Listening to the radio and church choirs he was a quick study and learned to play country, folk and the blues. His teacher, African-American blues artist Rufus Payne who exchanged lessons for meals and/or money.
Hank’s father (Elonzo) was a railroad engineer and was frequently relocated for his job. They would move to many different Alabama towns. Then his father had a brain aneurysm and was admitted to the VA Hospital for 8 years.
Hank Williams made his radio debut at 13 years old and at 14 had his own band, Hank Williams and his Drifting Cowboys. His mother had moved him to Montgomery, Alabama in 1937 and drove Hank, and is band, all around southern Alabama performing. By the early 1940’s he was noticed by Nashville music executives. He had formed a dependence on alcohol, to try to relieve his horrible back pain, and was not considered a reliable performer.
In 1943 he met Audrey Mae Sheppard who became part of his band. They married in 1944 and had a son on May 26, 1949, Hank Williams Jr. Due to his abuse of pill and alcohol he was turned down when he auditioned for the Grand Ole Opry.
Williams record some records on Sterling Records and then signed with MGM. His first release with them was an early example of rock and roll music, “Move it on Over”. In 1948, he moved to Shreveport, Louisiana and joined the Louisiana Hayride, a radio show broadcast across the southeast. In 1949 he released his version of the 1922 Cliff Friend and Irving Mills song “Lovesick Blues” which would be number one on the Billboard charts for 4 consecutive months. This suddenly got the attention of the Grand Ole Opry who asked him to perform.
On June 11, 1949, Williams made his debut at the Grand Ole Opry, where he became the first performer to receive six encores. Later that year he joined first European tour of the Grand Ole Opry and performed at military bases in England, Germany and the Azores (Portugal). In 1950 he released Gospel material as Luke the Drifter. In 1951 he had a fall hunting that worsened his already unbearable back pain. In 1952 he released “Jambalaya (On the Bayou)” which was number one on the Country Chart.
He was divorced by Audrey in May of 1952 and re-married in October to Billie Jean Jones by a justice of the peace. At his last recording session he would record “Kaw-Liga” and “Your Cheatin’ Heart” among others. Besides his back he starting having heart problems for which he was prescribed amphetamines, Seconal, chloral hydrate, and morphine.
Hank Williams died January 1, 1953 Oak Hill, West Virginia at the incredibly young age of 29. I often think of what a career he would have had if he could have controlled his alcoholism. Many artists have stated that they were influenced by Hank including, Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Chuck Berry, Jerry Lee Lewis, George Jones, George Strait, Charley Pride, Ernest Tubb, Rufus Payne and The Rolling Stones. He was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1961, the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1970, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987 and was awarded a posthumous special citation for is “craftsmanship as a songwriter who expressed universal feelings with poignant simplicity and played a pivotal role in transforming country music into a major musical and cultural force in American life” by the Pulitzer Prize jury.
In the 29th Annual Grammy Awards (1987) he posthumously received a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. Mother always loved Hank and took me three days in a row to the Theater in Roswell to see the movie “Your Cheatin’ Heart”. It was 1964, I was 6 years old and really enjoyed it.
Mother had “The Very Best of Hank Williams” LP, SE 4168, on MGM Records. It was released in 1968 and I played both sides over and over. I was brought up on country and added rock to my listening as I got older and got my own records. One good thing about this album was that I never got yelled at for playing it too loud!
Hank Williams released 35 singles (five posthumously) that reached the top 10 of the Billboard Country & Western Best Sellers chart, including 11 that reached No. 1 (three posthumously). One of his songs, right from his heart, “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry” has always been one of my favorites.
“There’s a Tear in my Beer” was a demo by Hank and released as a duet by Hank William Jr. in 1988 peaking at number one on the country charts. Hank Sr. was one of the best to ever record and his songs have been covered, and are still covered, by artists today. He is deserving to be my second entry into my Doyle’s Space: Music Hall of Fame.