On Day Two, we stay in the American south, moving ahead 13 years to look at the music and life of Hank Williams. Rated as album # 132 by Rolling Stone on their list of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time, “Hank Williams 40 Greatest Hits” lays the next major foundation of a lifetime of music for those who enjoy country and/or rock and roll music. A remarkably gifted vocalist and songwriter, Hank was an extremely productive and successful performer during his short and volatile life and career. Despite battling the demons of pain, addiction and alcoholism for all of his adult life, a performing career that spanned from 1937 to 1953 delivered a canon of songs that remains legendary.
On most of his recordings, Hank and his guitar are backed by guitar, bass, steel guitar and fiddle. One of the biggest impacts from listening to this collection was the wide variety of songs. From upbeat classics like “Move It On Over”, made famous once again by George Thorogood & The Destroyers, to timeless classic hits like “Hey, Good Lookin”, the variety of song patterns and styles were a notable step forward. Beautiful, sad ballads such as “Your Cheatin’ Heart” surround the Cajun euphoria of “Jambalaya (On The Bayou)”, and the collection even includes several spoken-word performances that stir the image of a traveling preacher seeking salvation from a sympathetic ear.
Not unlike the blues, most of these songs speak to the heart, whether it be happy in love or broken in devastation. With his gentle southern twang and other-worldly falsetto, this catalog of songs overflows with the authenticity that I find lacking in most of today’s country music, seemingly delivered by a stable of models who coincidentally can carry a tune. The lyrics are full of hurt, seasoned with a dose of spice. As he sings in “Mind Your Own Business”, “If you mind your own business, you won’t be minding mine.”
Sadly, like many performers of his time and beyond, Williams ultimately fell victim to his demons, and he died in 1953, as his career continued to burst upwards and sideways with fame, relative fortune, and the disaster of marred and missed performances. Seventy years later, he is still regarded as one of, if not the, true founders and kings of country music, with his songs living on through the performances of the biggest names to follow him on to the stage at the Grand Ole Opry and to audiences worldwide.
Listening to this collection was an unexpected gift, and you can add my name to a long list of fans who still look to Hank Williams for musical inspiration and a dose of real American music legacy.