Tag Archive: Hank Williams


modern-sounds-in-country-and-western-music

Having been a music major in college and a music teacher for sixteen long years, I have an appreciation for just about every style of music.  But if there is one genre of music for which I truly have a distaste, its the modern pop country movement.  I dislike it so much I don’t even know the names of artists to give examples.  I think they are all named Blake anyway.  But even though I can’t stomach current pop country, I do like country western quite a bit.  You know, the classics like Hank Williams, Johnny Cash, Dolly Parton, Patsy Cline, etc.  That stuff is pretty good, and it is that rich history of songwriting that Ray Charles mines for this album, while of course putting his own gospel/R&B spin on it.

I’ve always been attracted to art that defies convention and stereotypes, and this album does just that and does it well.  And I’ve always admired musicians who step outside their comfort zone to try new and different styles, and again, this is what we have here.  At the point in Ray Charles’ career when he made this album, he was an established R&B artist.  He could easily have cranked out another R&B album and it probably would have been a hit.  But instead he challenged himself and his audience by recording this country western album and it wound up not being just a hit, it became a landmark moment in an already storied career.  And I could go on about breaking racial stereotypes and challenging social norms, which this album did in fact do at the time, but the truth is this album has had longevity because it is just simply good quality music.  Despite the somewhat depressing subject matter (it is country western music after all), Brother Ray imbues a sense of joy in each song through his iconic voice and his jazz-tinged arrangements.  I remember seeing this album at the Earnest Tubb Record Shop when I was down in Nashville a few years ago, but I didn’t pick it up until I found it used for $6.99 at the Half Price Books on Lane Avenue.  It is worth every penny.

Other Lists: “I Can’t Stop Loving You” is ranked #164 on Rolling Stone’s list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.  See entry #54 for The Birth of Soul for other Ray Charles accolades.

Ch-ch-changes: This album dropped one spot from its original ranking at #104 on the original list.

My favorite track: “Half as Much”

Honorable mention: “It Makes No Difference Now”

Quote: “But that’s all in the past, and I’ll forget somehow.  Well, I don’t worry, ’cause it makes no difference now.”

 

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40 Greatest Hits

“Are you ready for some foosball?”  Oh, wait a minute.  It’s not that Hank Williams.  It’s his father?  Ok, got it.

When I went to Nashville with the Princess last summer I kind of messed up.  She really wanted to see the Ryman Auditorium (mostly because she really likes the movie Walk the Line) and I thought it was open later than it actually was.  So on our last day in town, we showed up around 4:00 PM and they were already closing up shop for the day.  She was pretty bummed, so I made sure that when we passed through Nashville on our way to Memphis this past spring that we were early enough to tour the Ryman.  And the paid backstage tour there is actually pretty boring, but the free to the public part in the actual auditorium is pretty amazing.  For a long time it was the home of the Grand Ole Opry (before they moved to their overpriced entertainment complex on the outskirts of town) and there are relics from that period on display in the back of the auditorium.  Well, almost an entire display case was devoted to Hank Williams, and knowing this album was coming up on the list, I took the time to learn me some history.  It turns out Hank Williams auditioned for the Opry, but was originally turned down as he was notorious for missing gigs because he would get to drunk to go on stage.  Eventually though he made a guest appearance, and his performance was such a showstopper that he was called back for six encores.  After that they had to hire him, but a few years later he was fired for…you guessed it…getting drunk and missing gigs.

So after learning about Williams at the Ryman I searched high and low in Nashville and in Memphis for this album, but no record store carried it.  I got back to Columbus, and I was about to buy it online when a copy suddenly showed up for $5.99 at the Half Price Books on Bethel road just a few blocks from where I live.  What luck!  And after digging into this album, I can honestly say it’s pretty awesome.  Minimal country twang with lots of steel guitar and violin.  Clever lyrics dripping with bluesy irony.  Just about every song is in a strong country western two-step, and almost every song is between 2 minutes 22 seconds and 2 minutes 53 seconds long.  How’s that for consistency!  And you can definitely hear the influence Hank Williams had on early rockers like Elvis Presley and Buddy Holly.  And obviously he was influential in the country world as well…anyone else hear the similarity between Williams’ “Wedding Bells” and Johnny Cash’s “Give My Love to Rose”?  It’s practically the same song.

Sadly, things didn’t end well for Williams.  He was being driven to a New Years Day gig in Canton, Ohio (another place the Princess and I visit frequently…great wineries up there) when he past away at the all too young age of 29.  Apparently the driver of the car didn’t even realize Hank Williams was dead until he stopped off for gas.  Another tragic end to a great musician.  Williams obviously had some demons, many of which were reflected in his song lyrics.  Of the 40 songs on this compilation, only 5 have an upbeat theme (one of which is the country gospel song “I Saw the Light” which always used to be a favorite of my church choir…until God laid me off last year).  The other 35, even when humorous, are about depressing subjects…but I guess that’s country music in general.  As for his son, I’ve never been a big fan of Hank Williams, Jr., but learning about Hank Sr. gives me knew respect for Jr.’s song “Family Tradition” (“Why must you live out the songs that you wrote?”).  And, well, Hank Jr. is following the family tradition by getting himself kicked off of Monday Night Football.  And I guess the grandson, Hank Williams Jr. Jr., is a punk metal rocker.  So the legacy lives on (sort of).

Other lists: “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry” is #112 and “Your Cheatin’ Heart” is #217 on Rolling Stone’s list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.  Williams is ranked #27 on the list of the 100 Greatest Singers and #74 on the list of the 100 Greatest Artists.

Ch-ch-changes: This album jumped up 35 spots from its original position of #129 on the 2003 list.

My favorite track: “Nobody’s Lonesome for Me”

Honorable mention: “I Saw the Light”

Quote: “I’m a rollin’ stone all alone and lost, for a life of sin I have paid the cost.  When I pass by all the people say, ‘just another guy on the lost highway'”.