Saturday, February 21, 2009

In the Shadow of Hank Willams

One of those strange times when unseen forces mysteriously converge in one direction. . .

I added Hank Williams to my iPod a few days ago. Within 48 hours, I stumbled across several examples of the love and devotion many famous musicians feel for the man.

It started with an article on Leonard Cohen:

"When I wrote about Hank Williams 'A hundred floors above me in the tower of song', it's not some kind of inverse modesty. I know where Hank Williams stands in the history of popular song. Your Cheatin' Heart, songs like that, are sublime, in his own tradition, and I feel myself a very minor writer."
Then I discovered that Neil Young owned one of Hank's guitars:
"I've got a Hank Williams' guitar . . . an old Martin D-28. . . . It's always great when someone understands what this is that they're holding, who understands the effect Hank Williams had on all of us. They are sort of awestruck by being in the presence of anything that he touched---to the point that to actually play his instrument elevates them to another level."
(This morning, knowing how important Hank was to Bob Dylan, I did a little searching on the internet and came across this passage from his memoir, Chronicles:
"When I hear Hank sing, all movement ceases. The slightest whisper seems sacrilege. In time, I became aware that in Hank's recorded songs were the archetype rules of poetic songwriting. The architectural forms are like marble pillars, and they had to be there.")
My favorite story, though, comes from Waylon Jennings' autobiography. As background: The great country singer Faron Young first came to Nashville in 1952, along with his 19 year-old girl friend, Billie Jean Jones. Here's Waylon:
''Everything I did in Nashville, anything anyone did, was measured against Hank's long, lanky shadow. . . .

I wanted to be like him. We all did. Even his contemporaries held Hank in awe. Faron Young brought Billie Jean . . . to town for the first time. She was young and beautiful, and Hank liked her immediately. He took a loaded gun and pointed it to Faron's temple, cocked it, and said, 'Boy, I love that woman. Now you can either give her to me or I'm going to kill you.'

''Faron sat there and thought it over for a minute. 'Wouldn't that be great? To be killed by Hank Williams!' ''
(Hank married Billie Jean two months later.)



"I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry"
(Hank Williams)

Hear that lonesome whippoorwill,
He sounds too blue to fly.
The midnight train is whining low,
I'm so lonesome I could cry.

I've never seen a night so long,
When time goes crawling by.
The moon just went behind the clouds
To hide its face and cry.

Did you ever see a robin weep,
When leaves began to die?
Like me, he's lost the will to live,
I'm so lonesome I could cry.

The silence of a falling star
Lights up a purple sky.
And as I wonder where you are,
I'm so lonesome I could cry.

19 comments:

victor said...

You sure know what bate and/or lure to use if you wanted a comment from me that is! :)

When I learned about Hank Williams and to be honest, I really didn’t know any of the names which you mentioned that were interested in “The Great Hank Senior” in the mid sixties. Back then as far as I was concerned, his greatest hero I thought was one of my brother- in-law Paul. He played guitar left handed and some of the first songs that God blessed me with were about Hank Williams and the words were so easy to learn because they touched my heart. In the mid to late sixties and seventies I must have sung “I’m so lonesome I could die” hundredths of times along with “Cold cold heart” and “Wedding Bells” just to name a few.

I hear ya! Are you sure that you didn’t walk with Hank Senior?

Will you please stop that cause you must be talking about one of my past cell who was looking for heaven on earth! :)

All kidding aside, Paul had me believing that Hank was kind of responsible for all songs and if I sang a song and was not sure who really wrote it, then “IT” must have been written by Hank cause after all Paul honestly believed that Hank Senior had written over eighteen hundred songs and who was I to argue with him?

I still can’t forget the story Paul told me back then about Hank Senior just before he was really known to the world. Hank was on his way to Nashville with many songs in his pack sack and when he introduced himself to an important person in the music business, that person put him to the test. In so many words he said if you really wrote all these songs, you won’t mind me putting you to a little test.

To make another long story short, he set Hank UP somewhere and Hank had to write a song about a girlfriend that he hadn’t seen for years and he finally met her one day on the street.

You’ll have to trust me when I say that I’m just writing this from memory of what I honestly still remember of this song and I have not sang it for decades.

Anyway I think it goes something like this:

Today, I passed you on the street,
And my heart fell at your feet,
I can’t help it if I’m still in love with you.

Somebody else stood by your side,
And you looked so satisfied,
I can’t help it if I’m still in love with you.

A picture from the pass keep slowly steeling,
As I brushed your arm and walked so close to you.
Then suddenly I got that old time feeling,
I can’t help it if I’m still in love with you.

It’s hard to know another’s lips will kiss you,
And arms that hold you just the way I use to do.
But Heaven only knows how much I miss you.
I can’t help it if I’m still in love with you.

After all this time those words still bring tears to my eyes but the only different now is that I find “IT” harder to control.

Go Figure!~ I must be getting older. (lol!)

Thanks for taking me down memory lane once again.

God Bless

cowboyangel said...

Thanks, Victor for all the Hank talk.

I was just listening to "I Can't Help It if I'm Still in Love With You" the other day. Great story about him writing it for the record exec as a test.

Yeah, Hank sounds like was "looking for heaven on earth."

But he also knew that no matter how much we struggle and strive, we'll never get out of this world alive. :-)

In his book, Waylon also tells a pretty amazing tale about Hank Williams' boots. Hank Jr. gave Waylon a pair of his dad's boots. So Waylon wore them into the recording studio one night. A storm came over and lightning struck a tree outside, which fell over Waylon's Cadillac. They cut a bunch of branches off, and Waylon backed it out from under the tree. Not a scratch. Finally, they went back in the studio to continue recording. Then lightning hit the recording studio and blew out all their equipment and ruined the tapes. Waylon never wore the boots to a recording studio again.

victor said...

One of my cell who traveled in the pass with one of The Twelve Star General's space ship told me of that story about the boots but I thought that "IT" would be too scary to tell. Now I see how wrong me, myself and I was! :)

Liam said...

Maybe that's my problem -- I've been wearing Hank William's boots.

crystal said...

I like the song I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry. Good post again :)

Jeff said...

If there is a genre of music I cannot stomach, its the genre that was spawned by the Hank Williams imitators.

On the other hand, I've always liked, admired, and enjoyed the music of Hank Williams himself.

How can you listen to a cut like Cold, Cold Heart and not be haunted by the fact that the guy was feeling it right from the bottom of his very gut.

Knowing that George Thorogood's 'Move it On Over' was a cover of a Hank Williams tune helped me along in the process, too.

cowboyangel said...

Liam,

I'm sure Urraca would appreciate Hank's boots.

Crystal,

Have you ever heard the Cowboy Junkies' version? That's a good one, too.

Jeff,

If there is a genre of music I cannot stomach, its the genre that was spawned by the Hank Williams imitators.

Well, I guess that depends on who you're talking about! :-) Neil Young, Leonard Cohen and Bob Dylan? Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings? Hank was such a huge influence on so many people. You'd have to give me some names.

It happens. John Coltrane spawned a lot of bad imitators. Allen Ginsberg in poetry. Probably people with a very distinctive voice that comes from their own experiences - and you can't replicate someone else's experience.

Jeff said...

William,

Dylan and Willie are both original iconic geniuses in their own rights. I think they would have been even if they'd had no inspiration from Hank Williams.

Neil Young had two great songs in his career. Heart of Gold and Cinnamon Girl. I hear shades of Hank in the former, but not really in the latter.

Give you some names? You know, the whole Nashville, Grand Ole Opry scene. Everybody who was ever on Hee Haw... outside of Barbie Benton, of course.

So I suppose that would include such supposed luminaries as: Hank Williams Jr, Waylon Jennings, Johnny Cash, Buck Owens, Merle Haggard, George Jones, Kenny Rogers, the Statler Brothers, George Strait, Glen Campbell, Roy Clark, Charley Pride, Conway Twitty, Johnny Paycheck, Tammy Wynette, Dolly Parton, Loretta Lynn, Barbara Mandrell, Hank Snow, Garth Brooks, Vince Gill, Toby Keith, etc, etc…

I give a pass to Hank, Patsy, Willie, and Chet (Atkins). Great artists every one.

Of course this is all terribly subjective. Admittedly, I have massive problems in embracing the Cultural South. :)

cowboyangel said...

Jeff,

Well, okay, you don't like country music. That's cool. But I don't think it's accurate to call everyone who ever did country music a Hank Williams imitator. Nor to blame him for all of the problems in country music.

There's a lot of variation in that list of names. Kenny Rogers, Dolly Parton, the Statler Brothers and Barbara Mandell do something very different than Johnny Cash, Jennings, Haggard and Paycheck. That's like lumping Cream, Hendrix and Zeppelin in with Journey, Styx and Foreigner. I suppose it's all rock and roll, but...

And I wouldn't say that all country & western music is the "Cultural South." It also embraces Appalachia, the West, the mid-West, Texas, Mexico... Hell, Jerry Jeff Walker is from Schenectady, NY!

Not mention the Germans, who love country music.

The blues are part of the Cultural South as well. Will you embrace that? Jazz from New Orleans? REM and the B-52s from Georgia?

So come up with a better denigrating slam! :-)

And Neil Young only did two great songs? You don't like Neil either?!?!

Jeff said...

That's like lumping Cream, Hendrix and Zeppelin in with Journey, Styx and Foreigner. I suppose it's all rock and roll, but...

Now wait just a minute. Don't go there! :)

And I wouldn't say that all country & western music is the "Cultural South." It also embraces Appalachia, the West, the mid-West, Texas, Mexico... Hell, Jerry Jeff Walker is from Schenectady, NY!

William, if you're looking for logical consistency from me, that's going to be a big problem. After all, Charlie Daniels had kind words for Jerry Jeff in The South's Gonna Do It Again, which, quite frankly, is a song I.. well... I really like. Go figure. Maybe because it has some swing to it, and not some tight-assed 4-4 beat.

The blues are part of the Cultural South as well. Will you embrace that? Jazz from New Orleans? REM and the B-52s from Georgia?

See, that's the real paradox. I identified with the blues and Big Easy Jazz & Cajun immediately. It resonated with me right away, whereas the cheap trouble themes typically found in country music fall completely flat for me. REM and the 52's were culturally misfit and distinct enough from the dominant white culture of the South, so I guess it didn't faze me.

And Neil Young only did two great songs? You don't like Neil either?!?!

Sure I like him! He did two great songs, which is more than a lot of people in the business can say.

Okay, I'll give him Ohio and Southern Man, too.

You're making me feel like Neil Young, to your Lynryd Skynyrd. "Well I heard Mr Young sing about her... well I heard old Neil put her down..."

victor said...

>William, if you're looking for logical consistency from me, that's going to be a big problem. After all, Charlie Daniels had kind words for Jerry Jeff in The South's Gonna Do It Again, which, quite frankly, is a song I.. well... I really like. Go figure. Maybe because it has some swing to it, and not some tight-assed 4-4 beat.<

OH Gee! What's wrong with 4-4 beat Jeff if "IT" sounds good and just because The Devil Went Down to Georgia is no reason to knock all good 4-4. Are you sure that you're not on Jack Daniels? :)

I hear Ya! Don't start anything now Victor after all, it is the starting of Lent!

Jeff said...

Vic,

Fat Tuesday's long gone, man.

See, it's just that I like music with a little more syncopation and lilt than most Country & Western has to offer.

For exmaple, I need a little more out of a bass line than this.

It don't mean a thing if it ain't got that swing. :)

victor said...

That's a low blow Jeff cause even my grand daughter plays better base than this guy but if Bassist Victor Wooden's would have been backing Johnny Cash, I'm sure, as they say, you would be playing another tune.

I see where you're coming from and for the record, I also don't like every country, folk, bluegrass, pop songs and all other music done out there by every performer but you must agree that there are a lot of good country music which is well done if you look for "IT" but then again I guess it's just not your cup of tea and nothing I say will probably change your mind.

We better just drop "IT" cause one of my son-in-law who plays eight instruments might get upset with me that I'm even debating this with you!

Happy Lent to you Jeff

cowboyangel said...

"cheap trouble themes". . .

I don't know. To me, country was basically poor whites playing the blues. Before middle class whites did it and called it rock and roll. You really hear that in the 1920s and early 30s. Not that much difference, if you ask me, between Jimmie Rodgers and Blind Willie McTell. They have very similar voices and styles. (Okay, there's the yodel. That would be a particularly Anglo European thing. Whatever happened to the yodel, anyway? Hank was quite the yodeller. That tradition obviously hasn't been passed down in the last few decades.) Or Jimmie playing with Louis Armstrong. Who would also play with Lonnie Johnson at that time. (That trio pre-sages Willie Nelson, for example.)

Trouble is trouble. All music basically comes down to this: You want a woman/man so bad it hurts. You get the woman/man and he/she ain't nothin' but trouble. You lose the woman/man and you think you're gonna die. That's opera, blues, country, rock, etc.

I think record companies are the ones who broke things up into such discreet categories and pushed the differences between genres. The musicians never have. Willie being a prime example. Man's played with just about every one - his most recent album with Wynton Marsalis. Grew up near Waco listening to Bob Wills, Django Reinhardt, Jimmie Rodgers, all those east Texas blues musicians, church hymns, etc. I know he's a bit unusual that way, but not really. Dylan's another example. He's basically Hank Williams mixed with Big Bill Broonzy mixed with Woody Guthrie mixed with some French surrealist poets.

But I realize music also has a regional power, and I know that growing up in Texas allows me to appreciate country music more than other people. Easterners in particular, I've noticed, have a hard time with it. I think there are cultural associations that they don't like. And the East is more urban in general - and country is country, after all. On the other hand, Westerners, who put the western in country and western, seem to do well with it. Which is probably why your country rock outfits were mostly from California. The Grateful Dead could incorporate country, but a New York City band like the Velvet Underground, from the same time period, do not. And I certainly don't like a lot of country music. I hate real slick pop country as much as I hate real smooth pop rock.

As I've gotten older, I've come to appreciate various kinds of musicians if they seem real and sing from the gut/heart and do something interesting musically. Whether it's Marvin Gaye or Patsy Cline or Billie Holiday, all of whom I think are amazing singers.

But Charlie Daniels? Really?!?!? That's pretty funny. Can't say they've ever done much for me. Too damn redneck for this Texas boy! :-)

cowboyangel said...

Don't worry about being logically consistent. I'm not!

I'd swap out Southern Man for Cortez the Killer, btw.

The Needle and the Damage Done - that's a great song. Much of Harvest. And Harvest Moon is quite beautiful.

Jeff said...

Vic,

The other Vic? Victor Wooten? Now you’re talking.

Your grandaughter plays the bass? Cool! My son Jimmy wants to play bass. Brendan want to play the drums. I don’t think Anne’s too thrilled about the prospect of having a whole rythym section rocking the basement.

I like bluegrass. To me, that’s really authentic American folk music.

Happy Lenten Season to you too!

William,

To me, country was basically poor whites playing the blues.

I suppose that’s true. Either that, or the blues was poor blacks playing country music, with a different style and a different rythym. I guess there is a lot of interplay and cross-fertilization involved here as you suggested.

Still, there is something voodoo and dangerous about the blues’ delta origins, which doesn’t show up as much in country music, which in its most commercial form tries to be cuter and safer (“I’m the Queen of Denial…”, “When Your Phone Don’t Ring It’ll Be Me Calling…”). When a love affair goes wrong in country music, they get divorced or somebody’s truck gets repossesed. In the blues, somebody gets put six feet under. I know that’s not always true, there’s plenty of moider in Johnny Cash’s songs, and Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love to Town was a very powerful song in that sense. Both styles can provide the right kind of catharsis at appropriate times.

Hey, for me, country just isn’t my cup of tea, but I know that millions upon millions of people disagree with me. Millions of people like NASCAR too (the same people, in fact), and I don’t get that either.

I like music to either soothe me or make me want to move.

Sometimes country music grates on me like an irritant instead. Classical music and celtic music can have that effect on me too… Maybe it’s the fiddles…

Your post brings up a good point, though. There’s great musicianship to be found across all genres. Somebody once asked Louis Armstrong what his favorite kind of music was, and he said “All of it.”

Victor said...

Jeff,

Thanks for your up lifting comment!

I may as well tell you that if no one hears from me it's because I've deleted 99.9% of my favorite sites for Lent which is not easy for me so "IT" must be a sacrifice! :) I guess that will teach me to tease Anna about her idea.

Yes our grand daughter's been playing base for awhile now and plays a little mandolin plus guitar also but her father Randy plays about eight instruments.

I won't get into any of these topics until after Easter cause that would be too much fun for me right now-:). I would probably want to talk about our baby daughter Collette also who has two CD's out and she writes all her own songs but although none seem to be true blue country, she still loves me and I guess that's what counts.

I'm thinking of making my first post after Easter about "The Hotel of Fools" and pray that I change my mind cause these guys are crazier than I am! :)

Give my best to everyone and until next time.

God Bless all His Children

cowboyangel said...

Thanks, Victor.

Victor said...

Don't be too quick to thank me so says one of Johnny Cash's Loving Godly Body Cell.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SmVAWKfJ4Go

God willing, talk to you all again after Easter with 4.4 Country music and please keep your prayers coming my way!

God Bless,

Peace