Country music died on the same day that 1953 began. Okay, that may be a little harsh. After all, that would mean that country music was dead when people like Patsy Cline, Johnny Cash and Loretta Lynn were at their peak. Goodness knows that isn’t true. But anyone unfortunate enough to unknowingly tune into a country music station while traveling this country’s interstate system can tell you that what passes for good country music today wouldn’t have snuck onto the Grand Ole Opry at 2:00 in the morning on Christmas Day. Country music may not actually have died the day Hank Williams, Sr. did, but that New Year’s Day in 1953 must surely stand as one of the saddest in country music history. Right next to August 16, 1977.
Those who only know the name Hank Williams as a result of the former theme song for Monday Night Football need to be eddicated. Hank Williams, Jr. is to Hank Williams, Sr. what Frank Sinatra, Jr. is to Frank Sinatra, Sr. No, I take that back. The chasm between the Sinatras is even less impressive because the father wasn’t nearly as great as he’s been made out to be. On the other hand, Hank Williams, Sr. still hasn’t received his proper due.
Like his son, Hank Williams had a love for both music and the bottle. Unlike his son, the bottle let him down. Even so, it has been said that even when performing while under the influence, Hank Williams could make you cry more than watching your hound dog get hit by a Cadillac full of New York liberals. His performance at the Grand Ole Opry on June 11, 1949 is as legendary as Elvis’s concert from Hawaii, though enjoyed by about a billion fewer people. There has never been any singer-country or otherwise-whose voice could touch on the poignancy of his lyrics better than Hank Williams, Sr. and the legend goes that when he sang “Lovesick Blues”, one of the saddest songs ever written, the audience responded with thunderous cheers, forcing him to do not one, not two, not three, not four, not five, but six-count them six-encores. The legend of Hank Williams was cemented that night and held the promise of doing for country music what that other skinny kid had done for big band music.
Instead, just three and a half years later Hank Williams would be dead before turning 30. By that stage in his career, Williams was pretty much persona non grata at the Opry, had been married twice, fathered Hank, Jr. legitimately and Jett illegitimately, and spent probably just as many nights drunk as sober. Heck, probably more. Oh, and he also found time to write “Your Cheatin’ Heart”, “Cold, Cold Heart”, “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry” and what is probably his masterpiece, “Why Don’t You Love Me.” These songs and many others feature the resident stripped down style of classic country: a guitar, maybe a fiddle and, rising above it all, Hank Williams’ unmistakable voice. Nobody ever sang quite like Hank Williams, though 90% of white boys in hats and fancy boots on concert stages throughout the country spend a good hour or so a night struggling to.
In these days where biopics of musical legends are earning Oscars left and right, it strikes one as severely odd that nobody has thought to make a movie about Hank Williams. Especially considering how many of these rhinestone Bush-lovin’ cowboys would love to take a shot at it. In fact, a movie was made about Hank Williams. And just like his movie about Evel Knievel, George Hamilton is fun to watch even where there is relatively nothing historically accurate about it.