News & Criticism

If You Don't Like Hank Williams

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Yesterday's Wall Street Journal featured a long, favorable review of the new Hank Williams (and family) exhibit at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum. From Barry Mazor's article:

The lives of Hank and Audrey Williams; of their children, Hank Jr. and Lycretia; and of Hank's daughter Jett are all traced, as well as the growing careers of Hank Jr.'s performing progeny Hank III, the punk rocking honky-tonker, and Holly, the singer-songwriter. The exhibit features some 200 family artifacts, most never seen before in public, from Hank Sr.'s prized, inlaid Martin guitar and his violin, and the suitcase he had with him the night he died, to the family's early television set and bric-a-brac from their den. There are the spangled new Nudie suits provided Hank Jr. and then Hank III, in turn, when they were small boys, the white guitar Ms. Jett took to the stage as she began her own late-blooming career, and intimate family photos and home movies.

For my two cents, any celebration of America's honky tonk king is worth the trouble. And I can't help wondering what the folks at the Grand Ole Opry make of it. The Opry, of course, gave Hank the boot back in 1952, rescinding his membership as punishment for all the booze and pills he was downing. As Nick Tosches writes in Country: The Music and the Musicians, less than a month after scoring a crossover pop hit in the fall of 1952 with "Jambalaya (On the Bayou)," Hank was "in the worst shape of his life," shacking up at the boardinghouse run by his mother in Montgomery, Alabama. "He pined for his faithless wife, Miss Audrey, drank, took chloral hydrate, drank, fell down and cracked his skull, drank some more, and wrote 'I'll Never Get Out of This World Alive.'" A few months later he was gone, found dead in the backseat of a chauffeured Cadillac.

Today, Opry visitors are greeted at the door by a Hank impersonator. And why not? He's arguably the greatest singer and songwriter in all of country music. But then why hasn't the Opry reinstated his membership after all these years? Here's what Reinstate Hank has to say about it:

Despite being one of the most powerfully iconic figures in American music, Hank Williams has yet to be reinstated to the Opry. Now, your help is needed to honor and preserve his legacy. Join the campaign and add your signature to the petition to Reinstate Hank Williams to the Grand Ole Opry.

Petition here. Hillbilly hellraiser Hank III carrying on his granddad's legacy here. My look at country's tangled roots in blackface minstrelsy (including Hank's "Lovesick Blues") here.

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  1. Nobody kicks ass quite like Hank III. Go to one of his shows if you get the chance.

  2. LONG LIVE HANK

  3. I don’t know about Hank III. Yodeling country music was always a joke to me. It took Ray Charles to make Hank’s music unpainful. And Hank Jr.? He ushered in the death spiral of Monday Night Football. “If I get stoned and sing all night long, it’s a family tradition” is a great line, but if he’s sang another note thats worth listening to, I wouldn’t know about it. Extra giggle point for having “John-Boy” star in your life story.

  4. “What kind of music do you normally have here, ma’am?”

    “Oh, we got both kinds. Country and western.”

  5. Hank III rips shit up. I love his Hellbilly stuff, even love his country. He’s unique, and has turned me on to some great country in the process. Those poor bastards, Wayne Hancock, Billy Joe Shaver, a few more. I used to hate country, and what I love, I really love, and I owe it to Hank III.

  6. One thing I can say positive about the hole Williams klan, none of them have been linked to the Illinois Nazis.

  7. The Bocephus song “A country Boy Can Survive” is clearly a paleo inspired Alex Jones gun in a cabin song. Hank Jr was a racist conspiracy theorist worried that the government would try to “starve him out”, keep him from saying grace and destroy the southern traditions of say “mam”. So I don’t think a cultured cosmotarian should give any publicity to these nutcases.

  8. OT: It is raining in the DC beltway area, so members of the staff in DC and MD may be traveling to a location with electricity, like VA.

  9. Probably better for Hank to not be reinstated. The controversy is a better story. Nobody would care about Pete Rose anymore if he got into the HoF.

  10. Probably better for Hank to not be reinstated. The controversy is a better story. Nobody would care about Pete Rose anymore if he got into the HoF.

    Perhaps admitting Pete Rose to the Opry could start a whole new round of controversy for both camps?

  11. I hate Illinois Nazis.

  12. hole Williams klan

    whole Williams klan

    But I think it works either way.

  13. “There are the spangled new Nudie suits provided Hank Jr. and then Hank III, in turn, when they were small boys…”

    wtf is a Nudie suit? it can’t be what it sounds like

  14. “If I get stoned and sing all night long, it’s a family tradition” is a great line, but if he’s sang another note thats worth listening to, I wouldn’t know about it.

    Check this out. Plenty of notes worth listening to.

  15. “wtf is a Nudie suit? it can’t be what it sounds like”

    Bob Nudie is a guy who made outlandish, rhinestone, sequined and gold foil suits. Flashy isn’t the word for it. It’s pure stage wear. Nudie is, perhaps, the best name for a brand of clothing.

  16. There can be only one true Hank Williams.

    Hank Jr sucks.

    Hank Three is muy excellent.

    If the Opry ever gets around to reinstating the real Hank Williams, Hank Three ought to tell them to stick it in their collective ass.

  17. LONG LIVE HANK JR.

    Although you all have me convinced I need to listen to more Hank 3. The only “song” of his I ever heard was when he was a guest bassist for a track on one of The Melvyn’s CDs.

  18. Jesse Walker | May 9, 2008, 10:18am | #
    “If I get stoned and sing all night long, it’s a family tradition” is a great line, but if he’s sang another note thats worth listening to, I wouldn’t know about it.

    Check this out. Plenty of notes worth listening to.

    AAAHHHHH!!! My ears!!! DAMN YOU JESSE.

    You know, when you’re writing about music and other media, I’m totally with you. But when you give examples of what your talking about you loose me.

  19. Was Lycretia the disavowed dark secret in the closet (not THAT kind of closet)? Or was that another child of Hank’s?

    Except for that shaking sweat all over the front row fans at his concerts, I like Hank Jr. He’s prolific and there are some gems among those tunes. Guys like him and Waylon played us some country music that made us say hey, that sounds pretty good.

  20. Worrying about whether Hank Williams gets reinstated in the Grand Ole Opry is like worrying about whether Charlie Parker gets his NYC cabaret card back.

  21. So, does this make Hank Williams the Opry equivelant of the Chicago Cubs Billy Goat Curse?

  22. OT: It is raining in the DC beltway area

    It’s snowing, here. Where’s Al Gore when you need him?

  23. That song you link to is ok Jesse, but nothing to write home about. I have always hated Jr., though now that I think about it my knowledge of his stuff is limited to what I heard in Virginia fraternity houses around 1990, so it’s probably a very limited part of his catalog. On the other hand, I can’t stand Kid Rock either, so that’s not turning me around.

  24. PB,

    If it were snowing here I would have to issue the MBTP alert.

    Too bad I can no longer give the morning abandoned vehicle count, since my Cosmotarian commute is so short, via METRO rail no less..

  25. It’s snowing, here. Where’s Al Gore when you need him?

    [taking back all of the expletives I groused out this morning when I looked outside and couldn’t see the Big Rocks through the pea soup]

    Hazy afternoon sunshine to follow…..

  26. Lycretia is Audrey’s daughter by her first marriage.

  27. But then why hasn’t the Opry reinstated his membership after all these years?

    Not hard to understand. After all, he’s the only country music star who ever abused drugs and alcohol.

  28. Hank Williams was great, but had he not died when he did, and in the way that he did, he would be remembered by a smaller following more on the level of Hank Thompson’s , Hank Snow’s, or Ernest Tubb’s.

  29. Thanks, Charles.

    Seems like there was a woman who claimed to be the illegitimate daughter of Hank Sr and scrambled around for years trying to get some kind of acknowledgment from the Williams family. Don’t recall how that came out.

  30. [Hey, TWC, you could look it up!]

    So I did, I guess it was Jett that was the illegitimate daughter who didn’t know who she was until the 1980’s.

  31. Hank Williams was less that thirty when he died of excess. Keith Richards is soooo lame.

  32. Have to disagree with Matt on this. Hank Williams, in his music (and life?), plumbed the depths of the human condition much in the way black blues composers did. One might say he stole it, but I don’t ascribe to that kind of thinking. No other country writer/artist did it as well. Listen to I’ll Never Get Out Of This World Alive, and find a comparable composition from Hank Hank and ET. Perhaps if he had not died young, the allure of his music might not have reached the mythic proportions that it certainly has, but, as much mcuh as I love the other two Hanks, and certainly ET, I think Williams would still have a greater stature in country music. Living long certainly didn’t hurt Johnny Cash’s following.

  33. Holy shit, I did not know he was never reinstated.

    What a fucking disgrace!

  34. Hank Williams Jr. wrote a song called, “If The South Would Have Won,” and here the Williams family seems to be put in a favorable light. Apparently Damon W Root does not mind catering to Neoconfederates. Also it should be noted that the chorus of the song states, “If the South woulda won, we’d a had it made…” This just goes to show you a pattern at reason for pandering to racialist types.

  35. Sure I could put on Hank Williams right now, cept for I don’t own any. So how about some of the best punk ever:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7qzSaqZdv5M

    Different group but also some of the best punk (cum New Wave) ever (you can get this concert on DVD. I have it. Stellar!):

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3CHp5qNBLd8

    And one a my very fave of New Wave:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=koGywVUJ9hE

  36. fuck the politics; it’s beautiful, heartfelt music. don’t sign the petition, he’s cooler for having been kicked out

  37. Hank Williams was great, but had he not died when he did, and in the way that he did, he would be remembered by a smaller following more on the level of Hank Thompson’s , Hank Snow’s, or Ernest Tubb’s.

    Yeah! If Bob Dylan hadn’t died the way he did when he did he wouldn’t have the cult of personality that surrounds him. He would he would be remembered by a smaller following more on the level of Phil Ochs and Harry Chapin.

  38. No one’s commenting on the links I posted…
    (Read in the voice of, They’re back…)

  39. Ahh! Didn’t anyone check out the swell music vids that I linked to?!

  40. Rick Barton,

    I would, but YouTube is blocked at my place of work. I’ll watch them later, though. 🙂

  41. Cool. Thanks, smacky!

  42. Ha! I knew at least one of them would be The Ramones. I was in a band for like 5 minutes in college, until after a few practices we realized that our singer couldn’t sing on key, or really even in time, either. We did a lot of Ramones covers.

    A friend of mine once said that Human League song is probably what plays over and over again in hell. 🙂

  43. smacky,

    So howdya know that at least one of them would be The Ramones? What did you play in your band?

    I love that song and vid. Your freind’s blasphemous! 🙂

    I saw Human League here in Denver about a year and a half ago. It was at a pretty small venue so we were quite close to em. It was a stellar show.

  44. So howdya know that at least one of them would be The Ramones?

    Rick,

    Aren’t you the one who sometimes went by “Ricky Ramone” on Fridays?

    I played bass (I know, it’s so cliche now…but I knew how to play bass years before it was a cliche for girls to play bass).

  45. smacky,

    True, true. I do.

    Yeah, that’s funny how it became cliche for girls to play bass. I Wonder why that happened. You were way ahead of the curve, smacky.

  46. I love Hank! Rumor says he was the hardest drinking man in show business. While funny – is troublesome. Abuse of anything: be it beer, pills, drugs, spending, short term loans, credit cards.

    is asking for trouble.

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