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Hank Williams - Country Music Legend

Updated on March 29, 2015
Hank Williams
Hank Williams

The Short Life of Hank Williams

His life was short, he wasn't on reality TV and he had been a recording artist for just six years, yet Hank Williams is considered internationally to be one of the most influential country music artists of all time.

Over half a century since his death, who among us doesn't know the foot-tapping "Jambalaya", the pain of "Your Cheatin' Heart," or the universal heartbreak in "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry".

Hank was found dead in the back seat of his Cadillac on New Year's Day 1953. He was just 29 years old.

Hank Williams Listings

Hank's legacy

Hank Williams is the dividing line between traditional and modern country music, he laid the foundations for many other country music performers who came along after him..

His music has endured, and unlike his contemporaries, Hank Williams reaches generations that neither knew him nor saw him. He gave to Country Music much of its standard repertoire, a new definition of stardom and an enduring legend.

Alcohol and Morphine deadened the pain

Hank was born with spina bifida occulta a defect which can nowadays be remedied with surgery at an early age. This defect isn't noticeable to the casual observer, occulta is Latin for "hidden".

This is a mild form of spina bifida in which the outer part of some of the vertebrae are not completely closed. It causes distortion of the spinal cord and the nerve roots coming from the spine. The pain can be severe.

For Hank, the constant pain was deadened with alcohol and morphine - all of which contributed to his early death.

Young Hank Williams
Young Hank Williams

The young Hank Williams

He was born Hiram Williams, in Mount Olive, Alabama, in 1923.

After school and on weekends, Williams sang and played his Silvertone guitar on the pavement outside the WSFA radio studios. He quickly caught the attention of WSFA producers, who occasionally invited him to come inside and perform on air. So many listeners contacted the radio station asking for more of the "Singing Kid" that the producers hired him to host his own fifteen-minute show, twice a week for a weekly salary of fifteen dollars.

At 14 he changed his name to Hank Williams, believing the change to be better for a career in music and, at 16, he formed the first version of his legendary Drifting Cowboys.

The Drifting Cowboys ~ 1939

1939. Hank Williams (on the far right) with The Drifting Cowboys when he was 14 years old
1939. Hank Williams (on the far right) with The Drifting Cowboys when he was 14 years old

Hank Williams And His Drifting Cowboys

Hank's radio programme proved to be very popular and it sky rocketed his career in country music. He used the money he earned from the radio show to put together his own group which he named the Drifting Cowboys. The original line up for the Drifting Cowboys were Braxton Schuffert, Freddie Beach, Smith Adair and Arthor Whiting.

By 1939 The Drifting Cowboys were doing so well that Hank decided to drop out of school and play music full time. Now that he wasn't "tied down" to a class schedule he and his band could travel farther away for shows.

In 1941 all Drifting Cowboys band members, except for Hank, were drafted to serve in World War II. Hank had a difficult time finding musicians to play for him because of his excessive drinking. Hank was still showing up in Montgomery, Alabama for his radio shows, but in August of 1942 he lost his radio show when he was fired from WSFA Radio for "habitual drunkenness."

Hank With The Drifting Cowboys

Hank With The Drifting Cowboys
Hank With The Drifting Cowboys

Learn to play like Hank

A guitar owned by the late Hank Williams is featured as part of the exhibit "Family Tradition: The Williams Family Legacy" at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum in Nashville, Tennessee.

Want to play (almost) like Hank? The Hank Williams Songbook is a collection of 26 classics with easy-to-intermediate fingerpicking and flatpicking arrangements in notes and tab.

Includes: Cold, Cold Heart * Hey, Good Lookin' * Honky Tonkin' * I Saw the Light * I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry * Jambalaya (On the Bayou) * Long Gone Lonesome Blues * Mansion on the Hill * There's a Tear in My Beer * You Win Again * Your Cheatin' Heart * and more.

40 Greatest Hits

Hank Williams 40 Greatest Hits

Hank Williams most well known and loved songs in one collection.

For anyone who is interested in the roots of country music and the great Hank Williams it is essential listening.

This compilation was originally released on vinyl and now it is available on CD. With 40 great songs this is the ultimate double CD collection of Hank William's music.

The Life and Loves of Hank Williams

In 1943, Williams met Audrey Shepard, and married her a year later. Their son, Hank Junior, was born in 1949.

In 1948 Hank became part of The Louisiana Hayride in Shreveport, Louisiana. This show allowed the biggest audience ever to hear Hank's music and further boosted his career.

In 1949 Hank performed Lovesick Blues at the Grand Old Opry in Nashville, Tennessee. He was the first person ever to get 6 encores! In that same year Hank put together the Drifting Cowboys.

In 1950 Hank wanted to sing songs with a religious feeling, but he was concerned that these recordings might interfere with his main career. He decided to record these songs using a pseudonym, Luke The Drifter.

The Unreleased Recordings : Gospel Keepsakes

Commercial pressures meant that Hank rarely recorded gospel music for his releases. However, when he made these recordings for the Mother's Best Flour radio shows in 1951 he made sure that religious music was well represented. He performed old time jubilees, formal hymns, gospel songs and southern quartet music.

They're all gathered together in this very special Hank Williams treasure.

His last year on earth

In 1952 Hank and his wife Audrey were divorced. His problems with alcohol, morphine and other drugs continue to worsen over the years and these habits did little to nurture their marriage. While he and his wife were having problems Hank had an affair with Bobbie Jett who gave birth to his daughter, Jett Williams, just 5 days after his death.

Also, in 1952, Hank married again, this time to Billie Jean Jones Eshlimar.

Lovesick Blues - Video

Lonesome Whistle - Video

Jambalaya on the Bayou - Video

Hey Good Lookin - Video

© 2008 Susanna Duffy

Sing a Song for Hank in my Guest Book - Here's where you do it

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    • John Dyhouse profile image

      John Dyhouse 3 years ago from UK

      This is another great country singer, the songs are very familiar to me but in the first place thru covers by other artists I heard whilst in my young teens in the UK

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      Thank you for posting these great songs, I so loved Hank, even today his music lives on. He didn't need flashing lights, smashing guitars, or anything except his voice to hold an audience captive. He without a doubt was one of Countrys best.

    • profile image

      ScrollSawChuck 5 years ago

      Great Lens. One of Hank's older songs that I like a lot is, Never Again Will I Knock On Your Door. He was one of the best songwriters and performers there ever was!

    • BusyMOM LM profile image

      BusyMOM LM 5 years ago

      Really cool lens. I love Hank Williams - you did such a nice job on this one. Way to go.

    • profile image

      ladykida 5 years ago

      Hank is a little before my time, but not my dad's. I like to listen to Hand with him!

    • squidshe profile image

      squidshe 5 years ago

      I've been a fan of Hank Williams my whole life.

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      He is so good, almost like chocolate

    • hughgrissettsr lm profile image

      hughgrissettsr lm 5 years ago

      super duper lens! i consider hank williams, the carter family, bill monroe,and jimmie rodgers as the seminal figures in early country music.

    • Trot-on profile image

      Trot-on 5 years ago

      Loved it!

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      There just really is nobody better, is there? Not a soul.

    • traveller27 profile image

      traveller27 6 years ago

      My second visit here - wonderful lens. I learned a few things about Hank.

    • Countryluthier profile image

      E L Seaton 6 years ago from Virginia

      Thanks for sharing some great country music history. Nice lens there squiddly.

    • goldenrulecomics profile image

      goldenrulecomics 6 years ago

      Great lens!

    • Brandi Bush profile image

      Brandi 6 years ago from Maryland

      @Brandi Bush: By the way, I chose this lens to "like" and comment on during my Herman the Merman quest. I featured it on my quest lens, Lullaby Lyrics. :)

    • Lenskeeper profile image

      Lenskeeper 6 years ago

      I like Hank Williams. He did a lot for country music. They recently made a movie about him here in Arkansas, but I'm not sure when it will be released.

    • Brandi Bush profile image

      Brandi 6 years ago from Maryland

      Hank Williams is one of my favorite all-time singers. This is a great tribute to him! I enjoyed it very much...thanks!

    • Candlemakingsup profile image

      Candlemakingsup 6 years ago

      Love me some Hank Wiliams!!

    • OldStones LM profile image

      OldStones LM 6 years ago

      Grew up istening to Hank with my Granddad, still love his sound today. Hank's music just seems to never get old.

    • sisbrown34 lm profile image

      sisbrown34 lm 6 years ago

      my Uncle listened to Hank when I was a little girl. Fond memories!

    • Stazjia profile image

      Carol Fisher 6 years ago from Warminster, Wiltshire, UK

      I've always known the name Hank Williams and his songs from being played on the radio when I was a child in the 1950s but I've never known anything about him. It's incredible that he could sing like he did while being in such pain.

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      One of my fathers favorite singers! Can't count how many New Years Eves we listened to his music!

    • surfin4dough lm profile image

      surfin4dough lm 6 years ago

      They don't make em like Hank Williams anymore. Very cool lens with so much history about country music and how Hank formed it.

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      Great lens. Hank Williams is my all time favorite Old Country music singer.

    • banapple profile image

      banapple 6 years ago

      Great lens. Hank Williams had such a unique voice. Hank III has a voice just like his, although his music is quite different. Great lens.

    • profile image

      badmsm 6 years ago

      Thanks for another great lens!

    • oldiesmusicnut profile image

      oldiesmusicnut 6 years ago

      Nice lens! I think Hank Williams was underestimated and unappreciated outside his genre, and also under-appreciated by generations who didn't know him. Thanks for this tribute.

    • profile image

      SandyPeaks 7 years ago

      Wonderful lens - wonderful singer!

    • Deborah Swain profile image

      Deborah Swain 7 years ago from Rome, Italy

      a wonderful lens about one of my faves! i really enjoyed the youtube archive footage.

    • profile image

      GrowWear 7 years ago

      We had a songbook in the mid-sixties full of his music and lyrics. I have no idea where it came from, but we loved learning the songs and trying to sing. :)

    • profile image

      poutine 7 years ago

      Interesting lens about Hank Williams, I didn't know he died so young either.

    • RuthCoffee profile image

      RuthCoffee 7 years ago

      I've never been a big country music fan (and I lived in Nashville, TN for 6 years!) but I must admit that at least a little bit of this music is fun to listen to sometimes. I can certainly appreciate this man's talent.

    • profile image

      anonymous 8 years ago

      i REMEMBER THE DAY gREAT hANK DIED. wE HEARD IT ON OUR BATTERY RADIO AND WE CRIED. WE KNEW THEN HE WAS THE GREATEST LEGEND THAT EVER LIVED.

    • ElizabethJeanAl profile image

      ElizabethJeanAl 8 years ago

      I grew up listening to country music, but I didn't realize Hank Williams died that long ago.

      Thanks for sharing

      Lizzy

    • AppalachianCoun profile image

      AppalachianCoun 8 years ago

      Wonderful lens. We enjoy his music alot. Thank-you for such a detailed lens.

    • OhMe profile image

      Nancy Tate Hellams 8 years ago from Pendleton, SC

      This is wonderful. I love his music. Such a short,sad life to be still providing entertainment for others.

    • Tiddledeewinks LM profile image

      Tiddledeewinks LM 8 years ago

      I love Hanks' music and sing it on karaoke.

    • Sami4u LM profile image

      Sami4u LM 8 years ago

      Nice looking lens 5 stars. I think Kaw-Liga is one of my favorite Hank Songs.

    • OldGrampa profile image

      OldGrampa 8 years ago

      I do love Hank Williams and his style of music. One of Country Musics greatest!

    • profile image

      anonymous 8 years ago

      I didn't realize that Hank died the month before I was born in '53. I have loved his music all my life. A great lens Grandpa! 5*'s

    • profile image

      Joan4 8 years ago

      Great lens on one of country music's best! A legacy!