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Hank Williams

Hank Williams Sr.
Hank Williams Sr.

Hiram "Hank" Williams (his name was misspelled 'Hiriam' on his birth certificate) (September 17, 1923 - January 1, 1953) was an American singer, guitarist and songwriter, who has become an icon of country music and one of the most influential musicians of the 20th century. A leading exponent of the Honky Tonk style, he had numerous hit records, and his charismatic performances and succinct compositions fueled his fame. His songbook is one of the backbones of country music, and has been covered in a range of pop and rock styles. His legend grew after his premature death at the age of 29. His son, daughter and grandson are also musicians.


Hank Williams was born in Georgiana, Alabama (this is sometimes listed as nearby Mount Olive, Butler County, Alabama) in 1923 to Elonzo Williams and Jessie Lillybelle. His undiagnosed birth defect, spina bifida occulta, gave him life-long pain - a factor in his later abuse of alcohol and drugs. He learned to play guitar and sing from a street blues singer named Rufus Payne (a.k.a. "Tee Tot"). He was performing throughout Alabama by his early teens, and formed a band called the Drifting Cowboys after his family moved to Montgomery, Alabama in 1937. He left high school without graduating. In 1941 Williams began working with WSFA, a local radio station.

In 1943, Williams met Audrey Sheppard, and the couple were married a year later. Audrey also became his manager as Williams' career was rising and he became a local celebrity. In 1946, Williams recorded two singles for Sterling Records, "Never Again" (1946) and "Honky Tonkin'" (1947), both of which were successful. Williams soon signed with MGM Records, and released "Move It On Over", a massive country hit. In August of 1948, Williams joined The Louisiana Hayride, broadcasting from Shreveport, Louisiana, propelling him into living rooms all over the southeast. After a few more moderate hits, Williams released his version of Rex Griffin's "Lovesick Blues" in 1949, which became a huge country hit and crossed over to mainstream audiences. That year, Williams sang the song at the Grand Ole Opry, where he became the first performer to receive six encores. In addition, Hank brought together Bob McNett (guitar), Hillous Butrum (bass guitar), Jerry Rivers (fiddle) and Don Helms (steel guitar) to form the most famous version of the Drifting Cowboys; also that year, Audrey Williams gave birth to Randall Hank Williams (Hank Williams, Jr.). 1949 also saw Williams release seven hit songs after "Lovesick Blues", including "Wedding Bells", "Mind Your Own Business", "You're Gonna Change (Or I'm Gonna Leave)" and "My Bucket's Got a Hole in It".

A life-size statue of Williams stands in downtown Montgomery, Alabama, where he began his music career.
A life-size statue of Williams stands in downtown Montgomery, Alabama, where he began his music career.

In 1950, Williams began recording as Luke the Drifter, an appellation given to Williams for use in identifying his more moralistic and religious-themed recordings, many of which are recitations rather than his usual crooning. Fearful that disc jockeys and jukebox operators would become hesitant to accept these non-traditional Williams recordings, thereby hurting the marketability of Williams's name, the name "Luke the Drifter" was employed to cloak the identity of the artist--though the source of the recordings was quite evident. Around this time, Williams released more hit songs, such as "My Son Calls Another Man Daddy", "They'll Never Take Her Love from Me", "Why Should We Try Anymore?", "Nobody's Lonesome for Me", "Long Gone Lonesome Blues", "Why Don't You Love Me?", "Moanin' the Blues" and "I Just Don't Like This Kind of Livin'". In 1951, "Dear John" became a hit but the B-side, "Cold, Cold Heart", has endured as one of his most famous songs, aided by the #1 pop version by Tony Bennett in 1951 being the first of many recordings of Williams' songs in a non-country genre. (Cold, Cold Heart has subsequently been covered by Guy Mitchell, Teresa Brewer, Dinah Washington, Lucinda Williams, Cowboy Junkies, Frankie Laine, Jo Stafford, and Norah Jones, among others). That same year, Williams released other hits, including the enduring classic "Crazy Heart".

Despite Hank's numerous country hits, the legend of Hank Williams seems to rest in the duality of his writings. On one hand, Hank would sing about having a rowdy time ("Honking Tonkin'") or drifting aimlessly ("Lost Highway"), but would then sing religious songs of remorse, most particularly, the title track to the album "I Saw The Light."

Williams' life would become unmanageable however, due to his success. His marriage, always turbulent, was rapidly disintegrating, and he developed a serious problem with alcohol, morphine and other painkillers. Much of this abuse came from attempts to ease his severe back pain, which was caused by a birth defect, spina bifida occulta. In 1952, Hank and Audrey separated and he moved in with his mother, even as he released numerous hit songs, such as "Half as Much", "Jambalaya (On the Bayou)", "Settin' the Woods on Fire", "You Win Again" and "I'll Never Get Out of This World Alive". Williams' drug problems continued to spiral out of control as he moved to Nashville and officially divorced his wife. In October of 1952, Williams was fired from the Grand Old Opry, and told not to return until he was sober. He rejoined the Louisiana Hayride. On October 18, 1952, he married Billie Jean Jones Eshliman. A ceremony was held at the New Orleans Municipal Auditorium and 14,000 people bought tickets to attend.

Some months before his second marriage, he had a relationship with Bobby Jett that resulted in the eventual birth of his daughter, Jett, shortly after his death. The Drifting Cowboys left Williams.


On January 1, 1953, Williams was due to play in Canton, Ohio, but he was unable to fly due to weather problems. He hired a chauffeur and, before leaving the old Andrew Johnson Hotel in Knoxville, Tennessee was injected with B12 and morphine. He then left in a Cadillac, carrying whiskey with him.

When the seventeen year-old chauffeur pulled over at an all-night service station in Oak Hill, West Virginia, he discovered that Williams was unresponsive and becoming rigid. Upon closer examination, it was discovered that Hank Williams was dead. He had been married for the second time for less than three months.

Williams' final single was ominously titled "I'll Never Get Out of This World Alive". Five days after his death, his illegitimate daughter by Bobbie Jett (Jett Williams) was born. His widow, Billie Jean, married country singer Johnny Horton in September of that year (1953).

Legacy and influence

His son Hank Williams, Jr., daughter Jett Williams, grandson Hank Williams III and granddaughters Hillary Williams, and Holly Williams are also country musicians. (Hank Williams III also plays in the metal band Superjoint Ritual).

Hank Williams' remains are interred at the Oakwood Annex in Montgomery, Alabama. His funeral was said to have been far larger than any ever held for any governor of Alabama and is still, as of 2005, the largest such event ever held in Montgomery. As of 2005, more than fifty years after Williams' death, members of his Drifting Cowboys continue to tour and bring his music to generations of fans.

In February 2005 the Tennessee Court of Appeals has upheld a lower court ruling stating that Hank Williams' heirs -- son Hank Williams Jr. and daughter Jett Williams -- have the sole rights to sell his old recordings made for a Nashville, TN radio station in the early '50s. The court rejected claims made by Polygram Records and Legacy Entertainment in releasing recordings Williams made for the "Mother's Best Flour Show", a program that originally aired on WSM-AM. The recordings, which Legacy Entertainment acquired in 1997, include live versions of Williams' hits and his cover version of other songs. Polygram contended that Williams' contract with MGM Records, which Polygram now owns, gave them rights to release the radio recordings.


Year Title Chart positions B-side
U.S. Country
1947 "Never Again (Will I Knock on Your Door)" "Calling You"
1947 "Wealth Won't Save Your Soul" - "When God Comes and Gathers His Jewels"
1947 "My Love for You (Has Turned to Hate)" - "I Don't Care (If Tomorrow Never Comes)"
1947 "Pan American" - "Honky Tonkin'"
1947 "Move It On Over" #4 "I Heard You Crying in Your Sleep"
1947 "On the Banks of the Old Pontchartrain" - "Fly Trouble"
1948 "My Sweet Love Ain't Around" - "Rootie Tootie"
1948 "Honky Tonkin'" #14 "I'll Be a Bachelor 'Til I Die"
1948 "I'm a Long Gone Daddy" #6 "The Blues Come Around"
1948 "I Saw the Light" - "Six More Miles (To the Graveyard)"
1948 "A Mansion on the Hill" - "I Can't Get You Off of My Mind"
1949 "Lovesick Blues" #1 "Never Again (Will I Knock on Your Door)"
1949 "Never Again (Will I Knock on Your Door)" #6 b-side of "Lovesick Blues"
1949 "Wedding Bells" #5 "I've Just Told Mama Goodbye"
1949 "Mind Your Own Business" #5 "There'll Be No Teardrops Tonight"
1949 "You're Gonna Change (Or I'm Gonna Leave)" #4 "Lost Highway"
1949 "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry" #1 "My Bucket's Got a Hole In It"
1949 "My Bucket's Got a Hole In It" #2 b-side to "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry"
1950 "I Just Don't Like This Kind of Living" #5 "May You Never Be Alone"
1950 "Long Gone Lonesome Blues" #1 "My Son Calls Another Man Daddy"
1950 "My Son Calls Another Man Daddy" #9 b-side to "Long Gone Lonesome Blues"
1950 "Why Don't You Love Me?" #1 "A House Without Love"
1950 "Why Should We Try Anymore?" #9 "They'll Never Take Her Love from Me"
1950 "They'll Never Take Her Love from Me" #4 b-side to "Why Should We Try Anymore?"
1950 "Moanin' the Blues" #1 "Nobody's Lonesome for Me"
1950 "Nobody's Lonesome for Me" #9 b-side to "Moanin' the Blues"
1951 "Cold, Cold Heart" #1 "Dear John"
1951 "Dear John" #6 b-side to "Cold, Cold Heart"
1951 "I Can't Help It (If I'm Still in Love with You)" #2 "Howlin' at the Moon"
1951 "Howlin' at the Moon" #3 b-side to "I Can't Help It"
1951 "Hey Good Lookin'" #1 "My Heart Would Know"
1951 "(I Heard That) Lonesome Whistle" #9 "Crazy Heart"
1951 "Crazy Heart" #2 b-side to "Lonesome Whistle"
1951 "Baby, We're Really in Love" #4 "I'd Still Want You"
1952 "Honky Tonk Blues" #2 "I'm Sorry for You, My Friend"
1952 "Half as Much" #2 "Let's Turn Back the Years"
1952 "Jambalaya (On the Bayou)" #1 "Window Shopping"
1952 "Settin' the Woods on Fire" #3 "You Win Again"
1952 "You Win Again" #7 b-side of "Settin' the Woods on Fire"
1952 "I'll Never Get Out of This World Alive" #1 "I Could Never Be Ashamed of You"
1953 "Kaw-Liga" #1 "Your Cheatin' Heart"
1953 "Your Cheatin' Heart" #1 b-side to "Kaw-Liga"
1953 "I Won't Be Home No More" #4 "Take These Chains from My Heart"
1953 "Take These Chains from My Heart" #1 b-side to "I Won't Be Home No More"
1953 "Weary Blues from Waitin'" #7 no b-side
1955 "Please Don't Let Me Love You" #9 no b-side
1966 "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry" #43 re-release
1976 "Why Don't You Love Me" #61 re-release
1989 "There's a Tear in My Beer" #7 dubbed recording with Hank Williams, Jr.

Selected list of cover versions of Hank Williams songs

Cover versions of Hank Williams songs include:

  • "Just Waitin'" (by Williams' pseudonym Luke the Drifter) was covered by The Fall in (1992).
  • "Lovesick Blues" was covered by Ryan Adams, as well as George Strait and Patsy Cline. (Note: Hank Williams covered "Lovesick Blues" himself. The song was originally recorded by Emmett Miller.)
  • The The did an entire album of Hank Williams covers called Hanky Panky.
  • The Residents 1986 album Stars and Hank Forever has five Williams' songs.
  • David Crowder Band covered Williams' "I Saw The Light" (with Marty Stuart) on "A Collision" (2005).
  • George Thorogood and the Destroyers sang their own rock version of "Move It On Over".
  • James Brown covered "Your heatin' Heart" in (1969).
  • Al Green covered "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry" in (1972).
  • Grateful Dead covered "You Win Again" on Europe '72 (1972).
  • Huey Lewis & the News covered "Honky Tonk Blues" on the album "Sports".
  • The Saints (Lincoln, Nebraska) covered "Lost Highway" and "Six More Miles (To the Graveyard)" on their (2005) release A New Kind of Patriot.
  • Mark Lanegan and Isobel Campbell covered "Ramblin' Man" for their album Ballad of the Broken Seas.
  • Many country artists have done Hank Williams tribute albums,including: Charlie Pride, George Jones, and bluegrass veteran Larry Sparks.
  • Bob Dylan has played live covers of Williams' songs throughout his career, including "You Win Again", "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry", "Lost Highway", and "(I Heard That) Lonesome Whistle". He also perfomed an impromptu version of "Lost Highway" in the D.A. Pennebaker film Don't Look Back.
  • Johnny Cash covered "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry" on American IV: The Man Comes Around (2003).
  • Elvis Presley also covered "I´m So Lonesome I Could Cry" on his historic Elvis: Aloha From Hawaii.
  • The Red Hot Chili Peppers covered "Why Don't You Love Me" on their self-titled debut album.
  • Van Morrison and Linda Gail Lewis covered "You Win Again," "Jambalaya," and "Why Don't You Love Me" on the CD You Win Again (2000).
  • Norah Jones covered Cold, Cold Heart on Come Away With Me in (2002).
  • Madeleine Peyroux covered ""Weary Blues from Waitin'" on Careless Love in (2004).
  • Mike Ness of Social Distortion covered "You Win Again" on his solo album "Cheating at Solitaire".
  • Josh Pearson formerly of Lift to Experience covered "I´m So Lonesome I Could Cry" in 2006.
  • The Carpenters covered "Jambalaya" on their 1973 album "Now & Then"
  • The Residents covered "Hey Good Lookin'", "Six More Miles (To the Graveyard)", "Kaw-Liga", "Ramblin' Man", "Jambalaya" and "Sousaside" on their 1986 album "Stars & Hank Forever: The American Composers Series"
  • The The released in 1995 "Hanky Panky", which was a covers collection honoring the music of country musician Hank Williams


Song titles which pay tribute Hank Williams include: "Hank Williams You Wrote My Life", "The Life of Hank Williams", "The Death of Hank Williams", "That Heaven Bound Train", "Hank, It Will Never Be the Same Without You", "Hank Williams Meets Jimmie Rodgers", "Tribute to Hank Williams", "Hank and Lefty Raised My Country Soul", "Hank Williams Will Live Forever", "Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way?", Hank Jr.'s "Family Tradition", "The Ride", "Hank Williams Sings the Blues No More", "In Memory of Hank Williams", "Thanks Hank", "Hank's Home Town", "Good Old Boys Like Me" (Hank Williams and Tennessee Williams), "If You Don't Like Hank Williams", "Why Ain't I Half as Good as Old Hank (Since I'm Feeling All Dead Anyway)?", "The Last Letter" (Mississippi disc jockey Jimmy Swan's reading of a letter to Williams by M-G-M boss Frank Walker), "Midnight in Montgomery," and Charley Pride's album There's a Little Bit of Hank in Me. (Brackett 2000, p.219n22), "The Night Hank Williams Came To Town", "Tower of Song" (by Leonard Cohen), "From Hank to Hendrix" and "This Old Guitar" (by Neil Young) "Has Anybody Here Seen Hank?" by The Waterboys "Things Change" by Tim McGraw, "Mission from Hank" by Aaron Tippin.

The play Hank Williams: Lost Highway is a tribute to Hank Williams. It is a recount of his life.


  • "A good song is a good song, and if I'm lucky enough to write it, well....! I get more kick out of writing than I do singing. I reckon I've written a thousand songs and had over 300 published." (From a 1952 interview with Ralph J. Gleason, published in a Rolling Stone magazine article 6/28/1969)
  • "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." - Leonard Cohen

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It uses material from the Wikipedia article - Hank Williams