Hank Williams

Hiram King Williams, also known as Hank Williams, was born on September 17, 1923 in Mount Olive, Alabama. His dad was Lon Williams, a locomotive engineer. His mom was Lillie Williams, a church organist. Hank spent most of his childhood in Georgiana and Greenville, Alabama. Hank Williams was a key person in the development of modern country music. He caused a shift in country music from a regional, rural phenomenon to a nationwide, urban acceptance in the late 1940’s. He turned “hillbilly” music into country music. He became interested in music at a very early age.

He learned to play the organ from his mother. He could also play the harmonica. His mother gave him his first guitar when he was eight. His father walked out on the family when Hank was a young child. It became the responsibility of his mother to raise Hank and his siblings. She was a very strong willed woman. He attended Sidney Hanier High School in Montgomery. He quit school when he was 16 years old. He was raised as a fundamentalist Baptist. The music and sermons from his childhood had influenced him. “My earliest memory” Rolling Stone writer Ralph J.

Gleason (as quoted by William’s biographer Colin Escott) “is sittin’ on that organ stool by her and hollerin’. I must have been five, six years old and louder’n anybody else. ” In 1937, Hank’s mother opened a boarding house in Montgomery. Hank helped the family income by shining shoes, selling newspapers, and peanuts on the street. This is where he met Rufus Payne, a black man, known as Tee-Tot. He taught Hank to play the guitar. He would follow him around on the street begging him to teach him to play. He would pay him 15 cents or whatever he had for a lesson. Payne also helped him overcome his shyness.

He is the one that the blues influence came from. He made his very first radio performance at the age of thirteen. He formed his first band when he was fourteen years old. I was called Hank Williams and his Drifting Cowboys. He began wearing cowboy hats and western clothes. He sang without amplification and above the sounds of the band. He developed a full throated style of singing. It was similar to Roy Acuff from the Grand Ole Opry. Hank was turned down for the military service because of his back problems.

Near the end of the war he began pursuing his musical career again. He started performing at dances nd local events. He also started playing at “honky tonks”. These were rough and rowdy beer joints that the city’s new comers went to. Williams began abusing alcohol. This problem haunted him the rest of his life. It was partly because of him trying to self medicate the terrible back pain that was caused by a congenital spine disorder. When Hank was 20 years old he met Audrey Mae Sheppard. She was a single mother and separated from her husband. She and Hank married after her divorce was final. They were married by a justice of the peace at a gas station near Andalusic, Alabama in December 1944.

They had a child Hank Williams, Jr. in 1949. Hank and Audrey visited Nashville to meet Fred Rose, the head of Acuff-Rose Publishing. The meeting resulted in the recording of “Never Again” and “Honky Tonkin’”. This led to signing a contract with MJM. Rose became his manager and record producer. “Lovesick Blues” became Hank’s trademark tune. It began with a yodel. It spent a year on the charts, including sixteen weeks at the top. He suddenly found himself on a roll. He quickly recorded two more songs, including “Mind Your Own Business”. They say this song was aimed at his wife.

Audrey began to push for more of her own spot in the stardom as he became more famous. They had recorded several sets and she had played with the band some. It was said that her voice was shrill and tuneless. They also said that she didn’t have a very good sense of time. In 1950, he had more successful songs. He also released a series of religious songs with his wife. He used his connections to get a recording contract for her with DECCA. They were not as successful. H recorded his religious narrations talking blues under the name “Luke the Drifter”.

Luke the Drifter walked with Hank Williams and talked through him. These recordings were the closest Hank Williams came to bearing his soul. Hank’s musical career was very successful, but his personal life was falling apart. This was mostly caused by his alcohol abuse that was intensified by his rocky relationship with his wife. This found its way into the words of his songs about heartache, heartbreak, and the break- up of relationships. Hank and Audrey divorced in 1952. As he began to earn more money and spend longer periods of time away from home he began to drink more frequently.

While on a hunting trip in Tennessee, he tripped and fell re-hurting his back. He began taking morphine and other painkillers to help control the pain. He quickly became addicted. Following a short tour in Texas, Hank, returned to Montgomery in December to rest before going to Canton, Ohio on January 1, 1953. He was scheduled to play in Canton. Charles, a friend and his driver, was stopped for speeding on their way to Canton. The police officer saw Hank in the car and thought he looked like a dead man. He was then taken to a West Virginia hospital and was declared dead at 7:00 a. . He had died in the back seat of a Cadillac on his way to the concert.

He was buried three days later in Montgomery. There was a record crowd attending. His last single released before he died was “I’ll Never Get Out of This World Alive”. It reached number one immediately after his death. In 1953, they continued to release his records that hit number one including “Your Cheatin’ Heart” Hank Williams was a recording artist for only 6 years and recorded 66 songs under his name (more under Luke the Drifter and with Audrey). Out of the 66 songs 37 of these were hits.




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