Friday Five: Hank Thompson Drinking Songs

Juli Thanki | September 3rd, 2010

I hope you baked a cake, because it’s Hank Thompson’s birthday; he would have been 85 years old today. Now since Thompson released approximately eleventy billion singles in his career, today we’re going to focus on a somewhat smaller subset of his body of work: his drinking songs. Here are a few of my favorites for you to enjoy with a favorite beverage this holiday weekend.

  • Hank Thompson Salutes Oklahoma5. “Oklahoma Home Brew” – Hank Thompson

    This is a fella who’ll drink whatever you put in front of him without complaint. But when he wants to go first class, it’s Oklahoma home brew all the way.

  • Smoky the Bar4. “Smoky the Bar” – Hank Thompson

    Nobody can tell if—or why—you’re crying when the bar is filled with cigarette smoke. Makes sense. But who could be downhearted after listening to Thompson’s Western Swing?

  • Cheyenne Frontier Days3. “Hangover Tavern” – Hank Thompson

    Feel like hell? Head on down to Hangover Tavern, where everybody is just as miserable as you. The shades are down, the jukebox is turned down low, and the bartender keeps the booze flowing. Sounds like a great place to cure the day-after blues.

    Time for a commercial break. Here’s Hank shilling for Falstaff:

  • On Tap, In the Can Or in the Bottle2. “On Tap, In the Can Or in the Bottle” – Hank Thompson

    No matter what drinking vessel is in your hand, it’ll all taste the same when you’re brokenhearted: like delicious sanctuary. But no matter how low you’re feeling, pal, it wouldn’t kill you to say “please” when you give the bartender your drink order.

  • At The Golden Nugget1. “A Six Pack to Go” – Hank Thompson

    Come on now. What did you think the number one song was going to be? A Top 10 hit for Thompson in 1960, it’s one of the best songs in the last 50 years of country music. Bonus: the lyrics are super simple, making it easy to sing along to should you have one too many of that six pack.

  1. Paul W Dennis
    September 3, 2010 at 9:18 am

    My favorite is “I See Them Everywhere” which is on the SMOKY THE BAR album

  2. Fizz
    September 3, 2010 at 9:21 am

    Thank you kindly, Miz Juli. I have a weakness for drinking songs of any kind, even though I myself am a total lightweight.

  3. Benny
    September 3, 2010 at 9:23 am

    Great idea! I love the ‘Smoky the Bar’ album, excellent stuff!

  4. Ken Morton
    September 3, 2010 at 9:52 am

    Juli, I will gladly reference you each time I plagiarize you with my new favorite number… eleventy billion.

  5. Juli
    September 3, 2010 at 10:03 am

    Much appreciated, Ken. Though I wish I had invented it, “eleventy billion” comes from fake Keanu Reeves on SNL’s Celebrity Jeopardy:

  6. luckyoldsun
    September 3, 2010 at 11:12 am

    Hank Thompson’s music was all about his Western Swing playing. He completely ignored the meaning of the lyrics. Whether he’s singing about the engineer in the “Wreck of the Old ’97” being “scalded to death by the steam” or someone crying over whiskey, he sounds like he’s singing about a kid eating an ice cream cone for all the emotion he puts in it.

    If you want to hear true emotional drinking songs, listen to Paycheck or Jones or Faron or Charlie Walker or Hag.
    (“I See Them Everywhere” is one exception.)

  7. Rick
    September 3, 2010 at 11:18 am

    I don’t drink alcohol and don’t care for bars accordingly, BUT I do love the music of Hank Thompson regardless of the subject matter! Thanks for this fine list Juli as anything that introduces people to Hank Thompson’s classic country music is fine by me.

    Since we’re on the subject of Hank, I just wanted to point out this final paragraph of Nathan Rabin’s recent profile on Hank:

    “After listening to Townes Van Zandt for the last entry in this series, I was in need of a pick-me-up. Thompson’s upbeat, mainstream Western swing did the trick. Thompson wasn’t a giant on par with Van Zandt or Wills, but rather a consummate entertainer who eked out an impressive, albeit sometimes corny, career singing about both the wild and the mild side of life.”

    I can only use one word to describe anyone who thinks Townes Van Zandt ia a “giant” compared to Hank Thompson: Obamavoter! (lol)

  8. Jon
    September 3, 2010 at 12:15 pm

    @Luckyoldsun. No one sings “Wreck of the Old 97″ in a dolorous manner; get over it. And Thompson didn’t sing without emotion; check out performances like “Yesterday’s Girl” or “Breaking He Rules.”. Juli’s just picked the lighter side of Thompson’s drinking songs.

  9. Paul W Dennis
    September 3, 2010 at 1:17 pm

    Hank Thompson wasn’t the greatest country artist of all time, but he was fun and probably made the most consistantly listenable albums of any artist ever. I won the Bear Family Box Set a few years ago – it contains a lot of dumb songs, but no bad songs. I could (and have) listened to Hank all night long, whether it be his classic Capitol recordings, or recordings made just a few years before his death

  10. Rick
    September 3, 2010 at 6:39 pm

    Since there is no News topic thread today:

    Opry Alert! Tonight’s Opry is a bit of a “Flashback Show” and will feature Billy Dean and Exile (who recently got back together)! Also performing are the Grascals and Darryl Worley, who will spend his entire allotted time explaining what he really meant in the song “Keep The Change”! (lol)

    Saturday night’s Opry will feature two of my current faves Ashton Shepherd and Holly Williams, and also The Steeldrivers (who without Chris Stapleton are more like The WeenieDrivers) and Shawn Camp. Both shows rank a solid B+! Go Opry!

    Since its Hank Thompson’s birthday today, I sure hope on of the “Opry Legends” sings a Hank song in tribute on the Opry this weekend! My choice would be “Squaws Along The Yukon” as its sooooo politically incorrect by today’s idiotic Obamavoter “thought crime” standards…

  11. Rick
    September 3, 2010 at 6:59 pm

    Hey Stormy, Dave Haywood of Lady Antebellum needs a date to the CMA Awards and I think you’d be perfect! Think of how much fun you would have digging all that great live music presented during the awards show! (lol)

    Here’s the crucial details:

    Good luck!

  12. luckyoldsun
    September 4, 2010 at 12:02 am

    Jon, PWD:
    I’m sure Thompson was a great live performer because he really could play and he had a crack band.

    But on record, he just sounded too damn happy and too proud of some corny pun that would be the basis for whatever song he was singing.

    I guess for a time in the ’60s, when true honky-tonk went out of fashion, radio decided to play Hank Thompson’s faux honky-tonk, where he just sounds absolutely delighted all the time.

    A lot of Thompson’s recordings come up really lame when compared to other versions. Just listen to his positively giddy “Wreck of the Old 97″
    and compare it to the dramatic versions by Hank Snow or Eddy Arnold or Woody Guthrie or Johnny Cash.
    Or compare his loopy recordings of “What’s Made Milwaukee Famous” and “Lord Knows I’m Drinking” to the butt-kicking classics by Jerry Lee and Cal Smith.

  13. Jon
    September 4, 2010 at 3:33 am

    @luckyoldsun. If you stick “to me” into your post about very six words or so, it reads ok. Otherwise, it reads like the maundering of someone who doesn’t know very much about country music – the kind of person who would confuse Don Williams with Vern Gosdin. Thompson didn’t have a half-century+ career because he was a good picker; he had a distinguished career first and foremost as a singer. If you don’t like his singing, fine, but it’s obvious that ) you don’t really know very much about it, and 2) people who did know about it put him in the Hall of Fame.

  14. Jon
    September 4, 2010 at 3:39 am

    I’m guessing that Rick hadn’t actually heard the SteelDrivers with Gary Nichols when he posted that. I have.

  15. Paul W Dennis
    September 4, 2010 at 12:08 pm

    While Milton Brown and Bob Wills were indeed the fathers of Western Swing, Hank Thompson was the individual whose small band swing kept the genre alive and on the radio throughout the latter part of the 1950s through the late 1970s, keeping it out there for the likes of Merle Haggard to find and project into a full bore revival

    George Strait doesn’t do very many guest appearences on other artist’s albums – he made one on Hank’s 1986 album HANK THOMPSON, singing a duet with Hank on “Six Pack To Go”

    I got to see Hank perform about three years before his death when he ventured to Eustis , Florida for a performance. At the time he was not travelling with a band, but used the superlative house band at the Florida Sunshine Opry. Hank played his own lead guitar, on the entirely reasonable assumption that a bunch of musicians in their 40s might not know his hits from the 1950s (in this case he was wrong – the band knew his 50s hits since local performers keep them in the repertoire, but not his 60s and 70s hits). The show was terrific, Hank was in very good voice, and he ran through a fairly long set (about 80 minutes – not bad for a fellow seven months short of his 80th birthday)

  16. Randy
    September 5, 2010 at 10:29 am

    I got to disagree with you Rick. I like the Steel Drivers better with Gary. Same raw power, grit and emotion with possibly a bit more lead vocal chops. They are stronger than ever.

    What is weenie about this? :

    Now, getting back to the topic of Hank Thompson. I was very lucky to tour with him back in the fall of ’97 and spring on ’98 supporting the “Hank and Friends” CD that had just been released. It was an all star cast with Tom Bresh, David Ball, Jimmy Belkin, and his long time steel man Bobby Garrett. All of them at one point or another were his normal touring band from years ago. Couple that with Jay Weaver and Jimmy Clark, Tom Lewis and others, made up a 13 piece power house band. It was just like his band back in ’56 with both pedal steel and straight steel. I never had so much fun and learned a ton!

    Hank was a wonderful guy and freely shared his homemade wine with us as well as all his 5+ decades of stories while we toured. There is a pic of his band from ’56 and us from ’97 in the liner notes of the “Hank and Friends” CD that I have framed in my studio. I simply cherish it and now wish I had asked him to sign my copy of “Live At The Golden Nugget”.


  17. Rick
    September 7, 2010 at 7:24 pm

    Randy, a very large portion of what I post here (and on other country music blogs) is what Lester Flatt might refer to as “talkin’ that trash”. (lol)
    I was looking for a silly name for The SteelDrivers that was about as opposite from steel as you can get, and well that’s where “weenie” came in. Can you see trying to drive an uncooked hot dog into the ground with a big hammer?

    I’ve heard Gary Nicholson sing live with the ‘Drivers on WSM a few times and his voice just isn’t as powerful as Chris Stapleton’s (but then again few male vocalists are). I do like to poke fun at bluegrass bands because it annoys Jon W. no end since he’s a personal friend or acquaintance of most of them!

  18. Jon
    September 7, 2010 at 7:41 pm

    It’s Gary Nichols with the SteelDrivers; Gary Nicholson is a different guy.

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