Hank Williams – “Lovesick Blues”

Brady Vercher | May 7th, 2007

Hank Williams "Lovesick Blues"

On this day in 1949 Hank Williams scored his first #1 hit on the country music charts with “Lovesick Blues.” If it were up to Hank’s manager, Fred Rose, the song never would have been. The story goes something like this…

It was three days before Christmas in 1948 when Hank and Audrey Williams, Fred Rose, and Red Foley’s Opry band gathered for a three hour session in the E.T. Herzog Studio in Cincinnati. It had been more than a year since Hank had been in the studio due to a recording ban and Fred was desperate for something new to advance Hank’s career. They needed to produce a hit so big that the Opry could no longer ignore him.

Before the band even got set up, shouting matches erupted between Hank and Fred over a song called “Lovesick Blues.” Hank was determined to record the song and Fred was just as determined to not record it, deeming it pure crap. When Hank was told all the shortcomings of the song (it didn’t have a bridge, the original first verse was being used as a chorus, the original chorus was being used as the first verse, and it was full of difficult chord changes), he didn’t have any idea what they were talking about and declared, “I’ll tell you one damn thing, you might not like the song, but when I walk off stage and throw my hat back on stage and the hat encores, that’s pretty hot.”

Only after they had laid down the tracks that Fred approved of did they revisit the idea of recording “Lovesick Blues.” The steel guitarist, Jerry Byrd, whispered to the band, “That’s the worst damn thing I’ve ever heard,” and told Hank, “that’s terrible. You ain’t going to put this thing out, are you?” Fred didn’t want anything to do with the song and left the studio for a cup of coffee just before they started recording. Upon hearing the completed version, Fred told Hank, “My God, Hank, I still say that’s the worst thing I’ve ever heard.”

The rest is history. The recording sold 48,000 copies in its first two weeks and three months after its release, it rode the top of the country charts for four months. Fred never got over his misreading of the song. The Opry soon followed and on June 11, 1949, Hank Williams debuted on the Grand Ole Opry singing “Lovesick Blues” with an unprecedented six encores.

** Paraphrased from Lovesick Blues: The Life of Hank Williams by Paul Hemphill

Comment on this post with a valid email address before May 8, 2007 and we’ll send you a digital download (through iTunes) of the legendary Hank Williams’ “Lovesick Blues” for free.

2 Pings

  1. [...] day in 1923 marked the birth of one of country music’s most heralded artists, Hank Williams (read the story behind his first No. 1 hit, “Lovesick Blues”). Also on this day, but in 1955, Elvis Presley’s “I Forgot to Remember to Forget” [...]
  2. [...] Blast from the past, discovered via Google: Brady Vercher on “Lovesick Blues” in the early days of The 9513. This was around the time I first found the site via the CMT Blog. And seeing it again gives me an [...]
  1. Matt C.
    May 7, 2007 at 7:49 pm

    I also heard that Fred Rose was upset because Hank sang the song off-beat.

  2. Brady Vercher
    May 7, 2007 at 9:55 pm

    Yeah, I think the book mentioned Fred thinking the original demo that Hank sent in was out of meter. Since Fred didn’t have anything to do with the song and no one changed the way Hank sang it, I’m sure Fred felt the same way about the final cut.

  3. Timmy Mac
    May 8, 2007 at 7:11 am

    Man, if there’s anything I like better than old school country music, it’d be old school showbiz stories like this. Thanks for posting!

  4. Brody Vercher
    May 8, 2007 at 9:38 am

    I agree, Timmy. The local radio station in Austin does a feature called “Story Behind the Song.” They treat it like a Paul Harvey story and don’t tell you who the artist or song is until the very end, it’s pretty interesting.

  5. Ron W.
    May 8, 2007 at 12:32 pm

    If you ever listen to Emmett Miller’s very early version of “Lovesick Blues,” you get an idea where Hank took some of his ideas for the song.

    I’m not deriding Hank’s version — in fact, I prefer it. But it goes to show that sometimes someone can take an idea and improve on it. Especially when you have a voice as distinctive as Hank’s.

  6. Brady Vercher
    May 8, 2007 at 2:24 pm

    Timmy Mac: Thanks. There is a whole chapter dedicated to the song in the book I mentioned, but I gleaned the majority of the pertinent info to try and keep it short and sweet. Hopefully we can get some more features like this up in the future.

    Ron W.: I knew the song had been around since 1922, but never thought about searching for previous artists’ renditions. I found the Emmett Miller version on Rhapsody and gave it a few listens. I can sorta see the progression, but I think Hank’s version was an immense improvement.

  7. linda leary
    September 17, 2007 at 3:13 pm

    hanks version of lovesick blues was the best,when hank sang a song you had to know it had been sung.

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