Lovesick Blues: The Life of Hank Williams
I went to Barnes & Noble the other day to pick up a beginner’s guide to playing mandolin. They didn’t have one at my local store, so I came away with the Sunny Sweeney album and a book by Paul Hemphill called “Lovesick Blues: The Life of Hank Williams” instead.
The book is a biography of Hank Williams’ life and it is wonderfully written and entertaining, if not a bit biased. Despite his obvious admiration for Williams, no holds are barred in Hemphill’s account of Hank’s life from meager beginnings, his rise to meteoric heights, and finally his untimely death. He delves into Hank’s torrid relationships with alcohol and the women in his life and how neither of them ever treated him right, the bond between Hank and Fred Rose, who helped him reach his potential, and Hank’s reverence for the recording studio. Despite it all, the drinking, the drama with his wife, Audrey, and in between skipping out on shows, Hank treated the recording studio as his sanctuary. It was if he knew that no matter what he did, his legacy would be based on the songs that he recorded.
Hank is portrayed as a victim of his tragic life, but at the same time, it was the pain that fed his talents. He did as much as he could to derail his rise to fame and tempt fortune, but despite it all, nothing and no one could deny the obvious singing and songwriting talent that he possessed. Some people think of Hank Williams as a genius, despite being uneducated, but Hemphill attributes his success to his ability to connect with the common man and pour his soul into the words he was singing. He was the “poet of the working class” and his music was simply three chords and the truth.
Hemphill does an excellent job recounting Hank’s debut at the Grand Ole Opry and you can feel the excitement as he sings encore after encore; the fans not willing to let him leave, Hank happy to oblige, and Louie Buck trying to continue the show, but unable to stop any of it from happening. He runs through the story behind some of the songs and upon my next listen, I couldn’t help but smile knowing where the lyrics came from.
The book was a light read that touched on the life of Hank Williams without going into mundane detail or trying to over-analyze the psychological reasons for him living the way he did. No doubt the book was a tragedy, as was Hank’s life, but it was an interesting portrayal that could be comical at times and give you insight into the life and history of one of the greatest country singers of all time as well as country music itself. The only fitting end to this post is one of the greatest sign-offs I’ve ever heard, so y’all come on back and keep on readin’ if “the good Lord’s willin’ and the creeks don’t rise.”
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