The One The Only The Real Hank Williams

by Bob Schwartz

Sometimes something good can come from something bad.

Somebody wearing the ill-fitting name Hank Williams has been going around saying nasty things about President Obama (he’s a Muslim, he hates America). Despite that name being a few sizes too big for him, it appears he has somehow managed to have some success as a musician and as the son of a more famous father. But as with the name, the shoes are also way too big to fill.

Hank Williams (1923-1953) was one of the great musical artists and folk poets in America. He died too young at the age of 29, but had already produced songs that entertained millions and inspire musicians fifty years after his death. His songs have been covered by scores of artists as diverse as Al Green, Beck, Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, George Thorogood, Keb’ Mo’, Keith Richards, Red Hot Chili Peppers and Tom Petty.

If you haven’t heard of Hank Williams, you are missing something. If you haven’t heard him, because you “don’t like country music”, you are missing something. Don’t believe it? Believe the Pulitzer Prize Board, which in 2010 awarded him a Special Citation for “his craftsmanship as a songwriter who expressed universal feelings with poignant simplicity and played a pivotal role in transforming country music into a major musical and cultural force in American life.”

So if someone named Hank Williams, Jr. is going around badmouthing the President, what good can come of that?

Just this: In the midst of looking around for things to say about Hank Williams, a brand new independent film came to light. The Last Ride is the story of a fateful trip. Hank Williams was heading out for a series of concerts to end in Canton, Ohio on New Year’s Day 1953. Bad weather prevented flying, so a college student was hired to drive him from Nashville to the concerts. Before reaching Ohio, on January 1, Williams died in West Virginia. Last Ride is the story of that trip. The film has already been screened in New York and Los Angeles, and later this week can be seen in Nashville, Dallas, Seattle and Bakersfield.

There’s plenty of Hank Williams music around. Give it a listen. Because if the only Hank Williams you know about is the Junior who seems so out of touch with reality, there’s someone to discover. Hank Williams—the one the only—was nothing but real.

Hear the lonesome whippoorwill
He sounds too blue to fly
The midnight train is whining low
I’m so lonesome I could cry

I’ve never seen a night so long
When time goes crawling by
The moon just went behind a cloud
To hide its face and cry

Did you ever see a robin weep
When leaves begin to die
That means he’s lost the will to live
I’m so lonesome I could cry

The silence of a falling star
Lights up a purple sky
And as I wonder where you are
I’m so lonesome I could cry