Music

Hank Williams

In the realms of American country music few names are revered more than Hank Williams, Nashville superstar and writer of enduring classics like Your Cheatin' Heart, Hey Good Looking, You Win Again and I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry. Yet Williams, the son of an Alabama railway engineer, was a troubled character who effectively drank himself to death on New Year's Day in 1953, aged 29. He was born with a spinal disorder which caused him lifelong pain while his family suffered many problems - his father was seriously injured in World War One and the family lost all their possessions in a house fire. Hiram Williams - who changed his name to Hank after moving to Montgomery in 1937 - was initially inspired to perform after being taught guitar by a local street singer, Rufus Payne. The first song he wrote was WPA Blues, set to the tune of Sonny Boy Williamson's Dissatisfied - and it won him $15 in a talent show. Williams' colourful storytelling style made him very popular singing on the streets and local radio stations and he formed his own backing group, the Drifting Cowboys, to travel around Alabama performing, managed by his mother Lillie. Their progress was halted by America's entry into World War Two when all the Drifting Cowboys were drafted, while Williams spent the war years working for a shipbuilding company as his drinking accelerated. After the war he continued writing songs to sing on the WSFA radio station but, already an erratic personality, he was turned down by country music's premier show, the Grand Ole Opry. But he was signed by MGM Records, who released his first major country hit Move It On Over. He then appeared regularly on the popular radio show Louisiana Hayride and he had a crossover hit in 1949 with Lovesick Blues before finally being accepted on the Grand Ole Opry and, on his debut, received six encores. In the 1950s he adopted the name Luke The Drifter to sing religious material but he was thrown off the Grand Ole Opry again as his drunkenness escalated and he began to develop heart problems. Williams was at the peak of his popularity, though, when he died in the back of a car taking him to a gig.

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07-07-2011