WTM #1069: Hank Williams & His Off-Kilter Offspring

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wReck thiS meSS ~ Radio Patapoe 88.3
Amsterdam ~ Ethno-Illogical Psycho-Radiographies
14 September 2009 // 17.00-19.00


“If you don’t like Hank williams you can kiss our ass”
Hank Williams III

“I love to see the towns a-passin’ by / And to ride these rails ‘neath God’s blue sky / Let me travel this land from the mountains to the sea / ‘Cause that’s the life I believe He meant for me / And when I’m gone and at my grave you stand / Just say God called home your Ramblin’ Man.”
• Hank Williams

Moanin the Blues > Hank Williams
Help Me Understand > Hank Williams [25 Original Recordings / Rolled Gold*]
Long Gone Lonesome Blues > Hank Williams [Ultimate Yodelling Collection / Castle Pulse]
If You Don’t Like Hank Williams > Hank Williams III
Lovesick Blues > Hank Williams
Lovesick Blues > Emmett Miller [Minstrel Man from Georgia / Roots n Blues]
Lovesick Blues > McDonald Craig [Sings Traditional Country Music / MC]
Hey Good Lookin’ > Hank Williams*
Hey Good Lookin’ > Replacements
Pan American > Hank Williams [The Immortal Hank Williams / Metro]
Lost Highway > Leon Russell [Hank Wilson’s Back / Shelter]
Long Gone Lonesome Blues > Hank Williams
Ramblin’ Man > Hank Williams
Weary Blues From Waitin’ > Hank Williams
Ramblin’ Man > John Lilly & Ralph Blizard [Blue Highway / JL]
Your Cheatin’ Heart > Kitten [Yodelin’ Cowgirl / Dominion]
Your Cheatin’ Heart > Hank Williams [Memorial Album / MGM]
Angel Of Sin > Hank Williams III
The Angel of Death > Hank Williams
The Angel of Death 2 > Hank Williams
Honky Tonk Blues > Hank Williams
Honky Tonkin’ > The The
Jambalaya > Hank Williams
Jambalaya > Leon Russell [Hank Wilson’s Back / Shelter]
I’m Sorry for You, My Friend > Hank Williams [Memorial Album / MGM]
Lonesome Whistle Blues > George Jones
Lonesome Whistle Blues 1 > Bob Dylan
Lonesome Whistle > Hank Williams*
Lonesome Whistle Blues > Beck
Lonesome Whistle Live [1973] > Bobby Darin [Bobby Darin sings]
I Heard That Lonesome Whistle Blow > Johnny Cash [Very Best of the Sun Years / Metro]
Hank Sang Mostly Sad Songs > Mike Johnson [Yodeling 40 Years / Roughshod]
I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry > Leon Russell [Hank Wilson’s Back / Shelter]
I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry > LeAnn Rimes
I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry > Terry Bradshaw [Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback!]
I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry > Elvis Presley
I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry > Dean Martin
I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry > Hank Williams
Pictures from the Other Side of Life > Hank Williams*
Er Valt Een Traan in Mijn Bier > Nico Haak

Just as I was finishing up my Hank williams tribute show Ronald from Jonges v/d Vlakte showed up with a Dutch cover version of “Tears in my Beer”. The amazing thing about Hank Williams is that he was every bit as popular as say Bing or Sinatra and people used to faint watching him on stage – there was a mild precursor case of Beatlemania in effect whenever he performed. This was partly enflamed by his pelvic gyrations of the midsection [mild and subtle compared to Elvis no doubt] but also his posture and his physical relation to the stage, his guitar. He was lanky and actually, to my eyes, had a certain Joey Ramone appeal – tall and gawky, naive and pained. His pain came from many angles including the severe back pain caused by his spina bifida occulta but also the fact that he really was a white blues guy in lifestyle – suffering from love and relationships and drinking to excess, while on morphine for the back pain and a poisonous cocktail of other pills. His stage presence/charisma was indeed predicated in part on his ability to impart / articulate his suffering in an inclusive, dignified and even discreet manner. He was no sloppy gusher of emotion and tell-alls. His songs were simple, sharp, incisive and, although personal, were empathetic – others felt that he was speaking for their own existential pain [despite their belief in God].

I discovered Ramblin’ Man in a most profound way [to me] – while watching the opening credits to the WGBH[?] production of Sam Shepard’s Off-Broadway play True West starring the brother Dennis and Randy Quaid. This was an astonishingly engaging production of this classic tale of two estranged and very different brothers – one a loser alkie and the other a successful screenplay writer as the two brothers exchange roles and identities… True West attracted countless interesting [out of the mainstream types at the time] such as Peter Coyote, Tommy Lee Jones, Peter Boyle, Gary Sinise, John Malkovich and the Quaid brothers as well as Jim Belushi and Erik Estrada!

The opening and closing credits also festooned it in a clear audio frame, the original version of HW’s “Ramblin’ Man” that helped define its outsider / drifter subject matter. I knew some of HW’s music and had heard much of his catalogue – I thought. This song hit me so hard I went out the next day to buy an LP with that song on it and then played it and played while writing in my place in Ocean grove, mid-1980s. To this day, that production of True West is one of the best things I have ever seen on TV and “Ramblin’ Man” remains a transcendent song, its sophisticated sound, the lyrics combining to make perhaps one of the best all-time American songs in any genre.

It features Williams’ yodel, which as it moves into falsetto has the effect of increasing the intensity of emotion but, according to Samuel A. Floyd, Jr. [”African Attributes”], it is very different from Swiss-style yodeling with its purity of tone and exuberance, which is quite evident in Roy Rogers or Elton Britt’s yodeling. Floyd believes that Williams’ style may have been influenced indirectly by African music because his style is distinguished by “rhythmic-oral declamations, interjections and punctuations” and “timbral distortions of various kinds”.

This from my profile of Hank Williams in my new book  Yodel in HiFi:
How art arouses emotion remains a mystery to critics, musicians, and ethnomusicologists alike. But that this transmogrification occurred inside Williams’s lanky, pained body is not in doubt: Country star Merle Kilgore remembers that when Williams “hit that yodel, they came out of those chairs, they threw babies in the air.” People definitely “heard something strangely compelling in Hank’s treatment of ‘Lovesick Blues’” amongst that tangle of intangibles including charisma, proto-rock tempo, existential lifestyle, and a calm veneer that hid physical pain and marital turbulence, but that in the act of hiding actually revealed this personal pain in a universal language.
“The brisk tempo and unusual structure, together with the yodels and little flashes of falsetto, made it wholly unlike any other country record” [Escott]. Sometimes he’d perform nothing but encores of “Lovesick” and Holmes observed that “He’d get up and sing that ‘Lovesick Blues’ and them girls would come from the back of that auditorium, run up there at the stage, and fall down on the floor and pass out and scream’.” … What distinguished Rodgers is also what distinguishes Williams: a frail constitution lent his every song an extra bar of urgency. All despite a general Nashville prejudice against yodeling and in a meteoric ascent that lasted 5 years and consisted of just 2 LPs, 66 songs, half of which became classics. All while looking like a ghostly scarecrow hitchhiking on the side of the lost dark highway with little hope of hooking a ride. That he died young and dramatically – bouts with spina bifita, pills, drink, disillusionment, marital strife –
in the manner usually reserved for Romantic poets or the likes of James Dean or Arthur Rimbaud doesn’t hurt his myth because his untimely and yet perfectly logical death seems only to add to the tragic trajectory of his mystique that almost everyone can relate to and has been amply analyzed in a number of fascinating books, a Hollywood film, and some documentaries. No country music compendium is complete without a detailed profile of Williams including Yodel-Ay-Ee-Oooo.


One response to “WTM #1069: Hank Williams & His Off-Kilter Offspring

  1. Hank Williams’ voice, especially his yodel is imprinted in my subconscious mind. I can hear it on the highway sometimes, pouring down on my open sunroof from trucks passing by, moving from here to there and back again.

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