I just finished this exhaustive biography on the legendary king of country music and when I finally put the book down it was with a sense of awe and wonder. Seriously.

And I hate country music. But I was intrigued about the man. He died New Year’s Day 1953 in the back of a car on the way to a performance. And he was just 29 years old.

The author, Colin Escott, summed up the importance of the man best when he said,”Most singers hope to hang their careers on one or two classics; Hank cut four classics between 1:30 and 3:40 on the afternoon of September 23rd, 1952, including ‘Your Cheatin’ Heart’, the song that would become as much his anthem in death as ‘Lovesick Blues’ had been in life. ‘Your Cheatin’ Heart’ is the song that – for all intents and purposes – defines country music.”

The book was highly readable, well researched, and a wonderful tale of a man who packed more living into 10 years than any other ten people do in a typical lifetime.

Hank Williams: the consummate singer, songwriter, and performer; done in by his painfully ruptured spine, bad heart, and all the booze and drugs he took to fight the pain.

It was the story of a skinny hillbilly with a body that gave him nothing but pain who somehow soldiered on to conquer country music. Mr. Escott didn’t deliberately tell it that way but it was still a story to break your heart.

PS – The book ends speculating as to what the future might have held for Hank Williams had he lived. The conclusion that the author drew was Hank’s hillbilly flavor of country didn’t have a future; it was a sound that wouldn’t carry. The author pointed out that Hank arrived on the big stage at the right time (1948) while there was still the remembrance of the depression, and the ‘right social and market conditions’ to carry his particular kind of music.

Music rapidly changed after Hank’s death in ’53. Rockabilly morphed along with the blues into rock and roll. Country music shed most of its coarse hillbilly roots when it went more mainstream and merged into a more nationally formatted flavor of pop music.

I have my own personal memory from a little later – ’64/’65 – when my grandfather was ‘calling’ a square dance at the Burt Lake Community Center on a hot Saturday afternoon. I remember the teenagers that had gathered – it was a small community, no other place to go – who were holding up Beatles records; of the 45 variety. They wanted to dance too. I especially remember a rather pouty teenage girl behived a bit like Brigitte Bardot who twisted her way into my fantasies.

And Ol’ Hank? The question of ‘what if?’ is really moot. Given his serious medical condition he was fated to die a young man. To everything there is a season, right? And none of us ever manage to find out until perhaps the very last minute that season was ours. And some of us never know. Hank died loaded up on booze and painkillers and probably just slipped from unconsciousness into death.

PPS – I finished a novel a few months back by someone I had never heard of named Steve Earle and his book was called, ‘I’ll Never Get Out of This World Alive’. And it wasn’t until I read this biography of Hank Williams did I understand more of the basis for Steve Earle’s novel. One, he took his title from a song written by Hank William’s of the same name and two, the ghost always entreating Earle’s protagonist to ‘take a ride’ was none other than Hank Williams himself.

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