Monday, March 21, 2016

The Light From Hank Williams

New Movie, Timeless Music, Pure Americana
I was a fool to wander and stray
Straight is the gate and narrow's the way
Now I have traded the wrong for the right
Praise the Lord I saw the light
                    I Saw The Light, by Hank Williams

By Doc Lawrence

Scene in "I Saw The Light." (Sony Pictures)
I know people who still refer to New Years Day as the day Hank Williams died. Hank Williams’s life ended suddenly in 1953 at the age of 29 while traveling to his next scheduled concert on New Years Day in Canton, Ohio where 4,000 were waiting to see his show. Twenty thousand people tried to get into the Montgomery, Alabama Auditorium to see his funeral. There were unfinished handwritten lyrics to songs he never recorded. Bob Dylan led a project to complete them for a 2008 album with lyrics finished and performed by Norah Jones, Levon Helm, Sheryl Crow, Jack White, Merle Haggard and other top recording stars.

The world never tires of Hank. This week’s debut of I Saw The Light adds to the legend. It is compelling and authentic. While denied the thrill of actually watching him perform, I have been to some of the stages where Hank entertained, notably Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium and Shreveport’s Louisiana Hayride where most of the movie was filmed. The Hayride, a huge art deco all-red brick music palace, still functions and was the launchpad to greatness for Hank, Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis and Johnny Cash.

Hiddleston as Hank. (Sony Pictures)
British actor Tom Hiddleston plays Hank and with the coaching of Country music’s Rodney Crowell, practiced for five weeks in Nashville to perform standards like Honky Tonk Blues, Lovesick Blues and Hey, Good Looking. Doing Hank, even for the most accomplished singers, is a tall order, particularly since so many are familiar with his songs and voice.

Lost Highway is a musical play about the life and songs of Hank Williams. I saw it at the Alabama Shakespeare Festival in Montgomery and again at Atlanta’s Theatrical Outfit. It begins with Hank’s childhood friend Rufus Payne, known as Tee-Tot, teaching him the blues, with all the pain, sorrows and survival it incorporates. Listen to Williams’ songs and you’ll hear lots of Tee-Tot.

Holly Williams
The best book I know about Hank Williams is Lovesick Blues, by the late Atlanta author Paul Hemphill. The song I Saw The Light was a gospel number Williams composed by Williams recorded under the non de plume of Luke the Drifter. It is part of the America’s music vernacular, taking its place with This Land is Your Land. The movie of the same name has won the praise of Holly Williams, Hank’s very talented granddaughter. It’s a story about a man from rural Alabama who died too young, whose songs still work magic. Accolades are many, notably from Bob Dylan, who, in 1991 said “to me, Hank Williams is the best songwriter”

1 comment:

  1. Williams died on a highway near Oak Hill, WV, when enroute
    to Canton, Ohio. State there few years back posted an historical
    marker that was between the spot his chauffeur last talked to him
    and the Oak Hill service station where he stopped, found Williams