100 Greatest Men: #54. Hank Thompson

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June 3, 2012

100 Greatest Men: The Complete List

A legendary star who performed for more than sixty years, Hank Thompson stayed relevant as country music slowly moved from a regional music to a national one.

Born and raised in Waco, Texas,  Thompson modeled his musical style after Texas swing greats like Bob Wills and Gene Autry.  After a stint in the navy,  Thompson developed his musical craft, putting together an outstanding backing band called the Brazos Valley Boys.   The band released a few singles on independent labels, before Tex Ritter landed them a major label deal with Capitol.

Thompson would record with Capitol for eighteen years, and most of his essential work would be recorded during that period.  Thompson and his band recorded scores of hits in the fifties, including classics like “The Wild Side of Life”, which spent fifteen weeks at #1.   Before Thompson finally went solo in 1968, the band had accumulated more than two dozen top ten singles.

Thompson was a pioneer in country music marketing, starring in the first color television variety show the genre had seen, and having the first tour with corporate sponsorship.  Along with Marty Robbins, he was one of the first to make full-length country albums with a unifying concept, and in 1961, he released country music's first big live album.

Thompson recorded solo material with Dot starting in 1968, which earned him a few scattered hits in the late sixties and the early seventies.   Like many of the country stars of his generation, his star dimmed with the arrival of the Nashville sound and the increasing urbanization (and suburbanization) of the genre's audience.  Still, he remained a huge concert draw around the world, and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1989.

Thompson passed away in 2007, only a month after officially retiring from live performing.

Essential Singles:

  • Humpty Dumpty Heart, 1949
  • The Wild Side of Life, 1952
  • Rub-a-Dub-Dub, 1953
  • Wake Up, Irene, 1953
  • Wildwood Flower, 1955
  • Squaws Along the Yukon, 1957

Essential Albums:

  • Songs of the Brazos Valley, 1956
  • Dance Ranch, 1958
  • Songs for Rounders, 1959
  • At the Golden Nugget, 1961
  • A Six Pack to Go, 1966
  • Smoky the Bar, 1969

Next: #53. Brooks & Dunn

Previous: #55. Roy Clark

100 Greatest Men: The Complete List

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  1. Michael A.No Gravatar says:

    Wow, I can’t believe we’re almost half way through the list. Thanks for putting so much time and work into each of these entries, Kevin. Much appreciated!

  2. Paul W DennisNo Gravatar says:

    I would have Hank somewhat higher than this but I’m glad to find Kevin acknowledging him. One area that Kevin didn’t mention was Hank’s contributions to modern recording technology

    There are a few singers – very few singers – that can make any song sound good, whether it is a lyrical masterpiece or a piece of hack boilerplate. Hank’s warm, friendly voice made everything sound good. Not every song he ever recorded was great or even good, but Hank made everything sound good. It takes a truly great artist to be able to do that.

    I saw Hank about two years before he died. At that time he was still playing his own lead guitar (he was a very good, nearly great, picker) and he was still in good voice. In a sense, Hank Thompson was the George Strait of his day making decades of good records. In fact, George Strait made one of his few guest appearences (and perhaps his first) on a Hank THompson album

  3. [...] Thompson comes in at #54 on Country Universe’s 100 Greatest Men of Country Music [...]

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