So epic was his life story, and so tragic its ending, that it’s easy to forget a simple truth: Hank Williams was one of the strongest vocalists and songwriters to ever grace the country music genre.
Williams hailed from Alabama, and played guitar from a very young age. He was drawn to both country and the blues, and by his teens, was already an established performer on the local scene. He formed a band called the Drifting Cowboys, and was soon singing regularly on the radio, where he was dubbed, “the Singing Kid.”
Williams traveled to Nashville with his manager and wife, Audrey, and quickly landed a deal with Fred Rose, who took over managing duties and released Williams’ first successful records, “Never Again” and “Honky Tonkin’.” Williams moved onto the MGM label in 1947, and had hits right out of the gate. The legends surrounding Williams’s death make it easy to overlook that his career rise was quick and positive. From the time he signed with MGM until his death in 1953, his records were universally successful.
Looking at his catalog from those days is nothing less than a lengthy list of country music classics, and he spent weeks upon weeks atop the country singles chart with hits like “Hey Good Lookin'” and “Jambalaya (On the Bayou).” By the early fifties, he was the biggest superstar in country music. But trouble lurked under the surface, as his alcohol addiction went from manageable to completely out of control. The costs started first in his personal life, when his marriage ended due to the excessive drink. But soon he was performing shows while intoxicated, and was fired from the Grand Ole Opry cast for his reckless behavior.
While he remained a cast member on the Louisiana Hayride, he was having trouble securing gigs for his usual wages, as drugs and alcohol continued to wreak havoc. In what has now become tragic legend, Williams died in the backseat of a Cadillac on New Year’s Day, his death discovered when his driver was pulled over for speeding. A career that was already filled with classic hits became even more high-profile with his death, and unreleased material proved just as popular as the songs he released during his lifetime.
Williams was inducted alongside Rose and Jimmie Rodgers in the first year of the Country Music Hall of Fame. His legend has only grown since, with his catalog of classic songs being revived by artists of all genres. It will always be wondered how much more he could have achieved if he had lived to see his thirtieth birthday, but what he accomplished in just a few short years made him one of the all-time greats.
- Lovesick Blues, 1949
- Long Gone Lonesome Blues, 1950
- Why Don’t You Love Me, 1950
- Cold, Cold Heart, 1951
- Hey Good Lookin’, 1951
- Jambalaya (On the Bayou), 1952
- I’ll Never Get out of This World Alive, 1952
- Kaw-Liga, 1953
- Your Cheatin’ Heart, 1953
- Hank Williams Sings, 1952
- Moanin’ the Blues, 1952
- Memorial Album, 1953
- Hank Williams as Luke the Drifter, 1953
- Honky Tonkin’, 1954
- I Saw the Light, 1954
- Ramblin’ Man, 1954
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