Thursday, March 31, 2016

Where Hank Died

You know who George Clooney is, right?  And you might know he had a rather famous aunt Rosemary who sang beautifully for years.

One of the songs she made popular was a country song by  the man who more or less invented the modern sound of country music during his short (less than 30 years) lifetime. Rosemary recorded "Half As Much" with Percy Faith and His Orchestra, and although the good people at Columbia Records oddly list the composer as "C. Williams," "Half As Much" was written by Hiram King "Hank" Williams, and you can compare and contrast his version with hers here.

I Saw the Light; Movie; Review; Tom Hiddleston; Elizabeth Olsen
Hiddleston as Hank
There's a new movie out about Hank, called "I Saw The Light," and although we plan to go see it this weekend, it looks like the delayed release of the picture - it was supposed to be out last Thanksgiving - has more to do with it being a poorly written movie than anything else.  Tom Hiddleston, a British actor, took on the unenviable task of portraying Hank, as downhome a guy as ever walked on and off the Grand Ole Opry stage.  But the critics are saying the movie focuses on Hank's marital problems and substance abuse instead of shining a well-deserved light on his amazing talent at writing and performing songs that spoke to every person who ever had a heart broken.

The legend of Hank's life is as well-known among country fans as any.  His congenital spinal malformation led him to a life of pain, and to the abuse of alcohol and drugs to try to alleviate it.  This led to certain irregularities of lifestyle, and there were marriages and firings from the Opry, the traditional home of Nashville's top stars, but never was there a loss of ability to write a song and sing it.  It's said that Hank Williams, with the simplest of bands behind him and his guitar and voice, could hold any audience spellbound. Compare that with today, when country singers more or less have to have stage shows that rival the Battle of Fort McHenry for volume and pyrotechnics.

So, we'll see the movie and I'll see what we think.  I did want to show you an interesting picture I stumbled across the other day, reading about the town of Oak Hill, West Virginia putting up a plaque to commemorate the spot where Hank left this earthly stage for the last time, in the early hours of New Year's Day, 1953.

On New Year's Eve, Hank had been scheduled to play in Charleston, WV, but could not make it because of an ice storm. He needed to be in Canton, Ohio, on January 1 for another show, and was given shots of vitamin B12 to augment the chloral hydrate and alcohol he had consumed, and was on his way, driven by a college kid named Charles Carr.

Hank was still conscious as his Cadillac drove through Bristol, Virginia, but the next time Carr checked on him, at a Pure Gas station in Oak Hill, the great composer was unresponsive and pronounced dead by a local doctor.

Hank went home to Montgomery, Alabama, one last time, and 25,000 people attended his funeral on January 4. I could not attend, being eighteen months of age at the time, but as soon as I found out who Hank was and heard what he did, I wished I could have met him to say thanks.

The people of Oak Hill seem divided in their sentiments toward HW Sr (you may have heard of his son, Hank Jr,  a fairly talented but oafish performer).  Some of them wanted to put up the plaque about his death location and make a museum out of the closed gas station, while some of them tore down the station in 2006 to make sure there would be no museum.  The plaque sits across the street by the town library; the photo below shows what the station looked like before the town fathers showed up with a backhoe and a bulldozer. 

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