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Roots of Country On the trai l of Hank Wi l liams


T


he realisation that there was a genre known as country music; a little different, but in a way similar to the rock’n’roll I grew up with, came from listening to Hank Williams for the first time. I owe my gratitude to


American rock‘n’roller, Jerry Lee Lewis, of all people, who—when asked about his own favourites—listed himself (of course) Al Jolson and Hank Williams. I was also playing in a band where one of the members had been in the army, and had also been introduced to the music of Hank Williams—he himself singing songs such as Wedding Bells and Hey Good Looking. If it was good enough for Jerry Lee, it would certainly be good enough for me, and boy, it was. Hank Williams has one of those voices that could only ever


be country, no matter what he sang—a great drawl, a nasal tone, and an accent you could cut with a knife, but never ever off pitch. It has never been difficult to find Hank Williams’ records; always in print, and I was soon able to amass a reasonable collection of his recordings. With this, quickly came the realisation that not only did he sing, but he was also a prolific writer and a massive influence on popular music. The songs were a large part of the rock‘n’roll repertoire: Hey Good Looking, You Win Again, I Can’t Help It, and even Rock Around The


50 Maverick


Clock seemed to be based on Williams’ Move It On Over. Johnny Cash’s clunky guitar sound was pretty evident in Hank’s music, and listening to 1950s country music, it was clear that there were many Hank Williams’ clones, some of whom even used members of his band on their recordings to sound more like him. The cliché would be there could only ever be one Hank Williams. Just as it was easy enough to find music by Hank Williams,


it was sure as hell easy to find his biography. So no need to repeat that here. Suffice to say he led a hard life, had a serious drinking problem, a tempestuous marriage and died tragically young, leaving a rich legacy, a healthy dispute between his first and second wives, plus known, and unknown children. My encounters with the music of Hank Williams never


stopped. In 1971, it was a great thrill to meet two of his original Drifting Cowboys; fiddler, Jerry Rivers and steel guitarist, Don Helms, who were at one of the Wembley Country Music Festivals, playing in the band of Hank Williams Jr. Both were unassuming characters who were happy to chat, and possibly quite flattered that they’d been recognised. Rivers had already had a book published about his times with Hank. He confirmed the story about Hank playing Sally Goodin on fiddle when Rivers


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