Hank Williams was the first superstar of country music and the architect of rock’n’roll. This was the last song he recorded, in 1952.
The first time I went to Nashville, I had just discovered there was more to country music than Tammy and Dolly and Don’t It Make Your Brown Eyes Blue.
I had recently discovered roots music: Roy Acuff and Jimmie Rodgers, Bob Wills and Bill Monroe, and the king of all of them all, Hank Williams.
I arrived at the self-styled “Home of Country Music” under the deluded misapprehension that this was where I would find it.
Instead I found a bunch of bogus honkytonks on Broadway with tourists and bands who sounded like a very poor man’s Bon Jovi, with a cowboy hat, some Cuban-heeled boots and the occasional pedal steel guitar in a nod to the music that gave the city its title.
Apart from one bar, Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge.
A small purple-painted place, it had a rich history as the place the where performers at the Grand Ole Opry – the weekly country music revue held at the Ryman Auditorium – used to sneak into from the alley that backed on to the stage door of both establishments.
I was lured in by the familiar sounds of a Hank Williams song.
Inside I found onstage a small, tubercular fellow in a spectacular Nudie suit singing and playing the repertoire of Hank, the country legend credited with laying the basis for rock’n’roll by blending the blues with country music in sad songs like I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry, Cold Cold Heart, Long Gone Lonesome Blues, Lovesick Blues, the devastating My Son Calls Another Man Daddy and his final, heartbreaking hit, I’ll Never Get Out Of This World Alive.
Had I not known Hank to be long dead – he was a superstar at the age of 25 and died four years later in the back of a car on New Year’s Day 1953 – I surely would have thought the fellow onstage was him.
He was a dead ringer – visually and vocally – and we chatted afterwards as he chain-smoked outside the door. We even posed for a picture together outside the bar.
Sadly, I have lost the photo and forgotten his name, though I did hear he had died, and cannot seem to find out on the interweb; I wonder if any of my country-inclined friends (Jan Bell, Andy Washington) might know?
Here’s the last song Hank recorded before that fateful journey – recorded in a single take, and all the better for that.