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Lovesick Blues: The Life of Hank Williams [Paperback]

Paul Hemphill
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
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Book Description

7 Sep 2006

Hank Williams is not just one of America's greatest songwriters but also one of the most enigmatic­ - a raw poet from the rolling pine woods of south Alabama whose anguished lyrics were celebrated from the clamorous roadhouses of the Deep South all the way to Carnegie Hall. His tragic early death at the age of only twenty-nine, drunk and drugged, alone in the back seat of a Cadillac convertible on his way to a gig, ended a career that lasted only six years but went on to influence many of the greatest musicians in recent history.

Paul Hemphill has written a fascinating interpretative biography of Hank Williams, with the kind of soul and understanding that other books about him have lacked. Whence the pain and despair? Why the booze and pills? Where did his genius come from? How did he know everything he wrote about? These are the questions it seeks to answer.


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Product details

  • Paperback: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage (7 Sep 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0099469510
  • ISBN-13: 978-0099469513
  • Product Dimensions: 13.2 x 19.9 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 507,577 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Review

"Hank Williams wrote the rock'n'roll rulebook. Moving...absorbing biography of 'the hillbilly Shakespeare'" (Daily Express)

"A fabulous and tragic tale and Hemphill tells it well. Excellent" (Scotsman)

"Moving and informative...Lovesick Blues is lean, distilled Hank" (Herald)

"This biography does tough justice to a wrecked icon" (The Times)

"[A] concise, startling biography...The connection between author and subject is what makes this book so rewarding" (Publishers Weekly)

Book Description

A captivating biography of one of America's greatest songwriters who died alone in the back of a Cadillac, aged only twenty-nine.

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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Back Cover
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Makes the music come alive 11 Jun 2007
By Pieter Uys HALL OF FAME TOP 500 REVIEWER
Format:Paperback
I thoroughly enjoyed this short but absorbing biography of the country legend. Having been a fan all his life, the author writes with great empathy and understanding, making the south and the country culture of the 1940s come alive. So one learns a lot about the history of the southern states and the development of the music. Hemphill takes one through the towns, the venues, truckstops and radio stations, the history of the Grand Ole Opry, the record companies and the major figures of early country music.

The story starts with an episode from the author's childhood in 1949 which recounts how the music of Hank Williams resonated with his father and him. Then it takes up Williams' childhood in Alabama where his musical mentor was Rufus 'Tee-Tot' Payne, a street musician. Eventually the Nashville music publisher Fred Rose became Hank's arranger and producer and soon after Williams signed a contract with MGM Records.

His first hit was Move It On Over and in May 1949 Lovesick Blues reached the top of the Billboard chart; the first of many number ones. Despite recurrent problems with demon drink, HW became a regular performer at the Opry. The next year, 1950, turned out to be an exceptionally rewarding time with massive hits like Long Gone Lonesome Blues & Why Don't You Love Me?

Hemphill succeeds in capturing the essence of Williams' poetic genius in his discussions of the famous songs, enthusing the reader to go back to the music and listen with a new ear. He analyses the lyrics, making them more comprehensible in the light of Hank's personal life and background. For example, the troubled relationship with his first wife inspired Cold, Cold Heart.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Engaging read 3 Jun 2007
By Pieter Uys HALL OF FAME TOP 500 REVIEWER
Format:Paperback
I thoroughly enjoyed this short but absorbing biography of the country legend. Having been a fan all his life, Hemphill writes with great empathy and understanding, making the south and the country culture of the 1940s really come alive. So one learns a lot about the history of the southern states, the development of the music and the singers of the time. He analyses the lyrics and makes them more comprehensible in the light of Williams' personal life and background.

It's interesting to learn about the towns, the venues, truckstops and radio stations, and the history of the Grand Ole Opry, the record companies and the major figures of early country music. In those days, live performances were more lucrative than record sales so Hank Williams worked extraordinarily hard on constant gruelling tours. That was before the days of luxury tour buses. Hemphill succeeds in capturing the essence of Williams' poetic genius in his discussions of the famous songs, enthusing the reader to go back to the music and listen with a new ear.

As a music lover, I found the author's discussion of the different popular music genres of the late 1940s of particular interest, and how Hank Williams' songs were covered by artists as varied as Tony Bennett, Louis Armstrong, Perry Como and Dinah Washington. Fifty years after his death, his music had been interpreted by an impressive array of artists from almost every possible genre, like James Brown, The Bee Gees, Nat King Cole, Isaac Hayes and Elvis. In the introduction to her version of Pale Blue Eyes, Patti Smith pays tribute to Hank in a brief narration about his death in the back of a car on the way to a gig.

The writing style is a pleasure, down to earth, often witty even when he narrates episodes from the dark side with lots of empathy.
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5.0 out of 5 stars awesome 17 April 2014
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I really liked this. It was unputdownable. Written brilliantly albeit quirkily for a biography.
Made me want to download the mother's best recordings.
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Amazon.com: 4.6 out of 5 stars  36 reviews
16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Tragic Life and Death Of the First Country Music Superstar 25 Sep 2005
By C. Hutton - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Mr Hemphill had researched a well-written but brief biography (200+ pages) of Hank Williams. The book is short because his life was short -- he didn't even live to see his 30th year. What makes this biography different is how Mr Hemphill weaves vignettes from the impact that Hank Williams had upon his life.

"Lovesick Blues" takes it title from the No. 1 hit that launched Mr. Williams into superstardom for the last five years of his life. Mr. Williams became the face of country music and paved the way for another Southern boy (Elvis Presley) to became the future face of rock and roll.

Born into a vagabond, poor family that drifted from town to town, he was an alcoholic before he was an adult and had addiction & health issues for the rest of his life. Mr Hemphill debunks the worse of the mythic stories of his self-destructive choices, maintaining the truth of his illnesses, martial woes and addictions were bad enough. He lived to perform, sang about the hard life he knew personally, and died young -- all used up like his successor would be, Elvis Presley. For the reader interested in the similarities between the two singers, I recommend Peter Guralnick's definitive two volume account of Elvis Presley: "LastTrain To Memphis" (1995) and "Careless Love" (2000).
11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Good information for Hank's fans 26 Sep 2005
By Joe W. Culver - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
I am a longtime fan of Hank Williams' music. Three of the CDs in my car's six-CD changer are the collection of his singles. I also have picked up bits and pieces of information about his life. This biography filled in many gaps. For instance, some commentators have mentioned the influence of Tee-Tot. Hemphill fleshes out Hank's relationship with that significant mentor. It's an easy read, an interesting read, provides great insights into Hank's stormy relationships with the two significant women in his life (his mother and his wife). I have one complaint: I wish it were longer.
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A nice short biography, accompanied by a personal story! 17 May 2006
By Darren Thornton - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
I've read some other books about Hank Williams. To be honest, this book doesn't cover much new ground. However, it's a good introduction to the story of country music's most famous singer/songwriter. The author acknowledges the work of Colin Escott, who wrote perhaps the best Williams biography. My vote for the worst is Your Cheatin' Heart by Chet Flippo. That book is often vulgar and too graphic. Paul Hemphill includes some personal history. His father was a truck driver. The book begins with a father/son truck ride. Hank Williams was just becoming well known. His music was very popular on the jukeboxes. (This is why Fred Rose had him release recitations as Luke the Drifter.) These songs gave the two a great bond. The author's dad loved to play Hank Williams songs on the piano. This got him kicked out of a nursing home, and a recurring spot on a local TV show. You'll meet the varied cast of characters in Hank Williams' life. His mother Lillie was strong and domineering. His father Lon was often ill and more passive. An African American man nicknamed "Tee Tot" was his first music teacher. His first wife Audrey was ambitious and a poor singer. She helped push him toward stardom. Fred Rose edited his songs and tried to help him overcome alcoholism. Don "Shag" Helms was the longest serving member of the Drifting Cowboys. His steel guitar was a major component of Hank's sound. Billie Jean was Hank's second wife. She would later marry Johnny Horton. He would also die young. Bobbie Jett became pregnant with Hank's child. This daughter, born days after Hank's burial, now performs as Jett Williams. Don't forget Hank Jr. Other figures mentioned include: Roy Acuff, Ernest Tubb, the Carter Family, Chet Atkins, Ray Price, and Minnie Pearl. For more information, check out Colin Escott's books and the PBS American Masters special he cowrote.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Worth Six Stars 31 Mar 2006
By Stone Cold Nuts - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
This is the way a book should be written. Tight, compact, well researched, and every chapter of interest and clipping right along. I knew that my Grandpa was a Hank Williams fan and I can recall listening to some of his records. My dad's generation listened to Cash, and I'm partial to George Strait and Toby Keith, but Hank was really the original icon to emerge from country music, even if country sounded a bit different back then. After reading the book, the Hank Williams CD I bought a few years ago no longer seems so quaint. You won't be dissappointed.
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An abundance of talent and a lifetime of loneliness. 19 Nov 2005
By Paul Tognetti - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Such were the circumstances in the life of the acknowledged "father of country music" Hank Williams. It is certainly hard to believe that Hank has been gone for more than half a century now. In "Lovesick Blues: The Life of Hank Williams" author Paul Hemphill lovingly recalls the tortured life of this man and the incredible body of work he left for us to enjoy.

Young Hank Williams first appeared on the scene at Montgomery radio station WSFA in 1937. Known as "The Singing Kid" the youngster who would become a country music legend impressed everyone with his vocal prowess. Young Hank was also among the first in the business to recognize the potential of the steel guitar. In fact, the very first incarnation of Hank's backup group known as the Drifting Cowboys would include that strange looking guitar of Hawaiian heritage. At a very early age Hank Williams was determined to make it in the music business. And as Paul Hemphill points out again and again it would be a very rocky road indeed.

The fact of the matter is that Hank William's personal life was a mess. That's just the was it always was and the way it would always be. His father Lon disappeared from the scene when Hank was just a young whippersnapper. His mother Lillie was extremely overbearing and Hank developed a taste for liquor at an extremely young age. Unfortunately, the scourge of alcoholism would plague him for the rest of this days. In addition, he had any number of physical problems to cope with. And his marriage to Audrey certainly did not help matters. Like his mother Audrey was extremely demanding and what made matters worse was that she was also an aspiring singer. Unfortunately for Hank his wife could not sing a lick. When he refused to let her perform with him she made his life absolutely unbearable. I found it very painful just reading about all of the physical and psychological pain that Hank Williams had to endure in his life. I simply cannot imagine actually having to live through it all.

Ironically, it was all of the pain and the suffering he had to face during his short time on this earth that made Hank Williams such a special songwriter and singer. Truck drivers, drug store clerks and farmers could all relate to many of the situations Hank Williams wrote about. And you could definitely
hear the pain in that voice. There was no doubt that Hank Williams had been through it all. Tunes like "Your Cheatin' Heart", "Cold Cold Heart" and "I Can't Help It (If I'm Still In Love With You)" would go on to become country music classics.

"Lovesick Blues" takes a fresh look at the life and times of Hank Williams. This is an extremely written book by a veteran writer who is quite familiar with both the country music scene and life in the South during that period. I would not hesitate to recommend this book to music lovers, history buffs and general audiences as well. Outstanding!
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