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. It was a wonder that Hiram ('Hank') Williams ever made it to adulthood at all. Unschooled, virtually fatherless, an alcoholic by his early teens and unlucky in love, Hank was destined for a life in the sawmills and the railyards until he began writing about what he saw and felt.
His songs ran the gamut - unrequited love, honky-tonking, loneliness - and they played as well in the fighting and dancing clubs spread across the American outback as on television's 'Your Hit Parade'. He was country, but he wasn't, dozens of his titles crossing over to the pop charts in a career that lasted only six years.
He died as he had lived: drunk and drugged, alone in the back seat of a Cadillac convertible, an outcast being chauffered through the snow and ice to play a gig on New Year's Day of 1953, gone at the age of twenty-nine. Paul Hemphill, born and raised in Alabama, 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.