What I Missed: Hank Williams

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I am a city boy – always have been. And so country music has long been my musical blind spot. Now, I have to say, in my own defense, that country music itself is at least partially responsible for my longtime ignorance: all that slick, overproduced Nashville stuff tends to overwhelm the real, raw sounds of classic country. Any time I gave country music a try, what I heard seemed to reinforce the image I had of rednecks singing about their pickup trucks, their gun racks, and their dogs. And how, surprise surprise, their women had left them. Oh, and God bless the USA, I’ll have another Miller Lite.

And so it was that I was well into my 30s before it began to dawn on me that maybe I should give this Hank Williams fellow a little attention. Of course, I knew “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry,” which some critic had called “the most perfect song ever written.” But how could any song hope to live up to that? To me, it was just another weepy exercise in self-pity, so I just thought, “well, that’s Hank Williams,” and that was that. I now understand that when the old definition of “country music” was coined – “Three chords and the truth” – it was coined exactly for the type of songs Hank Williams wrote: “Long Gone Lonesome Blues,” or “Lost Highway,” or even “Jambalaya” (yes, he wrote that). This guy was the original punk, except he wrote country songs. And I’d been giving him a miss all those years.

It happens to most of us, if we listen to music long enough: you find that you’d missed the boat on some singer or band, and now they’re in the Most Played folder on your iPod, and you regret the years you did NOT spend listening to them. For me, it was Hank Williams. Who was it for you?