Hank Williams is one of the most influential songwriters in music, be it rock’n roll, blues or country. A lot of singer/songwriters influenced by him pay their respects by singing his songs, doing tribute songs or mention him in their lyrics. There are literally hundreds of songs referencing Hank Williams one way or another.
Here’s a list of some of my favourite songs about the great legendary Hank Williams:
There is no contest for the top spot, it has to be
1) Tower of Song by Leonard Cohen:
“…Oh in the Tower of Song
I said to Hank Williams: how lonely does it get?
Hank Williams hasn’t answered yet
But I hear him coughing all night long
A hundred floors above me
In the Tower of Song”
From Leonard Cohen that is very high praise indeed!
2) Long White Cadillac – The Blasters
No actual mention of Hank, but I believe that it is about the last night of Hank Williams’ life:
“Night wolves moan
The winter hills are black
I’m all alone
Sitting in the back
Of a long white Cadillac, yeah”
Great song, also recorded and performed frequently by Dwight Yoakam.
3) From Hank To Hendrix – Neil Young
As far as I know, Neil Young has written two songs where Hank Williams plays an important part. From Hank to Hendrix and This Old Guitar, I chose From Hank to Hendrix a great song about a musical journey.
“….From Hank to Hendrix
I walked these streets with you
Here I am with this old guitar
Doin’ what I do…”
This old guitar refers to Williams’s original D-28 Martin guitar, which Young has toured with for over 30 years.
Here is a great performance from 1993 (MTV’s Unplugged series):
4) When you died at twenty-nine – Slaid Cleaves
“When you died at twenty-nine
You heard the voice of angels
Could you hear the lonesome cries
of the ones you left behind?
On your knee there was a child
On your arm a handsome girl
Left to wander this old world
when you died at twenty-nine…”
One of the most beutiful songs from Slaid Cleaves and that says a lot!
5) Has anybody here seen Hank – The Waterboys
This is from my favourite Waterboys album, Fisherman’s Blues, it is a lovely country waltz. One of the best songs on this classic album from 1988.
“…I don’t care what he did with his women
I don’t care what he did when he drank
I want to hear just one note
From his lonesome old throat
Has anybody here seen Hank…”
6) Tramp on my street – Billy Joe Shaver
I wasn’t sure if should pick his own version or George Jones’ version, but I went for Billy Joe.
What a great song by a legendary songwriter, it was also a part of the repertoire of The Highwaymen.
“It was a long time ago, no shoes on my feet
I walked ten miles of train track to hear Hank Williams sing
His body was worn but his spirit was free
And he sang every song looking right straight at me…”
7) Alcohol and Pills – Fred Eaglesmith
“Hank Williams, he came up from Montgomery
With his heart full of broken country songs
Nashville, Tennessee, didn’t really understand him
‘Cause he did things differently
Then the way that they were done
But when he finally made it to the Grand Ole Opry
He made it stand still
He ended up on alcohol and pills
Just doesn’t wake up one day
Sometimes it’s a heart attack
Sometimes they just don’t say
They pulled poor old Hank Williams
Out of a Cadillac Coupe de Ville
He ended up on alcohol and pills ”
The first and the last verses are about Hank Williams, the two remaing are about Elvis and Janis Joplin. The Song is not a tribute song, more of a warning of, yes, Alcohol and Pills (without beeing too preachy). But it’s a very good song:
8) Talkin’ to Hank – Mark Chestnutt
Here’s a more direct approach, a story-song about meeting Hank Williams, I love that it is in the same musical tradition as Hank Williams as well. It sounds like one of them funny songs that Williams did sometimes.
“I swear he looked just like ole Hank
I wouldn’t bet a wooden nickel that he ain’t
I got goose bumps and dizzy and felt kinda faint
I think I’ve been talkin’ to Hank”
9) If You Don’t Like Hank Williams – Kris Kristofferson
Another song in the same vein, a fun tribute song from a master songwriter.
“…I said, I dig Roger Miller, Merle Haggard; George Jones
Shotgun Willie Nelson and them rockin’ Rollin’ Stones
And Jerry Lee’s still gotta be the coolest in the class
And if you don’t like Hank Williams, honey, you can kiss my ass…”
10) Hank Williams’ Ghost – Darell Scott
“But you have heard the angels singing
Hell, They’re singing to you yet
Take the gifts that they are bringing
They may be all that you get”
Another song about Hank Williams without mention him by name (except in the title).
Darrell Scott to American Songwriter:
“What do you consider to be the perfect song?
Today I will say, “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry,” by Hank Williams. The blend of nature observation and the narrator’s internal suffering and his ability to portray both equally is ancient stuff. Tomorrow, I’d say: “To Live’s to Fly” by Townes, the next day, “Sunday Morning Coming Down” by Kris Kristofferson.”
Darrell certainly knows good music!