He is considered by some to be the father of contemporary country music. In a four year period he turned out more hit songs than many artists do in a lifetime. His troubled life was reflected in his songs he became a model for future singers and songwriters.
Hiriam Williams was born on September 17, 1923 in the small Alabama town of Mount Olive West. Born with spina bifida (a spinal cord defect) Williams was unable to play sports. At age eight his mother gave him a guitar and he turned to music. A local blues musician Rufus “Tee Tot” Payne gave Williams all the musical training he ever had. Later Williams’ music would reflect some of that blues training.
At 16 Williams quit school to pursue his musical career full time. He played in local establishments and was a hit in the area playing the music of stars of the time including his idol Roy Acuff.
During the thirties, forties, and fifties it was not uncommon for budding stars to appear on local radio stations and perform live. Williams first radio appearance was at WSFA in Montgomery, Alabama in 1941. He became a regular performer throughout the decade. The radio station named him “the singing kid”. It was these radio performances that caught the attention of people in Nashville. Williams and then manager, bass player, wife traveled to Nashville to meet Fred Rose.
Rose became Williams’ manager and producer. It is under Rose that Williams had his break and hits. Williams made his debut at the Grand Ole Opry in 1949 at the Ryman Auditorium. Williams was 25. It is 1949 when son Randall Hank was born, later to be known as Hank Jr. to music fans.
Williams has a mild drinking problem all through his career that began escalating. He frequently showed up for performances drunk if at all. It was this behaviour that got him fired from the Opry. The problem was compounded in 1951 when Williams fell while on a hunting trip and aggravated an already existing back problem. With the injury Williams became addicted to prescription drugs.
In 1953 while on the way to a concert in Ohio Williams died in the car at age 29. His life was short but he left a legacy of music that has been loved and admired.
Williams was not just a hit with country music fans. He has several crossover hits and appeared on the Perry Como show. Stars like Tony Bennett, Jo Stafford, Guy Mitchell, Frankie Laine, and Teressa Brewer coverd Williams music. Long after his death MGM continued to release songs Williams had recorded even going back to the early days to retrieve demos.
Much of what was released was overdubbed material. It wasn’t until the age of the CD arrived that Williams music can again be heard in its original format.
In 1989 Hank Williams won a Grammy Award with his son for the Best Country Vocal Compilation.