“Well, heyyyy.... Good-Looking! (Need insurance on that bowling ball?)”
Despite a prolific career, Hank Williams has fallen into a near forgotten status. Known only to the most knowledgeable of country and western music buffs, Williams has contributed very little to the development of that genre, despite recording over 100 full length studio albums, and writing over 1,000 songs in his 55 year career. Country music historians continue to debate the reason for Williams's failure to enter the canon, although well-known music critic Elvis Mitchell might have captured it best when he attributed it to the fact that his songs "well, they sucked, basically". Williams was a Born again Christian, and known as "The Happiest Man in Music."
Hank Williams was born Henry James Gonzales on September 23, 1923. His mother, Maria, died as a result of death (whose death was never determined, and the case is still in the Cold Case Files for Banks, Alabama). He was raised by his father, Jose, a poor Mexican farmer, in Alabama. At the age of 8, Henry received his first guitar, which he promptly remade into a guacamole party bowl; and at the age of 14, Gonzales formed his first band. Initially into thrash metal, the band later found a penchant for country music. After returning the penchant to its rightful owner, they opened a business selling insurance on bowling balls. Gonzales's big break came when a polka record producer discovered his song 'Addendum To Contract Dated February 12, 1938', and convinced Gonzales that he had true talent.
By 1946, Henry "Hank" Gonzales was a local celebrity in Banks, AL. Though he played mostly in bars, Gonzales prided himself in never drinking any alcohol. He claims to have never used alcohol in his whole life, saying "When you have the peace of God in your heart, you don't need booze." (Many took note, though, that when questioned about other drugs - for instance, heroin - his only and invariable reply was "No comment"). In 1947 he signed his first record deal, with MGM Records, a deal MGM would quickly regret. Taking the name Hank Williams (because the record executives persuaded him that Williams sounded 'way less gay' than Gonzales), he recorded an astonishing 90 sides in the latter half of 1947 and 1948, but failed to crack even the country top 40. His biggest hit "The Blues are Gone Away Forever" reached number 47, and his only other songs to reach the top 100 were "So Glad I'm in Love," "God Is Watching Over My Soul," and "Put Down the Bottle and Lift Up Your Voice." Astonishingly, his song "Smack My Bitch Up", while obviously not a hit because so far ahead of its time, did indeed prove its worth when it was covered 50 years later - in 1997 - by the British rave band The Prodigy and became an instant hit.
Williams was dropped from the label in 1953, after recording over 20 albums' worth of work, and not gaining a single top 40 hit. Inspired by the birth of his son, Hank Williams Jr., in 1949, Williams' recorded a series of children's books-on-tape between 1953 and 1964. In 1964, with the civil rights movement picking up steam, Williams was re-signed to MGM in an effort to diversify the label without signing any Negroes.
Despite being restricted to using MGM studios only between 10 PM and 6 AM, Williams continued to churn out between 2 and 5 albums every year from 1964 to 1984. Many critics pointed out that he was so prolific because he was so indiscriminate: in fact, he lifted most of his songs verbatim from the Encyclopedia Britannica. The only song during this period to garner any radio play whatsoever was his novelty song "Molluscs (phylum Mollusca)".
He finally cracked his first top 40 hit in 1979 with "There's Always a Rainbow After a Storm," but this was during a time that the charts were mostly barren of good material because most country stars had been arrested. And in fact, the grammy he won for this song was later revoked after Bill Nye The Science Guy successfully sued for copyright infringement. The resulting evidence of blatant plagiarism plagued Williams for the rest of his career.
Late in 1984 Williams suffered a stroke, but continued to record sporadically over the next 18 years, before he died in 2002 at the age of 79. These songs from his 'handicap period', however, have garnered Williams the critical acclaim he hungered after his entire life - ironically, this critical praise came only after his death. No-one can deny the plain, earnest humanity behind songs like "For God's sake, hand me my water, I'm a cripple!", or the plaintive poetry of songs like "Crapping In A Pan Again".
Williams died poor, penniless and forgotten. Said his son of his death, "He may have died without a legacy, but he died with his dignity, and that's all that counts. And also, in a very real and legally binding way, I own 100% of the rights to that dignity, and it may be used only with my written permission. Just contact my lawyer, he can work out the details with you."