Monday, February 15, 2010

"Hank Williams: The Biography" by Colin Escott [book review]

The first music book I read in 2010 (back in early January) was the definitive Hank Williams biography by Colin Escott that first came out in 1994. I read the "updated" edition that was released in 2004. I cannot recommend this fine book enough if you are at all interested in early country music. Or, to be more accurate, interested in the time period in the late 40s to the early 50s when hillbilly music and western music were becoming the "Country & Western" genre.

You can't tell this story without placing Hank in the center of your tale. While he didn't make it to 30 years-old, his impact on country music, Nashville, the nature of songwriting, etc. cannot be overemphasized. Escott provides great detail on recording sessions, tours, the history of what would become the ‘Nashville Scene' (and other scenes like Shreveport and the 'Lousiana Hayride' show in particular), and the currents of country music that were flowing in the late 40s to the mid-50s. As well, there is some interesting “gossip” along the way: like tales from the house that Hank and Ray Price shared in Nashville, the parameters of the fallout from Hank stealing Faron Young’s girlfriend at the time, and the best existing account of what probably took place in Hank's final weeks and days.

I would suggest that you start reading the book with a copy of the 1998 10-CD box set The Complete Hank Williams at the ready, or at a minimum, a copy of his 40 Greatest Hits compilation. During the discussions of the Fred Rose-produced recording sessions, you will feel an overwhelming need to set down the book and listen to the relevant track(s).

Overall verdict: Highly (highly!) recommended.

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