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Lovesick Blues: The Life of Hank Williams

Lovesick Blues: The Life of Hank Williams

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by Paul Hemphill

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Hank Williams, the quintessential country music singer and songwriter, lived a life as lonesome, desolate, and filled with sorrow as his timeless songs. From Williams's dirt- poor beginnings as a sickly child to his emergence as a star of the Grand Ole Opry, Lovesick Blues is the definitive biography of the man and his music.


Hank Williams, the quintessential country music singer and songwriter, lived a life as lonesome, desolate, and filled with sorrow as his timeless songs. From Williams's dirt- poor beginnings as a sickly child to his emergence as a star of the Grand Ole Opry, Lovesick Blues is the definitive biography of the man and his music.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
Hemphill comes to his love of Hank honestly. . . . He tells the familiar story with economy and grace. (Garrison Keillor, The New York Times Book Review)

A book as exhilarating as his music. (The Atlanta Journal- Constitution)

Publishers Weekly
This concise, startling biography starts not with its subject, Hank Williams, but with its author sitting in the cab of his father's truck one day in 1949, hearing Williams sing "like a hurt animal." The brief incident immediately binds Hemphill and Williams (1923-1952) together as children of the rural South, united by the places and circumstances from which they came (Hemphill has written four novels and 11 nonfiction works dealing with the blue-collar South). Hemphill shifts from his own childhood to Williams's vagabond youth with scintillating descriptions of Depression-era Alabama. Against this backdrop, Hemphill tells the story of Williams's boyhood, which involved constant movement from town to town, infrequent school attendance and jobs as a shoe-shine boy and street performer. Williams's subsequent rise, from "Singing Kid" novelty to headliner at the Grand Ole Opry, could seem like a cliche, but Hemphill's descriptions of the "places where a chicken-wire fence separated the band from the crowd" lend a gritty reality. This frankness extends to the depiction of Williams's chronic alcoholism, violent marital troubles and lonely, sudden death at age 29. With the end of Williams's life, the book turns back to its author, as an older, wiser Hemphill recounts some of the sorrows of his own life. The connection between author and subject is what makes this book so rewarding. Agent, Sterling Lord. (Sept.) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
At least ten biographies have been written about country music superstar Hank Williams. This slim volume springs from the pen of a fan who remembers being exposed to Williams's music as a teenager riding in his father's big rig. Unfortunately, it does not add much to the facts known about the life of the tragic, self-destructive singer/songwriter, barring a tidbit that he learned some of his trade from a black street musician named Rufus Payne. Hemphill, an accomplished novelist and nonfiction writer (Leaving Birmingham: Notes of a Native Son), occasionally paints a vivid picture-e.g., "Out there in a harder America, they would open the doors of a barn or a Quonset hut or a roller-skating rink out on the edge of town on a weekend night, hire a country band, toss some sawdust on the dance floor, crank up the fiddles and the steel guitars, announce that the bar was open, and you had a bubbling volcano." But too often he dryly recounts the details of various musical events or describes Williams's endless bouts with alcoholism. Still, any fans new to the Hank Williams story will get most of the high and low points of his remarkable, meteoric career. Suitable for all popular and country music collections.-Bill Walker, Stockton-San Joaquin Cty. P.L., CA Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A veteran novelist and nonfiction writer offers a Southerner's take on country music's poet laureate. Hemphill, author of The Nashville Sound, an early look at the country music industry, and a number of other works with a Southern perspective, arrives decidedly late at the Hank Williams biography party. It's difficult to imagine anyone improving on Colin Escott's award-winning, meticulously researched 1994 work on Williams, revised last year; the Canadian writer, who won a Grammy as co-producer of a set of Williams's complete recordings, added to the literature with Hank Williams: Snapshots From the Lost Highway (with Kira Florita, 2001) and his work on the 2004 PBS documentary about the country singer. Hemphill acknowledges Escott's scholarship in his own unscholarly book, which offers the barest outline of Williams's brief, tortured career. That outline is familiar to any Williams fan: his hardscrabble Alabama upbringing; the meteoric success of his simple, cuttingly affecting songs; his slug-it-out relationship with first wife, Audrey; his drug- and drink-plagued stardom; and his precipitous decline, including his sideshow-like marriage to second spouse, Billie; and his sudden death at 29 as 1953 dawned. There's no deep new research here-the most talkative sources appear to be Williams's steel guitarist Don Helms and Charles Carr, who chauffeured the musician on the night he died. Hemphill, a fellow Alabamian, takes the tack that Hank was a good ol' boy just like Hemphill's father, a long-distance trucker who liked to pound out Williams's songs on the piano. The writer splashes plenty of local color on his canvas, especially in passages about Williams's barnstorming early days. But henever reveals anything essential about his subject as an artist or as a suffering human being; worse, he never explains how or why so distinctly Southern a musician achieved such universality in his lifetime, on his own and in covers of his songs by such unlikely performers as Tony Bennett. This particular song of the South merely scratches the surface of a legend.

Product Details

Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.10(w) x 7.85(h) x 0.60(d)
Age Range:
18 Years

Meet the Author

Paul Hemphill was born and raised in Birmingham, Alabama. He is the author of four novels and eleven works of nonfiction dealing with the blue-collar South, including The Nashville Sound.

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Lovesick Blues: The Life of Hank Williams 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
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