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Lovesick Blues: The Life of Hank Williams Hardcover – September 8, 2005

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Viking Adult; First Edition edition (September 8, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0670034142
  • ISBN-13: 978-0670034147
  • Product Dimensions: 5.7 x 0.9 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (39 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,603,913 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. 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 cliché, 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.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

Hemphill's absorbing traversal of the life of the single greatest figure in country music is something less and something more than a biography. Hemphill traces the life of Hank (ne Hiram) Williams (1923-53) faithfully and factually and labels prominent myths as such, but he doesn't indulge modern biography mavens with sociological detail about Williams' world or with psychological insight about Williams and his family. In so doing, Hemphill discounts the fascination of the Depression era that produced Williams and of the dysfunctionality of his parents' and first wife's behavior, let alone his alcoholism from adolescence on. Compensating this avoidance of the potatoes of most biographies (the facts being the meat) is the book's style, which while hardly high-flown sounds eulogistic. In this respect, the book recalls some of the earliest written lives in European literature--Boccaccio's Life of Dante, for instance--which each intended, without mythologizing, to establish its subject's legend. Despite some poor word choices and hyperbole, this is the finest work of literature about Williams yet written. Ray Olson
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Customer Reviews

Book is easy to read.
M. Buisman
This is a book that was very well researched.
I am a longtime fan of Hank Williams' music.
Joe W. Culver

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

16 of 16 people found the following review helpful By C. Hutton on September 25, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Mr Hemphill had researched a well-written but brief biography (200+ pages) of Hank Williams. The book is short because his life was short -- he didn't even live to see his 30th year. What makes this biography different is how Mr Hemphill weaves vignettes from the impact that Hank Williams had upon his life.

"Lovesick Blues" takes it title from the No. 1 hit that launched Mr. Williams into superstardom for the last five years of his life. Mr. Williams became the face of country music and paved the way for another Southern boy (Elvis Presley) to became the future face of rock and roll.

Born into a vagabond, poor family that drifted from town to town, he was an alcoholic before he was an adult and had addiction & health issues for the rest of his life. Mr Hemphill debunks the worse of the mythic stories of his self-destructive choices, maintaining the truth of his illnesses, martial woes and addictions were bad enough. He lived to perform, sang about the hard life he knew personally, and died young -- all used up like his successor would be, Elvis Presley. For the reader interested in the similarities between the two singers, I recommend Peter Guralnick's definitive two volume account of Elvis Presley: "LastTrain To Memphis" (1995) and "Careless Love" (2000).
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Joe W. Culver on September 26, 2005
Format: Hardcover
I am a longtime fan of Hank Williams' music. Three of the CDs in my car's six-CD changer are the collection of his singles. I also have picked up bits and pieces of information about his life. This biography filled in many gaps. For instance, some commentators have mentioned the influence of Tee-Tot. Hemphill fleshes out Hank's relationship with that significant mentor. It's an easy read, an interesting read, provides great insights into Hank's stormy relationships with the two significant women in his life (his mother and his wife). I have one complaint: I wish it were longer.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Darren Thornton on May 16, 2006
Format: Hardcover
I've read some other books about Hank Williams. To be honest, this book doesn't cover much new ground. However, it's a good introduction to the story of country music's most famous singer/songwriter. The author acknowledges the work of Colin Escott, who wrote perhaps the best Williams biography. My vote for the worst is Your Cheatin' Heart by Chet Flippo. That book is often vulgar and too graphic. Paul Hemphill includes some personal history. His father was a truck driver. The book begins with a father/son truck ride. Hank Williams was just becoming well known. His music was very popular on the jukeboxes. (This is why Fred Rose had him release recitations as Luke the Drifter.) These songs gave the two a great bond. The author's dad loved to play Hank Williams songs on the piano. This got him kicked out of a nursing home, and a recurring spot on a local TV show. You'll meet the varied cast of characters in Hank Williams' life. His mother Lillie was strong and domineering. His father Lon was often ill and more passive. An African American man nicknamed "Tee Tot" was his first music teacher. His first wife Audrey was ambitious and a poor singer. She helped push him toward stardom. Fred Rose edited his songs and tried to help him overcome alcoholism. Don "Shag" Helms was the longest serving member of the Drifting Cowboys. His steel guitar was a major component of Hank's sound. Billie Jean was Hank's second wife. She would later marry Johnny Horton. He would also die young. Bobbie Jett became pregnant with Hank's child. This daughter, born days after Hank's burial, now performs as Jett Williams. Don't forget Hank Jr. Other figures mentioned include: Roy Acuff, Ernest Tubb, the Carter Family, Chet Atkins, Ray Price, and Minnie Pearl. For more information, check out Colin Escott's books and the PBS American Masters special he cowrote.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Stone Cold Nuts on March 30, 2006
Format: Hardcover
This is the way a book should be written. Tight, compact, well researched, and every chapter of interest and clipping right along. I knew that my Grandpa was a Hank Williams fan and I can recall listening to some of his records. My dad's generation listened to Cash, and I'm partial to George Strait and Toby Keith, but Hank was really the original icon to emerge from country music, even if country sounded a bit different back then. After reading the book, the Hank Williams CD I bought a few years ago no longer seems so quaint. You won't be dissappointed.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Paul Tognetti TOP 500 REVIEWER on November 19, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Such were the circumstances in the life of the acknowledged "father of country music" Hank Williams. It is certainly hard to believe that Hank has been gone for more than half a century now. In "Lovesick Blues: The Life of Hank Williams" author Paul Hemphill lovingly recalls the tortured life of this man and the incredible body of work he left for us to enjoy.

Young Hank Williams first appeared on the scene at Montgomery radio station WSFA in 1937. Known as "The Singing Kid" the youngster who would become a country music legend impressed everyone with his vocal prowess. Young Hank was also among the first in the business to recognize the potential of the steel guitar. In fact, the very first incarnation of Hank's backup group known as the Drifting Cowboys would include that strange looking guitar of Hawaiian heritage. At a very early age Hank Williams was determined to make it in the music business. And as Paul Hemphill points out again and again it would be a very rocky road indeed.

The fact of the matter is that Hank William's personal life was a mess. That's just the was it always was and the way it would always be. His father Lon disappeared from the scene when Hank was just a young whippersnapper. His mother Lillie was extremely overbearing and Hank developed a taste for liquor at an extremely young age. Unfortunately, the scourge of alcoholism would plague him for the rest of this days. In addition, he had any number of physical problems to cope with. And his marriage to Audrey certainly did not help matters. Like his mother Audrey was extremely demanding and what made matters worse was that she was also an aspiring singer. Unfortunately for Hank his wife could not sing a lick. When he refused to let her perform with him she made his life absolutely unbearable.
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