Flashback: See Hank Williams Jr.'s Chilling 'Endless Sleep' From 1964 - Rolling Stone
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Flashback: See Hank Williams Jr.’s Chilling ‘Endless Sleep’ From 1964

Remake of Jody Reynolds pop hit was Bocephus’ third country single

In 1958, singer Jody Reynolds had his one and only Top 40 pop hit with a haunting tune called “Endless Sleep.” Written by Reynolds while he was living and working in Yuma, Arizona, the song came into being after Reynolds played Elvis Presley’s “Heartbreak Hotel” on a jukebox five times in a row. While the song is actually credited to the artist and a co-writer named Dolores Nance, Reynolds later revealed in an interview that Nance was a fabrication of the execs at his label Demon Records because they felt it sounded more professional to have two writers listed on the track.

The tale of a boy searching for his girlfriend after they’ve had a fight originally had a tragic ending as the girl drowned. The label convinced Reynolds to add an additional verse to the song, in which the guilt-ridden guy rescues his girl from her endless sleep. A million-seller, it was a Top Five tune for the Colorado native, whose only other chart entry, “Fire of Love,” topped out at Number 66 on the Billboard Hot 100.

“Endless Sleep” would return to the charts six years later as one of the first singles released by Hank Williams Jr. After the New Year’s Eve 1953 death of his famed country star father, Hank Jr. — whom his father nicknamed Bocephus — would pursue his own musical path, but was at first relegated to recording and performing his dad’s songs with audiences growing restless and voicing their disapproval if he performed anything but those beloved hits.

In 1964, Hank Jr. debuted on the charts as a solo performer and the Hank biopic Your Cheatin’ Heart opened in theaters, featuring Bocephus performing his dad’s songs that were lip-synced by star George Hamilton. But late in that same year, Hank Jr. began charting with songs other than those written and popularized by Hank Sr. — his third hit was a moody remake of “Endless Sleep,” which he performed on the popular ABC music series Shindig! in November 1964, sounding a lot more like Elvis than the offspring of Hank Williams. Of course, it didn’t hurt that the Jordanaires — who graced most of Presley’s hits — were also singing in the background of Williams’ “Endless Sleep.”

A minor country hit, “Endless Sleep” peaked at Number 47 and also reached Number 90 on the Hot 100. It was the last hit Hank Jr. would have until 1966, when he recorded the autobiographical “Standing in the Shadows,” a Top Five single addressing the impossible task he faced of living up to the legacy his father left behind. Although he would have several additional hit singles, it wasn’t until 1979’s Family Tradition album that Bocephus hit his stride. Toward the end of the next decade, he was named CMA Entertainer of the Year two years in a row.

In 1984, “Endless Sleep” reached a whole new crop of country fans when it was covered on Why Not Me, the first full-length LP by the Judds. Original writer and performer Jody Reynolds died of liver cancer in 2008, at age 75.

In This Article: Hank Williams Jr.


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