Anyone who might doubt the enduring power of a song need only to survey Spotify’s Viral 50 chart for the U.S., where Hank Williams’ version of “Lovesick Blues,” recorded nearly 70 years ago, sits at Number Three, and is now Number Four around the globe.
The renewed interest in the heartbreaking tune comes courtesy of 11-year-old Golconda, Illinois, singer and yodeler Mason Ramsey, who, clad in jeans, white shirt and red bow tie, belts out a pitch-perfect rendition of the song in the middle of Walmart. The video, posted late last month, has amassed nearly 10 million views, countless parodies and, naturally, more than a few memes. His Internet fame also earned the young self-professed “country boy” a guest spot on the Ellen DeGeneres Show this week.
Penned by Tin Pan Alley songwriters Cliff Friend and Irving Mills, Hank Williams’ version of “Lovesick Blues” was actually released 27 years after the tune first debuted in the 1922 musical Oh, Ernest, sung by mezzo-soprano singer and actress Anna Chandler and titled “I’ve Got the Love-Sick Blues.” The first commercial recording of it, also from 1922, was by vaudeville performer Elsie Clark. In 1925, future Country Music Hall of Fame member, record producer and talent scout Ralph Peer cut four songs by falsetto-singing minstrel performer Emmett Miller for Okeh Records. Miller’s sweet, yodeling style would prove a profound influence on future country legends including Williams, Merle Haggard and George Strait (who had a Top 30 hit with “”Lovesick Blues” in 1992).
For Hank Williams, his version “Lovesick Blues,” was believed to have been influenced heavily by early country singer-songwriter Rex Griffin, whose “Everybody’s Trying to Be My Baby,” would also influence Williams and, later, Carl Perkins and the Beatles. “Lovesick Blues,” which he recorded in two takes, proved to be a huge breakthrough for Williams, who left audiences enthralled with his yodel-heavy version, first at the Louisiana Hayride in Shreveport, then at the Grand Ole Opry, where on June 11th, 1949, the night of his debut, it was among the songs that legend says earned the Alabama native an astounding six encores.
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Williams’ first Number One – and the best-selling record of 1949 – it was perched atop the Billboard chart for a remarkable 16 weeks. Others who would cut it over the ensuing decades included Red Kirk, Sonny James, Sonny Curtis, Hank impersonator Jim Owen, and Strait, all of whom had Billboard entries with it, though none nearly as successful as the Williams record. Curtis also cut “Lovesick Blues” in 1971 with the Crickets, by which time it had already been covered by Patsy Cline, Jerry Lee Lewis, Floyd Cramer and British musician Frank Ifield. (Others who recorded the song include Merle Haggard, Glen Campbell, Don McLean, the trio of Dolly Parton, Loretta Lynn and Tammy Wynette, LeAnn Rimes, Ryan Adams and English jazz musician Jamie Cullum.)
In the wake of the clip of the yodeling phenom Ramsey going viral, Kacey Musgraves posted a short, archival video of herself on social media, dressed in pink cowgirl attire and showcasing her considerable yodeling skills on “I Want to Be a Cowboy’s Sweetheart,” another country classic and one she often performed pre-stardom on the Texas opry circuit. She captioned the clip, “I shoulda just gone to @Walmart. #TBT”