Hank Williams’ Five Most Haunting Performances
Hank Williams was only 29 when he died in the backseat of a Cadillac while on the way to a gig in West Virginia on January 1st, 1953. In essentially a little less than 10 years, Williams provided country music with its definitive voice, thanks to songs like his first Number One “Lovesick Blues,” “Why Don’t You Love Me,” and “Cold, Cold Heart.” While his sound and styling may have fallen out of fashion in the slick, glitzy world of contemporary country, he is still regarded as an undeniable influence because of his honest writing and rock-star-like existence. Here are five of his most haunting performances.
“I’ll Never Get Out of This World Alive” (1952)
Released in 1952, this cleverly titled single would prove to be tragically prescient: Williams died the following year. The song hit Number One after his death, and has come to define the singer’s doomed fate. In the throes of his drinking at the time he recorded the song, Williams’ vocal on the track still stands among his finest.
“(I Heard That) Lonesome Whistle” (1951)
Listen to the way Williams stretches out “lo-o-onesome” in this 1951 single — like the titular whistle losing steam in the distance. The sound is so stark, so unsettling, that it’s easy to feel exactly what Williams was getting at in the performance: simple heartbreak. Which is why in an essay for Rolling Stone‘s 100 Greatest Artists, Beck wrote, “Hank Williams songs like ‘Lonesome Whistle’ and ‘Your Cheatin’ Heart’ are wonderful to sing because there is no bullshit in them.”
“Moanin’ the Blues” (1950)
Much like he does in “Lonesome Whistle,” Williams lets his voice off the leash in the chorus to this more up-tempo weeper. The story’s the same: woman leaves, man gets the blues. But in this 1950 Number One, Williams doesn’t just express regret — he also offers a warning to other guys to treat their lady right. Or woe unto them.
“On the Banks of the Old Pontchartrain” (1947)
Released at the beginning of Williams’ recording career, in 1947, this lament tells the tale of a convict on the lam who meets what, in another life, could have been his soulmate. Forever on the run, like the narrator in Haggard‘s “I’m a Lonesome Fugitive” 20 years later, Williams can only leave the “fairest young maiden that [he] ever saw” behind. Without even saying goodbye.
“Lovesick Blues” (1949)
Williams’ first-ever Number One single is also the Alabama native at his most quavering. With a vocal performance that rises and falls like the wind whistling through a canyon, “Lovesick Blues” is not only one of the saddest songs in the Williams canon, but in all of country music.