Wednesday, September 14, 2005


VLADIMIR: Then the two of them must have been damned. ESTRAGON: And why not?

Hank Williams, I’ll Never Get Out of This World Alive.
Lefty Frizzell, I’m an Old, Old Man (Tryin’ to Live While I Can).

The end, when it came, was ridiculously legendary. Sitting in the back seat of his baby blue Cadillac, a bottle of whiskey by his side, Hank Williams died either on New Year’s Eve 1952 or in the early hours of 1953. Before he had left his hotel in Knoxville, Tennessee, Williams had been shot up full of vitamin B12 and morphine; when his teenage driver Charles Carr stopped for gas in Oak Hill, West Virginia, Williams was already dead.

(The true cause and time of his death remains still a conjecture; some speculate he may have been dying when the porters carried Williams into his car in Knoxville.) Williams' last single released during his life was “I'll Never Get Of This World Alive," recorded in June '52. Find it here.

Williams’ death removed the center of country music, which no one in the years to come could quite replace. You can speculate what would have happened had Williams lived – would he have gone towards rockabilly, trying to get a piece of what Elvis Presley was making? Or would he have entrenched in Nashville, making soporific professional "country pop" records like many of his contemporaries would do? Perhaps he would’ve made some squirrelly novelty records, themes for television shows. Or just fully adopt his "Luke the Drifter" persona and travel around playing revivals or county fairs. At each show someone in the audience would recognize his face--as the years went on, they would be unable to place his name.

There was an heir apparent. When Lefty Frizzell and Hank Williams toured together, they would flip a coin each night to see who went on first. Frizzell seemed ready for fame--since 1950, he had begun pumping out hits: “If You’ve Got the Money, I’ve Got the Time”, “I Love You a Thousand Ways”, “Always Late With Your Kisses”. He would buy a Cadillac, drive it until it ran out of oil, and then buy another one. He had an unmistakable voice, inspired by Jimmie Rodgers but flavored with his own stylings (“I get tired of holding high notes for a long time. Instead of straining, I just let it roll down, and it feels good to me,” Frizzell once said).

Yet when Williams died, Frizzell began falling apart— too much booze and pills, some disastrous career moves. By 1954 the hits had stopped, and when Frizzell died of a cerebral hemorrhage in 1975, it marked the end of a brilliant but ultimately unfulfilled career.

“I’m an Old Old Man”, recorded on October 7, 1952, shows Frizzell already accepting premature fatality. On this compilation.

At long last, 1952 is ending. One big last post coming end of week or early next.

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