Like Rheta Grimsley Johnson, I wasn’t there for Hank Williams. Unlike the eloquent Mrs. Johnson, I was one of the later boomers for whom Hank was seemingly a peripheral phenomenon; one who was best forgotten amid the hip life in the mid Sixties. It took me years to figure out Hank William’s songs have never been peripheral to someone from the South. She reminded me of a circle of memories that began when I was five; listening to my grandmother’s small, reedy voice as she sang along with,”So Lonesome I Could Cry”, and end with the realization found somewhere in the middle of my life that Hank’s music was the soul of hard-packed rural life. And I have B. J Thomas’ rendition of Hank’s masterpiece to thank for it.
Please keep in mind, it was in 1968 when Thomas’ recording of, “So Lonesome I Could Cry” hit the charts. Yes, if you’re under the age of 50, I’m sure you’ve heard how pop music made little distinction between rock, folk, soul and all the other categories into which music is now so neatly placed. But there were distinctions nontheless: B. J. Thomas’ interpretation of Hank Williams iconic musical poem had a sweet, wistful soul in 3/4 time. Hank’s rendition? Ah, there’s the difference; the lesson it took me a couple of decades of life experience to learn. Hank’s music was the unsentimental pain of rock-hard rural life. Hank cried standing on his feet, without tears. He took his misery straight, no chaser.
The publicity on Hank Hung The Moon calls the book ,”More a musical memoir than a biography.”, and it is. However, her memories of music during the 50s and 60s is much more than her own personal experience. For those of us who lived in the South during this time, the book is pure evocation.
Rheta Grimsley Johnson will be signing Hank Hung The Moon at Booksellers At Laurelwood on Tuesday, June 19th, starting a 6:00 p.m.