Seventy years ago at this moment Americans were waking up and hearing on their radios that Hank Williams had died in the backseat of his car on the way to a show in the early hours of 1 January 1953. There is a saying that the Blues is for Saturday night and Gospel for Sunday morning. What is fascinating about Country is that the sacred and profane are equally embedded in the mix. For no one was this truer than the King of Hillbilly himself. I have been listening to Hank Willams for 40+ years now, and can say that listening again in full middle age brings its own rewards. People grew up faster in the early decades of the twentieth than they do today. In his twenties Williams was singing about work, marriage, death, and salvation. There are no songs here about curfews missed or allowances being taken away.

I don’t romanticize the notion of the artist tragically dying young. Hank Williams left us far too early so much still to say. He was also a husband and a father. Still it is difficult to imagine him adjusting to the changes that took place in Country Music in the years immediately after his death. How he would have reconciled to the Nashville Sound is something we will never know. In a piece David Halberstam wrote for the July 13, 1971 edition of Look magazine, later anthologized in The Hank Williams Reader, the journalist asked, “And what would he be like now [at 47]—bald, pudgy in the middle, his sharp, reedy voice gone mellow, his songs backed by violins, pianos and worse? On the late-night talk shows beamed from New York, and dressed in Continental-cut suits?”

These are all good questions. I would add to these how Hank Williams might have adjusted to the rise of the twelve inch, 33 1/3 long playing record, which was invented in 1948 and only coming into its own at the time he died. Here is one he the Drifting Cowboys recorded for his Mother’s Best Flour radio transcriptions when Hank was still in his full powers.