Monday, April 13, 2009

Brian Turpen on new Hank Williams Gospel Keepsakes

It's gives Saguaro great pleasure that there's so many fantastic Hank fans out there. That's why we're fortunate enough to have Hank researcher Brian Turpen write blog entries upon Hank. Below is an exclusive feature on the latest Gospel Keepsakes record which came out last week. You can pick it up at Amazon or Walmart. Gospel Keepsakes is a follow up to the box set featuring 54 previously unreleased recordings.

Hank Williams - Gospel Keepsakes
By Brian Turpen

When the name of “Hank” is spoken in country music circles, nearly everyone immediately thinks of the legend, Hank Williams Sr. There is absolutely no denying his immortal stature. And when thinking of Hank, the vast majority of the average country music fans will recall his many successful popular tunes. Most may not know or realize the actual importance that gospel music played in both Hank’s life and career. In fact, most scholars would agree that it was gospel music that first sparked Hank’s interest in music.

In the Deep South during Hank’s youth, many were deeply tied to religious lifestyles, with their first music experiences being gospel. That is exactly where Hank’s first taste of music came from. His first and fondest memories were that of a very young boy enthusiastically singing gospel hymns while his mother Lillie played organ at the Mount Olive West Baptist Church. Years later in a rare interview with Jazz journalist Ralph J. Gleason of the San Francisco Chronicle Hank stated, “My earliest memory is sittin’ on that organ stool by her and hollerin’. I must gave been five, six years old and louder’n anybody else.”

Lillie encouraged Hank’s interest in singing. In the midst of the depression, as a single parent, she scraped together a few dollars and for two years straight she sent him to a Gospel shape-note singing school at the Oak Grove Methodist Church in Avant, Alabama.

Black church music also entered his young life too, as he could hear their music from his Georgiana home. Hank is said to have once commented to a boyhood friend while listening to the black church singing, “One day, I’m gonna write songs like that.”

The hymns Hank learned and heard colored his approach to music as nothing else ever would and those experiences would help shape Hank’s musical career. There is little question that Hank developed an early understanding and enthusiasm for gospel music, which was huge part of the background of his earliest days. The old hymns helped to teach him what he would need to know about writing and performing music. The melodies should be simple and the words plain spoken. Hank also learned how to express sincere feelings and to sing them as if salvation rested upon it. He came to appreciate the warm feeling components of a spiritual song. Gospel music would remain with Hank throughout his life.

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