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Texas | Music

Hank Williams and Patsy Cline
Still Mean A Lot

by Dorothy Hamm
Although tragedies ten years apart ended the young lives of Hank Williams in 1953 at age 29 and Patsy Cline in 1963 at age 30, they continue today as two of country music's best loved and most enduring stars.

A record label representative said Williams is still one of their most active catalogue artists, with sales averaging about 250,000 units a year. When a ten CD boxed set retailing for almost $200 was released in 1998, it sold 10,000 units the first week.

Meanwhile Cline's "Greatest Hits" album has acquired platinum status times eight. The Amusement & Music Operators Association named "Crazy" (written by Hillsboro, Texas' native son Willie Nelson) as the most popular jukebox single of all time. Another Cline hit, "I Fall To Pieces" placed seventeenth on the list.

Beauty pageant contestants at state and national levels have scored in the talent category by performing songs made famous by Cline, which is interesting when one considers that not so long ago "country" songs were not acceptable in that arena.

About a decade ago, Life Magazine's list of the 100 Most Important People in Country Music placed Hank Williams in the number one position. It would be hard to find a country music fan past a certain age who would disagree.

Elvis sang "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry," calling it "the loneliest song in the world."

Singer, songwriter, and actor, Kris Kristofferson, was an athlete, Golden Gloves boxer, helicopter pilot and Rhodes Scholar, who studied English literature in the land from whence it came, England. In terms of formal education, Kristofferson, who turned down an appointment to teach at West Point Military Academy, and Williams, who left school at a very young age to shine shoes and sell newspapers in Depression era Alabama, are about as far apart as two men could be. But Kristofferson has put the name of Hank Williams along with that of William Shakespeare when asked who his writing heroes are.

Another great songwriter, Bob McDill, wrote: "Those Williams boys still mean a lot to me -- Hank and Tennessee," giving equal status to Williams, the "hillbilly" singer/ songwriter, and Tennessee Williams, the New York City playwright.


What is it that makes Williams and Cline "still mean a lot" to so many people?

"The music business.. serves (or should serve) the emotional needs of the public. It's not about great arrangements, great productions, great voices, etc., although they are nice. It's all about emotion. Their music reaches people on an emotional level."...Sam Atchely, music business promoter and co-writer of the Mel Tillis hit, "Coca Cola Cowboy."

"Their music was simple, straight forward and from their heart."...Johnnie High, producer, Country Music Review, said.

"She was unique," said Jay Warner by phone from Los Angeles, California speaking of Cline. Warner is a six-time Grammy winning music publisher and author, who wrote the liner notes for Cline's "Duets" album.

"What she did was audio art. She was a forerunner, a pioneer, of today's music. As a child she was hospitalized with rheumatic fever and she emerged from her illness with a voice that could knock down walls. She took it as a sign from God that this was a gift she'd been given and she was going to use it.

"In the case of a star who dies at an early age, sentiment sometimes causes interest but as George Hamilton (IV) has said, 'If Patsy had lived she would have been an even bigger star today than she is now,' "

Warner noted that Cline was ahead of her time musically, taking a small market style of music and crossing over into the broader pop field.

"New singers continue to emulate her and sing her songs because they want to be the next generation Patsy Cline. That's the best compliment a performer can get," he said.

Homesick Texan who created patsified.com, a website dedicated to Cline, said she was not a fan of country music until she saw "Sweet Dreams," the movie based on Cline's life. After which, she became, in her words, "Patsified."

"Patsy...appeals to the "teenage angst" that lies within some of us, long after our teenage years have gone. Her vocals sound bruised...loaded with pain and feeling. You listen to her and she's crying out all of your pain for you; she understands it because she lived it. It's raw, not "processed" the way so many of today's polished studio recordings are. And somehow, the hurt acts as a healer (for you)...She gave herself so completely in her songs...she was always very accessible to her fans, and we Patsifans cling to that memory and cherish it, even though 99% of us never had the chance to meet her or even to attend one of her concerts.. the plane crash served as a sort of "exclamation point" ending to her amazing life story...gal had the voice of an angel."


Bill Mack, country music loyalist and CMA Hall of Fame disc jockey, faithful radio companion of truckers and other night workers for decades, now riding the airwaves as the Satellite Cowboy on XM Radio, told me he was not always a country music fan. He once preferred the smooth pop sounds of singers like Bing Crosby. Then, at a vulnerable moment in his life, one song changed everything.

"...Hank. He was my idol ... my reason for getting into country music, Bill said.

I heard "Mansion On The Hill" while driving home after a split with my girl friend and my taste in music did a complete change. Unfortunately, I never met Hank. Talked with him by phone (woke him up at 4:00 am one time and he informed me of his personal feeling pertaining to my call). I admired him so very much and still believe he set the standard pattern for our music."

In a strange sequence of events, Cline also played an important, though unusual, role in Mack's life. He wrote a song he thought was right for her singing style. But he never had a chance to play it for her. Three decades later, the song, "Blue," would launch the career of LeAnn Rimes.

"Patsy was very special to me," Mack reminisced.

"I saw her at the Nashville airport just a few weeks before her death in the plane crash. She was sitting alone, near a window, reading a newspaper. It was around 7:00 am. I said, "Good morning, Patsy" and she said, "Good morning, Bill. What 'n hell are you doin' here this morning?" I asked her what she was doing and she said, "Waitin' to catch another one of those damned old planes."

A lot of good artists are just entertainers. And most of the time, that is good enough. You pay your money, have a few laughs then go on your way, ready to face another day. But there are some people who touch your heart and soul where even your friends and family often cannot reach. Somehow their pain becomes your pain; your pain becomes theirs, in a bond that transcends the boundaries of time, space and culture. Both Patsy Cline and Hank Williams had the talent and ability to do that when they were alive. More than four decades after their death, they still do.


Dorothy Hamm
"Words and Music" Column
May 6, 2006 column
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