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Lovesick Blues: The Life of Hank Williams

3.90  ·  Rating details ·  490 ratings  ·  71 reviews
Hank Williams, the quintessential country music singer and songwriter, died alone in the backseat of his Cadillac on New Year’s Day, 1953. He died much as he had lived: drunk, forlorn, suffering from a birth defect, wondering when the bubble would burst. Having sprouted out of nowhere, like a weed in the wilds of south Alabama, he was gone at the age of twenty-nine.


Hardcover, 207 pages
Published October 25th 2005 by Viking Books (first published September 1st 2005)
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Average rating 3.90  · 
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 ·  490 ratings  ·  71 reviews

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4 stars, and this might be, in part, because even though I grew up with a dad who listened to Classical Music and also folk (the stuff popular in the 1950s and 1960s--my first introduction to the Aussie anthem Walzing Matilida was as sung by Harry Belafonte, for example) and then rebelled to rock--none of my friends listened to country at that time, I have a secret love of some real cowboy music, yodelling and all when done well (and a not-so-secret love of Spirituals and the blues--and I grew u ...more
Taking the backstage tour of the Ryman Auditorium (the Mother Church of Country Music) in Nashville last summer, 2015, I, along with a gaggle of fellow tourists were crowded into the small green room where Johnny Cash, Hank Williams Sr., and countless other legends prepped and relaxed before those storied performances. The little room had a real atmosphere, the kind that even an agnostic might find palpable enough to include the presence of ghosts. The tour guide was a marvelous, chatty, old bir ...more
Jeff Miller
Oct 01, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: auto-biography
I was hoping for a good book on the life of one of the great artists; happily I got so much more.

What makes this book work so well is the author's understanding and personal attachment, not just to Hank, but the world that Hank came from; the waitresses and truck drivers that made up his core audience. He was old enough to have been a fan eagerly awaiting a new song or huddled around the radio to listen to him play the Opry; young enough to have been able to drift away from him and then return,
For me, this was too career oriented. I wanted a more intimate look at Hank Williams. It was all very matter-of-fact. It was interesting, but I find myself wanting to pick up another book about Hank in order to fill in the gaps.
Pete daPixie
In times gone by the early night sky gazers looked at the stars and thought they were distant camp fires, or souls of ancestors. Comets or hairy stars, on the other hand, were not so benign. Flashing, transcient, unpredictable and scary things.
Up in the skies of the planet Poptastic, even more so here in the 21st century, are beset copious twinkling heavenly bodies manufactured in a galaxy of mediocrity. Hank Williams was a blazing comet.
'Lovesick Blues' by Paul Hemphill, published 2005, documen
Corey Murray
Jul 15, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Most of this book's detractors make the same argument - that it's a book that didn't need to be written. After all, Colin Escott already wrote the definitive biography on Hank Williams. What's more, Escott based his book mostly on original research, interviewing virtually everyone who ever knew Hank Williams. Hemphill admittedly based his work mostly on Escott's biography, as well as a few other published sources. But his book is still a worthwhile, shorter, biography of the king of country musi ...more
Donna Davis
Paul Hemphill put in a lot of time and research to write this book. I am not really a true country music fan, but because country music is in part the history of the US working class, it's an important book for me to read (and of course, I love memoirs and biographies in general).

Williams grew up during the Depression. Whereas some who would be music stars gave up a great deal for their shot at fame, Williams had nothing to lose. His father had departed, and his mother was a bully and a user who
Phil Gray
May 18, 2020 rated it really liked it
This was a second reading of this fine book. Hemphill understands the life that Hank Williams led, being the son of a southern truck driver who also played the piano and sang. Our author even almost got to see him perform at the Grand Ole Opry (he cancelled that night), and it is this contemporaneous view that sets the book apart. A great companion piece to Colin Escott's thoroughgoing books on the great man.
Chris Doelle
Apr 04, 2018 rated it really liked it
This was a very interesting book about one of the true legends of music. Read my full review --> ...more
Mar 06, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
A good short biography that hits the points of Williams life and career. Well written by Hemphill with very interesting interaction of his life and William's career.
Darcie Rose
Jun 30, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This was a fun read because I love to know more about musicians. I was shocked by his hectic, sad life. It was an exciting book with so many interesting facts and stories.
Jan 12, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: biography
Very sad life, but gave us some great music. Well told tale. I had a hard time putting it down.
Feb 16, 2020 rated it really liked it
Slim but entertaining account of Hank's life. I would've liked more on Hank's early history, particularly his boyhood.
Vali Benson
Apr 20, 2020 rated it really liked it
Honest, illuminating and tragic. A heartbreaking portrait of the Hillbilly Shakespeare.
Sep 14, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book is not a full biography -- there's no index, no bibliography, no photos, and it's only 207 pages long -- but as a biographical sketch it gave me a good understanding of and feel for Hank Williams's short and tragic life, and a solid appreciation for his seminal place in American musical history. In a 5-year recording career, which ended with his death at age 29, Williams recorded 66 songs, most of which he wrote himself and 37 of which made the Billboard charts. Ten of his songs went t ...more
Rachel Mcclellan
Jan 07, 2014 rated it it was amazing
I choose to read this book because I like country music. Although, I didn't know it would be such a sad story. This story has a lot to do with the beginning of country music. Hank Williams was one of the people who started country music and was even turned away from the Grand Ole Opry. He died at a young age, however his son Hank Williams Junior carries on for all of us today. Hank Williams had a poor up bringing and a rough childhood, along with spina bifida. Due to the pain caused from his bac ...more
Todd Stockslager
Jun 09, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: biography
Short to-the-point biography matches its subject, who started drinking at 13 and didn't stop until he'd drunk himself to death at 29, after a brief career turning out the greatest country music songs then and since. Such a sad mess.

His parents were divorced early, ending a violent relationship dominated by a large angry Lillie Williams, who stage-mothered the young Hiram ("Harm" in the South Alabama dialect, self-renamed Hank as a teenager) when she wasn't berating him for his drinking or ignori
Jun 14, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: owned, music
A short sad book about a short sad life. Hank doesn't come across as a very likeable person in this biography; I suspect there was more to him but this is focused on the trainwreck aspects of his personality. Apparently Hank maintained absolute discipline and confidence only in the recording studio. His producer/collaborator Fred Rose (of Acuff-Rose) had been a player and composer in the 1920s Chicago jazz scene - interesting background for someone who had such an impact on country music. Rose a ...more
Dec 27, 2013 rated it really liked it
Not knowing a great deal of the man or origin of his music it was time to get to know about Hank Williams and I'm glad I chose this book to make the acquaintance. I was initially surprised at how small the book was, but Paul Hemphill was able to pack the full life of this legendary man, spanning the 29 years quite well and credibly. Hemphill's roots are enough to make you believe he was someone the rode along with Hank on his raucous journey through life.

Most from my generation know little about
Apr 24, 2009 rated it really liked it
This is a first rate, fast read, biography of one of the greatest Country Music talents that ever lived. Well told and honest, it's a sad tale. It begs the question that how far Hank Williams could have gone had he not been such a tormented soul. I've gone back and listened to his music with a fresh ear after reading this. There is no doubt that he was a man of immense talent that poured his heart into his music. Hemphill captures many aspects of his life that were previously unknown to me, His ...more
Tony Nielsen
Oct 16, 2011 rated it liked it
This book had the privilege of being my 80th of the year, which means I met my reading goal. Yay.
I've always wanted to know more about Hank Williams, a music legend who looms large in history, a bit like my all-time favouriote Robert Johnson, who also died young. In Hank's case I don't think there's anyone, maybe aside from Chet Baker, who deserves the description "tortured genius" more. Williams literally drank himself to death aged just 28. He left a legacy of songs though that still get regul
Jan 22, 2008 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonphixion
It's truly amazing that Hank's big-time career only lasted a mere 3 years, seven months until he died at the age of 29. He sold 10 million records during a time (early 1950s) where there was no record distribution to speak of, just selling records at shows and to businesses owning jukeboxes.

Paul Hemphill makes comparisons to Hank and Hemingway in the way that they were both minimalists in their writing. It's just that Hemingway was probably more aware of the literary device while Hank just wrot
May 28, 2012 rated it really liked it
This was a really fascinating read on a fella that I didn't know much about prior-- but he certainly casts a long and lasting shadow over country music and the industry in general. He truly is a tragic figure, one that overcame incredible odds to be a wild success. Later, he became the archetype of the showbiz star who lost his moorings and was overcome by that success, leading to his undoing. Hemphill writes in such a way that puts you in the studio, in the backseat, in the honky tonks and livi ...more
East Bay J
Jan 06, 2008 rated it really liked it
Shelves: music-bios
Hank Williams had a rough life, man. His talent for songwriting and his high loansome moan are the most important and lasting legacy of his life and there's ample evidence in his recordings. His life, though, is interesting and tragic and Paul Hemphill has succeeded in giving a consice and fairly intimate introduction to Williams. The triumphs and every tragedy after tragedy are here, up to Williams' cold, lonely death on a West Virginia highway. Lovesick Blues is full of good stories and worth ...more
Feb 10, 2008 marked it as half-read-graveyard
I approached Lovesick Blues like I approached the PBS series "The Rise and Fall of Jack Johnson": I rode along for the rise, and then bowed out before the fall. I didn't know much about Hank Williams, which was an appalling state of affairs as I began writing a dissertation chapter about hillbilly music, so I listened to the first third of the book through my local library's online audio collection. I probably would have finished it, but the days got longer and I began itching for the great outd ...more
Sep 17, 2012 rated it liked it
Shelves: book-club, library
Overall, I liked it. (I hope no one reading this book is unaware that Hank died young, because the author doesn't pull any spoiler punches. Oh, did I ruin that for you? Yep, Hank gave it up at 29.) Also, although I really liked the anecdotal style of most of the book, I think Hemphill has a little trouble doing explanatory bits...there were chunks I had to reread more than once to figure out where in time he was putting us. And, I give him credit for making Hank the complicated figure he was - n ...more
Jul 26, 2007 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Hank Williams fans
I read this book right before Paul Hemphill came to my library to promote this book. The book captures the spirit of Hank--how he grew up in Georgiana and then later made his way to Montgomery. He also pointed out things I hadn't thought about--that back then there were no tour buses or other accoutrements--you just traveled hours and hours in a car. I also liked how Hank's wife wanted to sing but that she had a terrible voice. If you're ever in Montgomery, you should stop by his gravesite.
Sep 23, 2007 rated it really liked it
This is a short biography of Hank Williams (sadly, his life didn't last long enough for a longer biography).

I thought that Hemphill did a great job telling the story of Williams' sad life, but my favorite chapter is the first, in which Hemphill describes a trip he took with his father, who was a trucker. The story of that trip (within which Williams' music played a key role) is quite vivid and evocative.
Nov 26, 2008 rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-in-2008
Talk about an upbeat book to read right before Thanksgiving! This biography of Hank Williams details all the troubles the singer had w/ drink, pills and women as he lived his short life. He wrote some amazing music that Hemphill ties into his lifestyle or personal life w/ all his addictions and behavior. I didn't know much about his upbringing or start out in country music so this was a good introduction to the man and that era of radio/country music and what it was like to be a musician.
David Ward
Lovesick Blues: The Life of Hank Williams by Paul Hemphill (Viking Adult 2005)(780.92). He has been called “The Quintessential Country Singer.” He came roaring out of the wilds of Alabama and was gone at twenty-nine like a barn fire. On New Year’s Eve 1953, he died alone in the back of a Cadillac after having “received medical attention” at the Andrew Johnson Hotel in Knoxville, Tennessee. This bio fits the subject nicely. My rating: 7/10, finished 2006.
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Paul James Hemphill was an American journalist and author who wrote extensively about often-overlooked topics in the Southern United States such as country music, evangelism, football, stock car racing and the blue collar people he met on his journeys around the South.

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