Sunday, March 12, 2006 03/14/06-Country Music

In today's excerpt, Hank Williams has yet another falling out with his wife Audrey in 1946, and thus Tony Bennett has his first hit record:

"The song he wrote about this latest unpleasantness with Audrey was called 'Cold, Cold Heart', and the lyrics read like another page torn from Hank's diary..."

For too long, country music had been regarded as the bastard child of American musical forms, unsophisticated wailings from the outback. Even Billboard had been slow in its recognition, first calling it 'hillbilly' music, then 'folk' and only now 'country'. The power of the music's simplicity and its consequent appeal to the common folk was lost on Tin Pan Alley, the brotherhood of tunesmiths in New York City and Chicago, musical sophisticates churning out mindless ditties like 'Mairzy Doats'...

Fred Rose, because he had come out of Tin Pan Alley, knew nobody had ever written lyrics like Hank. Both Rose and (Columbia records producer Mitch) Miller knew there was a universality in Hanks's lyrics that spoke as clearly to a hardware salesman in Georgia as to a stockbroker on Wall Street--'In anger unkind words are said that make the teardrops start'--and so it was that Miller presented Hank's demo of the new song to a promising young pop crooner named Tony Bennett, still looking for his first hit record. 'Oh, no, don't make me do cowboy songs.' Bennett said, but his gussied-up version of 'Cold, Cold Heart' rocketed to the top of the pop charts.

The pop music crowd held to its patronizing mode, a Billboard story being headlined "There's Gold in Them Thar Hillbilly Tunes.' "

Paul Hemphill, Lovesick Blues, Viking, 2005, pp. 128-9


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