By James Calemine
“In the great book of John
You’re warned of the day
When you’ll be laid
Beneath the cold clay…”
“Angel of Death”
Thinking of my friend Paul Hemphill (a subject in Insured Beyond The Grave) who wrote a book about Hank Williams, I picked up a book off my shelf called Hank Williams Snapshots From The Lost Highway. With a preface written by Marty Stuart, introduction written by Rick Bragg, many unseen photographs, Hank’s handwritten lyrics, letters and an interwoven text to bind the photos, this collection ranks as an essential for any music fan. The book traces Hank’s earliest years, his ascent in country music and his inimitable funeral.
Hank’s funeral drew the biggest crowd in Montgomery since the fall of the Confederacy. Hank earned a large following among the African-American community and many turned out for his funeral, which this book documents. The photos bring heart-rending images of friends, family, fans and well-known musicians paying their respects to the King of Country music.
Since Hank’s love of black gospel music was well known among his friends, the black gospel group–the Southwind Singers–performed at his funeral, something unheard of among whites in Montgomery during that time. Even a photo of Hank’s hip cowboy boots standing by themselves evoke one sad image. He wore those boots when he died. At the end of the book is a song appendix which illustrates Hank’s unrecorded songs since some of his handwriting proved difficult to read.
A photograph preserves a sheet of paper with Hank’s hand-written lyrics of his last song found on the floor in the backseat of the sky blue Cadillac where Hank died. The book pays for itself once you hold it in your hands…