Desert Island Singles: “Lovesick Blues” by Hank Williams and His Drifting Cowboys (1949)

Image from secondhandsongs.com

Image from secondhandsongs.com

This is by far the oldest song I’ve nominated as a Desert Island Disc. The previous record-holder was from 1966.

When I was a snotty know-it-all country music-hating fourteen-year-old, if you had told me that one day I would admire a Hank Williams song this much (or at all), I would have laughed in your face. Funny what a difference forty-some years can make. But this is a remarkable song, which shows the ingenuity of Williams and the timelessness of this song (though it was published the year before Williams was born).

“Lovesick Blues” was written by Irving Mills and Cliff Friend, and published in 1922. It was first performed that year in a musical called “Oh! Ernest.” (I suspect there’s a reason no one has ever heard of the musical “Oh! Ernest.”) It was recorded a few times, most notably in 1925 by blackface minstrel singer Emmet Miller, and in 1939 by country singer Rex Griffin. Williams listened to both versions and started performing it in 1948 on the popular “Louisiana Hayride” radio show. According to radio producer Horace Logan, “the crowd went crazy.”

Williams decided to record the song just before Christmas 1948, over the protests of his band and record producer. Its release was delayed till mid-February 1949, due to some uncertainty over the song’s publishing rights: Williams told his producer that he bought the rights from Griffin. The single sold 50,000 copies in the first two weeks, quite an accomplishment in 1949. It was Williams’ first number-one hit on Billboard’s country-western charts, where it remained for sixteen weeks.

(Turned out that Irving Mills stepped up and claimed he still owned the song. Months later Williams’ managers ironed out an agreement with Mills to share the rights. One wonders if Mills would have bothered to step up if Williams hadn’t scored such a hit.)

“Lovesick Blues” became Williams’ signature song, which he used to close his shows. It also garnered him the stage nickname of “The Lovesick Blues Boy.” On its strength Williams made his debut at the prestigious “Grand Ole Opry” on June 11, 1949, where he became the first performer to receive six encores. He remained with the Opry till 1952. In 2004, “Lovesick Blues” was added to the National Recording Registry by the Library of Congress. It’s been covered by dozens of artists including Patsy Cline, Kitty Wells, Linda Ronstadt, Slim Whitman, Glen Campbell, Merle Haggard, Charley Pride, Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard, and LeAnn Rimes.

With the heartbreak in his masterful delivery and the tight performance of the Lonesome Drifters, Williams turned a cast-off song from a forgotten musical into a classic of country music. A Desert Island Single to be sure.

I got a feelin’ called the blues, oh, Lord
Since my baby said goodbye
Lord, I don’t know what I’ll do
All I do is sit and sigh, oh, Lord

That last long day she said goodbye
Well, Lord, I thought I would cry
She’ll do me, she’ll do you, she’s got that kind of lovin’
Lord, I love to hear her when she calls me sweet daddy

Such a beautiful dream
I hate to think it’s all over
I’ve lost my heart, it seems
I’ve grown so used to you somehow
Well, I’m nobody’s sugar daddy now
And I’m lonesome, I got the lovesick blues

Well, I’m in love, I’m in love, with a beautiful gal
That’s what’s the matter with me
Well, I’m in love, I’m in love, with a beautiful gal
But she don’t care about me

Lord, I tried and I tried to keep her satisfied
But she just wouldn’t stay
So now that she is leavin’
This is all I can say

I got a feelin’ called the blues, oh, Lord
Since my baby said goodbye
Lord, I don’t know what I’ll do
All I do is sit and sigh, oh, Lord

That last long day she said goodbye
Well, Lord, I thought I would cry
She’ll do me, she’ll do you, she’s got that kind of lovin’
Lord, I love to hear her when she calls me sweet daddy

Such a beautiful dream
I hate to think it’s all over
I’ve lost my heart, it seems
I’ve grown so used to you somehow
Lord, I’m nobody’s sugar daddy now
And I’m lonesome, I got the lovesick blues

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One Comment on “Desert Island Singles: “Lovesick Blues” by Hank Williams and His Drifting Cowboys (1949)”

  1. […] “Lovesick Blues” by Hank Williams and His Drifting Cowboys (1949) 8/8/14: “New Slang” by The Shins (2001) 7/29/14: “Too Late” by Shoes (1979) […]


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