Hank Williams Sr. tribute artist carries on “Father of Country Music” tradition
Yours Truly is no music critic, having a tin ear, unable to distinguish between the keys on the musical scale.
But I know what I like and the Jason Petty tribute show for the great country singer Hank Williams Sr. was one of the best shows I’ve ever seen at the Cultural Centre.
Petty has been performing the Hank Williams songs and narration for 22 years since the Grand Ole Opry picked him to continue the Hank Williams tradition. His knowledge of Williams came from close association with family and friends of the prolific singer/ songwriter who gave us over 400 songs in his brief career.
While Williams influenced other great country singers and turned what was called hillbilly folk music into the country music genre, a black man taught the eight-year-old to play the guitar, how to perform and write songs.
He told Williams to sing to his audience, engage them, not to sing at them. And he urged Williams to write songs about what he knew because an audience can spot a fake song from miles away. A thirteen-year-old Williams started playing in Alabama honky-tonks with his mother as chauffeur and body guard.
The honky-tonks were rough places. Wire fences sometimes protected the bands from flying bottles during fist fights.
The talented Williams took to drinking too much, appearing late or not at all, some nights.
Once he met the love of his life, she weaned him from the bottle and sought a record contract in Nashville.
Three times she pounded on doors of all the recording companies. Nobody would touch him, because of his reputation as a drunk. Finally, producer Fred Rose gave him an audition.
Not believing Williams wrote the cool songs he had, Rose gave him an idea about a man walking on the street and encountering his lost love. Fifteen minutes later Williams had written the hit song – I Can’t Help It If I’m Still In Love With You. He was signed on the spot.
Williams entertained across North America and Europe with countless hits. He was dubbed the “Father of Country Music,” as he made the hillbilly folk bal- lad style popular.
His wife, a wannabe singer, grew restless. To respond he wrote the hit, Your Cheatin’ Heart. It wasn’t a hit with her.
A 1952 back operation that went awry addicted him to the painkiller morphine. The lovesick singer mixed alcohol with morphine going into a downward tailspin
His wife left him. In 1953, drugs and alcohol took a toll with a fatal heart attack.
When the tribute show was over, Petty mingled with fans for selfies.
He recalled how the late Little Jimmie Dickens told him he was the last of that line of singers and that Petty needed to carry on the tradition.
A fan asked Petty what he thinks of today’s country music.
“I turned my radio off country music in the early 2000s,” he replied. “I respect Taylor Swift and that music; it makes a lot of money. It’s not my music.” Hank Williams Sr. fans can listen to dozens of his early radio shows online. Just search YouTube for Mother’s Best Flour Shows.