Hank Williams: Snapshots from the Lost Highway

By Colin Escott; Kira Florita | Go to book overview

PREFACE BY MARTY STUART

Gary Walker owns a vintage record store in Nashville, Tennessee. One day he called to ask me if the name Irene Williams Smith meant anything to me. When I said no, he said, "She heard the song you wrote about Hank Williams, 'Me & Hank & Jumping Jack Flash,' and wants to talk to you about it...she's Hank's sister." Gary had recently met Irene at an event in Texas honoring Lefty Frizell. Moved by the aura of history surrounding her and what she had to say about it, he urged me to call her. I did...and it was life changing. On that call, we talked about my song, the weather, her childhood, and her brother, whom she referred to as Hiram, his given name. As we were about to hang up I asked where she lived. When she told me that she lived in a suburb of Dallas, I told her about an upcoming concert I was going to be playing at Texas Stadium. I invited her to come and she accepted.

When the day of the concert arrived, I sent for her. Gary Walker had flown in from Nashville to join me, and after the show we offered to take her to dinner. She said she wanted a taco and asked if I knew of any Mexican restaurants with Chinese maître d's. When I said no, she laughed and said, "I do, and you need to meet this maître d', because he likes my brother's songs." Then she added, "It's a strange place...you might like it."

When we arrived at the restaurant, the maitre d' asked Irene if I was a friend of hers. She replied, "He's a friend of my brother." It was a disarming statement, and I knew instantly that she was checking my heart, scanning my soul, and searching for any unfit motives. "My experience," she said after we were seated, "is that our family has been taken advantage of in every way imaginable. I don't trust this world or the things of it. I live in my own world, and I'm careful with whom I share my thoughts." I knew this wasn't a time for words. It was a matter of waiting on the truth to reveal itself. As Tom Petty so eloquently put it, "The waiting is the hardest part." I dreaded her truth. As a matter of fact, it scared the hell out of me. I didn't have anything to hide, but I sensed that Irene had something she was holding until she had made up her mind as to whether or not she could trust me with it.

As we ate in silence, I found myself on trial. I knew if she found me unsuitable I could simply pay the check, go to the hotel, and call it a day. It seemed to be the easiest way out, and I was beginning to favor it. However, I sensed that if she found what she was looking for in me, a door that had been locked for many years would be opened to me. It had a powerful presence around it. I couldn't tell if it was from Heaven or Hell. And I didn't know if I was ready for what was on the other side of it. I only knew I was caught up in it.

After a while, she finally broke her silence by asking, "Would you like to come to my house and see some of my brother's things?" "I think so," I said. So Gary and I took her to a Spanish neighborhood outside of Dallas where she lived in a small duplex. When we got out of the car, I heard a gunshot a couple of streets over. Without even looking up, she said, "Meet the neighbors." Walking to the porch of her duplex, I realized that the door I'd sensed in the restaurant was now right in front of me. It had steel bars on it just like the ones on her windows, and in front of it, hanging down from the porch ceiling, was a naked light bulb. I stopped for a moment and stared at it. I remember thinking that Hank's song "I Saw the Light" was about to take on a whole new meaning for me.

Once inside, Gary and I were invited to sit at her table. She walked over, took my hand, and said, "The things that I want to share with you are all I have left of my life with my family. You must understand that my brother is not Hank Williams—not to me. His name is Hiram; my mother's name is Lillian. I feel safe inviting you to our family dinner table. However, you must approach it with respect. Under those terms you are welcome."

For the next four or five hours she brought out hats, ties, suits, boxes, and albums of photographs, all of which the world had never seen. From time to time she would say, "I can't remember where I put it, but there's something I want you to hold." Then she would rifle through a pile of papers and say, "Oh, here it is," handing me objects like the manuscript of Hank's "Cold, Cold Heart" or a letter he sent to his mother from Handley, Texas. There was his birth certificate, his death certificate, and an identification badge from when he was employed at a southern Alabama shipyard. There was a letter from Dr. Toby Marshall begging Lillian's forgiveness in any part that he might have played in her son's death. ☞

-15-

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Hank Williams: Snapshots from the Lost Highway
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Hank Williams - Snapshots from the Lost Highway *
  • Contents *
  • Acknowledgments 11
  • Foreword 13
  • Preface 15
  • Introduction 17
  • 1 - I Wish I Had a Dad... 21
  • 2 - The Wap Blues 33
  • 3 - This Ain't No Place for Me 45
  • 4 - The 'Lovesick Blues' Boy: Spring 1948—spring 1949 63
  • 5 - Hilbilly Hits the Jackpot: Nashville, 1949-1951 89
  • 6 - I'm So Tired of It All: January—june 1952 145
  • 7 - Then Came That Fatal Day: June—december 1952 157
  • 8 - The Funeral 175
  • 9 - Aftermath 187
  • Credits 207
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