Rewinding the Country Charts: In 1949, 'Lovesick Blues' Became Hank Williams' First No. 1

Hank Williams
Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Hank Williams poses for a portrait behind a WSM microphone in circa 1948 in Nashville, Tenn. 

His first Billboard leader, the song helped send Williams to icon status.

On May 7, 1949, Hank Williams' "Lovesick Blues" became his first hit, topping the Billboard country chart then-named Best Selling Retail Folk Records. The song would reign for 16 weeks.

Williams first picked up a guitar at age 8 and by his early teens had formed his band, The Drifting Cowboys. He innovated country music with his blend of blues, folk and the church music on which he grew up, as well as Appalachian-styled yodeling. Surely informing his sonic mix, he learned guitar from an African-American street musician named Rufus Payne.

Written by Cliff Friend and Ernest Mills and premiered in the 1922 musical Oh, Ernest!, "Blues" was later performed by Williams on famed radio (and subsequently, TV) country music show Louisiana Hayride, based at KWKH Shreveport, La. After enthusiastic response, he recorded it with producer Fred Rose.

Released on MGM Records, Williams' version of "Lovesick" won this Billboard review: "Hank's razz-mah-tazz approach and ear-catching yodeling should keep this side spinning."

Williams struggled with alcohol and drug abuse and died Jan. 1, 1953, at only age 29. He charted 11 No. 1s on Billboard country song charts, including four posthumously. In 1987, he received the Grammy Awards' Lifetime Achievement Award and was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Williams' musical legacy has been carried forward by son Hank Williams Jr. (who's charted more than a hundred country hits), granddaughter Holly Williams and grandson Hank Williams lll. Meanwhile, "Blues" has lived on, aided by multiple covers, including George Strait's, which hit No. 24 on Hot Country Songs in 1992. (The original also makes cameos in the movies Forrest Gump and The Shawshank Redemption, among others.)

Just recently, on March 26, the Williams biopic I Saw the Light was released, starring Tom Hiddleston as the late legend.


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