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Hank Williams - master of country love songs - was born 100 years ago today
Hank Williams was born 100 years ago today.
The singer-songwriter and musician is regarded as one of the most important country music artists of all time. Williams recorded 35 singles (five released posthumously) that would place in the Top 10 of the Billboard Country & Western Best Sellers chart, including eleven that ranked #1.
Born in Mount Olive, Butler County, Alabama, Williams moved to Georgiana, where he met Rufus Payne, a black street performer who gave him guitar lessons in exchange for meals or money. Payne had a major influence on the later musical style of Williams.
After moving to Montgomery, Williams began his career in 1937 when WSFA radio station producers hired him to perform and host a 15-minute program. He formed as his backup the Drifting Cowboys band, which was managed by his mother. He dropped out of school to devote all of his time to his career.
When several of his band members were conscripted to military service during World War II, Williams had trouble with their replacements and started drinking heavily, causing the WSFA radio station to fire him.
Williams eventually married, Audrey Sheppard, who became his manager for nearly a decade. After recording "Never Again" and "Honky Tonkin'" with Sterling Records, he signed a contract with MGM Records.
In 1948, he released, "Move it on Over," which became a hit, and also joined the Louisiana Hayride radio program. In 1949, he released a cover of "Lovesick Blues," which carried him into the mainstream of music.
After an initial rejection, Williams joined the Grand Ole Opry. He had eleven #1 songs between 1948 and 1953, though he was unable to read or notate music to any significant degree. Among the hits he wrote were, "Your Cheatin' Heart," "Hey, Good Lookin'" and "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry."
During his last years, Williams's consumption of alcohol, morphine and other painkillers severely compromised his professional and personal life. He divorced his wife and was fired by the Grand Ole Opry due to frequent drunkenness.
Williams died suddenly in the early morning hours of New Years Day in 1953 at the age of 29 from heart failure brought on by pills and alcohol.
Despite his short life, Williams had a major influence on country music. The songs he wrote and recorded have been covered by numerous artists, many of whom have also had hits with the tunes, in a range of pop, gospel, blues and rock styles.
In 1961, Williams was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame, and he was inducted in the Alabama Music Hall of Fame in 1985. In 1987, he was inducted in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame under the category Early Influence.
He was ranked second in CMT's 40 Greatest Men of Country Music in 2003, behind only Johnny Cash. Hank Williams is ranked first for the decade 1940–1949 for his song, "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry."
Many rock and roll pioneers of the 1950s, such as Elvis Presley, Bob Dylan, Jerry Lee Lewis, Merle Haggard, Gene Vincent, Carl Perkins, Ricky Nelson, Jack Scott and Conway Twitty recorded Williams songs early in their careers.
Here, Hank Williams performs his classic, “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry.”
Hank Williams sings for his son, Hank Williams Jr.
Hank Williams performs “Cold Cold Heart.”
Hank Williams performs "Lost Highway."
Ken Kesey was born 88 years ago today.
Kesey was an author, best known for his novel, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1962), and as a counter-cultural figure who considered himself a link between the Beat Generation of the 1950s and the hippies of the 1960s.
"I was too young to be a beatnik and too old to be a hippie," Kesey said in a 1999 interview with Robert K. Elder.
Born in La Junta, Colorado, to dairy farmers, in 1946 Kesey’s family moved to Springfield, Oregon. He was a champion wrestler in both high school and college in the 174 pound weight division, and he almost qualified to be on the Olympic team until a serious shoulder injury stopped his wrestling career.
Kesey graduated from Springfield High School in 1953. An avid reader and filmgoer, the young Kesey took John Wayne, Edgar Rice Burroughs and Zane Grey as his role models (later naming a son, Zane) and toyed with magic, ventriloquism and hypnotism.
He graduated from the University of Oregon's School of Journalism with a degree in speech and communication in 1957. After a brief sojourn in Los Angeles, he was awarded a Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship in 1958.
Because he lacked the prerequisites to work toward a master's degree in English, he elected to enroll in the creative writing program at Stanford University that fall, where he would develop lifelong friendships with fellow writers Ken Babbs, Larry McMurtry, Wendell Berry, Ed McClanahan, Gurney Norman and Robert Stone.
While at Stanford, Kesey resided on Perry Lane (a historically bohemian enclave adjacent to the university golf course) and clashed with program director, Wallace Stegner.
According to Stone, Stegner "saw Kesey... as a threat to civilization and intellectualism and sobriety" and rejected Kesey's Stegner Fellowship applications for the 1959-60 and 1960-61 terms.
Nevertheless, Kesey received the $2,000 Harper-Saxton Prize for his first novel in progress (the oft-rejected Zoo) and continued to audit the graduate writing seminar through 1960 (taught that year by Frank O'Connor and the more congenial Malcolm Cowley) on a Ford Foundation fellowship granted by Leslie Fiedler as he began the manuscript that would become One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest.
At the instigation of Perry Lane neighbor and Stanford psychology graduate student, Vik Lovell, an acquaintance of Richard Alpert and Allen Ginsberg, Kesey volunteered to take part in a CIA-financed study under the aegis of Project MKULTRA at the Menlo Park Veterans Hospital, where he worked as a night aide.
The project studied the effects of psychoactive drugs, particularly LSD, psilocybin, mescaline, cocaine, aMT and DMT on people. Kesey wrote many detailed accounts of his experiences with these drugs, both during the study and in the years of private experimentation that followed. His role as a medical guinea pig, as well as his stint working at the state veterans' hospital, inspired him to write One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest.
The success of this book, as well as the demolition of the Perry Lane cabins in August, 1963, allowed him to move to a log house at 7940 La Honda Road in La Honda, California, an hour south of San Francisco.
He frequently entertained friends and many others with parties he called "Acid Tests," involving music (such as Kesey's favorite band, The Warlocks, later known as the Grateful Dead), black lights, fluorescent paint, strobes and, of course, LSD.
These parties were noted in some of Ginsberg's poems and are also described in Tom Wolfe's The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, as well as Hell's Angels: The Strange and Terrible Saga of the Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs by Hunter S. Thompson and, Freewheelin Frank, Secretary of the Hell's Angels, by Frank Reynolds.
In 1959, Kesey wrote Zoo, a novel about the beatniks living in the North Beach community of San Francisco, but it was never published. In 1960, he wrote End of Autumn, about a young man who leaves his working-class family after he gets a scholarship to an Ivy League school, also unpublished.
The inspiration for One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest came while working on the night shift (with Gordon Lish) at the Menlo Park Veterans' Hospital. There, Kesey often spent time talking to the patients, sometimes under the influence of the hallucinogenic drugs with which he had volunteered to experiment.
Kesey did not believe that these patients were insane, but rather that society had pushed them out because they did not fit the conventional ideas of how people were supposed to act and behave. Published under the guidance of Cowley in 1962, the novel was an immediate success.
When the publication of his second novel, Sometimes a Great Notion, in 1964, required his presence in New York, Kesey, Neal Cassady and others in a group of friends they called the "Merry Pranksters" took a cross-country trip in a school bus nicknamed, "Furthur."
This trip, described in Tom Wolfe's The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test (and later in Kesey's own screenplay "The Further Inquiry") was the group's attempt to create art out of everyday life.
After the bus trip, the Pranksters threw parties they called Acid Tests around the San Francisco area from 1965 to 1966. Many of the Pranksters lived at Kesey's residence in La Honda.
In New York, Cassady introduced Kesey to Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg, who then turned them on to Timothy Leary. Sometimes a Great Notion was made into a 1971 film starring and directed by Paul Newman. It was nominated for two Academy Awards, and in 1972, was the first film shown by the new television network HBO in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania.
Kesey was arrested for possession of marijuana in 1965. In an attempt to mislead police, he faked suicide by having friends leave his truck on a cliffside road near Eureka, along with an elaborate suicide note, written by the Pranksters.
Kesey fled to Mexico in the back of a friend's car. When he returned to the United States eight months later, Kesey was arrested and sent to the San Mateo County jail in Redwood City, California, for five months where he was introduced to a highly recommended San Francisco lawyer, Richard Potack, who specialized in marijuana cultivation.
On his release, he moved back to the family farm in Pleasant Hill, Oregon, in the Willamette Valley, where he spent the rest of his life. He wrote many articles, books (mostly collections of his articles) and short stories during that time.
In 1984, Kesey's 20-year-old son, Jed, a wrestler for the University of Oregon, was killed on the way to a tournament when the team's bald-tired van crashed. It went off the road in icy conditions and down a 185 foot slope. One team member, Lorenzo West, was killed instantly, and Jed suffered a severe head injury. After two days in the hospital, he was declared brain dead and his parents gave permission for his organs to be harvested.
This deeply affected Kesey, who later said Jed was a victim of conservative, anti-government policy that starved the team of proper funding. There is a memorial dedicated to Jed on the top of Mount Pisgah, near the Keseys' home in Pleasant Hill.
At a Grateful Dead Halloween concert just days after promoter Bill Graham died in a helicopter crash, Kesey appeared on stage in a tuxedo and delivered a eulogy while the Grateful Dead was playing the song "Dark Star," and mentioned that Graham had donated $1,000 for Jed's mountain-top memorial.
In 1994, he toured with members of the Merry Pranksters performing a musical play he wrote about the millennium called Twister: A Ritual Reality.
Many old and new friends and family showed up to support the Pranksters on this tour that took them from Seattle's Bumbershoot, all along the West Coast including a sold out two-night run at The Fillmore in San Francisco to Boulder, Colorado, where they coaxed (or pranked) the Beat Generation poet Allen Ginsberg into performing with them.
Kesey was diagnosed with diabetes in 1992.
In 1997, health problems began to take their toll, starting with a stroke that year. On October 25, 2001, Kesey had surgery on his liver to remove a tumor. He never recovered from the operation and died of complications on November 10, 2001 at age 66.
Here, Kesey talks about LSD.
Bill Black, first bassist for Elvis Presley’s trio, was born on this day 97 years ago.
Also a bandleader, Black began playing the upright bass fiddle, modeling his "slap bass" technique after one of his idols, Fred Maddox, of Maddox Brothers and Rose.
In 1952, Black began playing in clubs and on radio shows with the guitarist Scotty Moore. Along with two other guitarists and a fiddler, they performed country music tunes by Hank Williams and Red Foley in Doug Poindexter's band, the Starlight Wranglers.
In July, 1954, Sam Phillips, owner of Sun Records, asked Black and Moore to play backup for the as-yet-unknown Elvis Presley. Black played slap bass with Moore on the guitar, while Presley played rhythm guitar and sang lead.
Neither musician was overly impressed with Presley, but they agreed a studio session would be useful to explore his potential.
On July 5, 1954, the trio met at Sun studios to rehearse and record a handful of songs. According to Moore, the first song they recorded was "I Love You Because,” but after a few country music songs that weren't impressive, they decided to take a break.
During the break, Presley began "acting the fool" with Arthur Crudup's "That's All Right (Mama)," a blues song. When the other two musicians joined in, Phillips taped the song.
The upbeat sound was original. Black remarked, "Damn. Get that on the radio and they'll run us out of town."
The next day, the group recorded four more songs, including “Blue Moon of Kentucky," by the bluegrass musician Bill Monroe, which he had written and recorded as a slow waltz.
Sources credit Black with initiating the song, with Presley and Moore joining in.
Moore said, "Bill is the one who came up with Blue Moon of Kentucky. We're taking a little break and he starts beating on the bass and singing Blue Moon of Kentucky, mocking Bill Monroe, singing the high falsetto voice. Elvis joins in with him, starts playing and singing along with him ...
"They ended up with a fast version of the song in 4/4 time. After an early take, Phillips can be heard on tape saying, ‘Fine, man. Hell, that’s different — that's a pop song now, nearly ʼbout.’”
Phillips took several acetates of the session to DJ Dewey Phillips (no relation) of Memphis radio station WHBQ's Red, Hot and Blue show. From August 18 through December 8, "Blue Moon of Kentucky" was consistently higher on the charts, and then both sides began to chart across the South.
Black and Moore became Presley's backup group and were paid 25 percent of his earnings. Their recordings at Sun were released with the credits as "Elvis Presley, Scotty and Bill." The group was later billed as "Elvis Presley and the Blue Moon Boys."
Over the next 15 months, the trio released five singles, toured across the South, and appeared regularly on the Louisiana Hayride. They had auditioned for the Grand Ole Opry in October 1954, but failed to impress the people in charge, or the audience, and were not invited back.
In, 1955, Black went to RCA along with Presley. He stayed in the music business his whole life.
After two surgeries and lengthy hospital stays, Black died of a brain tumor on October 21, 1965, at age 39.
Pete Seeger joins the Occupy Wall Street demonstration
Twelve years ago today, hundreds of demonstrators gathered in Lower Manhattan on what would become Occupy Wall Street.
“They held teach-ins, engaged in discussion and debate and waved signs with messages like ‘Democracy Not Corporatization’ or ‘Revoke Corporate Personhood,’” The New York Times reported.
“Organizers, promoters and supporters called the day, which had been widely discussed on Twitter and other social media sites, simply September 17.”
In the coming weeks, the demonstrators would pitch tents in Zuccotti Park the protests would set off a national movement. But that first day, the protesters found themselves stymied. Their target, Wall Street, had been blocked by police barricades by 10 a.m.
Eventually, though, they made it in: “As a chilly darkness descended, a few hundred people realized one of the day’s objectives by setting foot onto Wall Street after a quick march through winding streets, trailed by police scooters.”
Frida Kahlo in the hospital, laying face down, 1946
Photo by Nickolas Muray
On September 17, 1925 — 98 years ago today — Kahlo was riding in a bus that collided with a trolley car. She suffered serious injuries as a result of the accident, including a broken spinal column, a broken collarbone, broken ribs, a broken pelvis, eleven fractures in her right leg, a crushed and dislocated right foot and a dislocated shoulder.
Also, an iron handrail pierced her abdomen and her uterus, compromising her reproductive capacity. The accident left her in a great deal of pain while she spent three months recovering in a full body cast.
Although she recovered from her injuries and eventually regained her ability to walk, she had relapses of extreme pain for the remainder of her life. The pain was intense and often left her confined to a hospital or bedridden for months at a time. She had as many as thirty-five operations as a result of the accident — mainly on her back, her right leg and her right foot.
The injuries also prevented Kahlo from having a child because of the medical complications and permanent damage. Though she conceived three times, all her pregnancies had to be terminated.
Terri Thal’s book launch in Greenwich Village this week
David Johnson, Elba, Alabama, 1996
Photo by Bill Steber
Until his death in 1997, guitarist and harmonica player/folk artist, David Johnson, played Delta-style slide guitar at his home in Elba, Alabama on an old Stella guitar.
Slide guitar technique is thought to have developed from a rudimentary single string African instrument played by sliding a bone or rock the length of the string. In the American South, a similar child's toy called a "diddley bow" often served as the first musical instrument for aspiring young blues players in the Delta.
Mississippi blues artists used the slide as a way to mimic the human voice and have their instrument "talk" back to them in a call-and-response style often associated with the black church.
It's use spread throughout the country with players using everything from broken bottle necks to knives to produce the distinctive, ethereal sound of genuine Delta blues.