By camilledad58 - email@example.com
Posted November 10, 2007
Howdy Country folks, I was very hurt to learn about Hank passing just few days after he
had announcing his retirement. Hank played his last show October 08,
2007 and I thought he could again those Country Hicks walking
the floor for many shows to come. He passed away peacefully and it
was a quiet end for that fabulous entertainer who brought us the all
time classic song "The Wild Side of Life". That good-looking guy, six-
feet-two inches tall, 180 pounds, with a keen sense of humor and warm
smile will probably bring some "swing" beyond the sunset. Maybe
Porter Wagoner may have let the heaven gates open?
Henry William Thompson was born on September 2, 1925, in Waco, Texas,
from immigrant parents. He grew up idolizing musicians like Jimmie
Rodgers, Gene Autry, the Carter Family, Bob Wills and Vernon Dalhart.
Thompson began playing French harp, winning several amateur contests,
before turning to the guitar after seeing Gene Autry's movies. He
started to work hard on many local talent shows as a teenager and got
his first radio program, when he was still a school student, was on WACO, the
only radio station in Waco. He became a regular on matinee cast
before having a regular spot and identifying himself to listeners
as "Hank The Hired Hand". He had a local morning program for a
grocery store and flour company. He would pick his guitar and sing on
Saturday afternoons for the folks down at the store. During his high
school years, Hank worked evenings and Saturdays in radio repair
shops, where he became fascinated by the study of electronics and
even taught himself Morse Code. Hank graduated from Waco High School
on January 22, 1943 and then he joined the Navy for three years as
Radio Technician and was stationed in San Diego as instructor in
radio. He also became part of an entertainer unit that toured Pacific
bases, West coast camps and the South Pacific. He also took advantage
of training programs and studied electrical engineering in the
University of Texas and Princeton University who made him one of the
country music's better-educated stars.
In 1946, he formed his first band The Brazos Valley Boys and "Whoa
Sailor"/"Swing Wide Your Gate of Love" was released on the small
Globe label followed by "Humpty Dumpty Heart". Then, working for
KWTX in Waco, he recorded "A Lonely Heart Knows" for Bluebonnet
records before, with the help of Hal Horton - a KRLD (Dallas) DJ - he
was able to catch the attention of Tex Ritter who brought the young
singer's name to the Capitol Records officials in 1947. A contract was
settled in October 1947 and Hank and his Brazos Valley Boys brought
them music that included sophisticated, swing-inspired arrangements
but which never lost the swing and stomp favored by those who
plugged dimes into honky-tonk jukeboxes. His strong emphasis on
Western Swing and what we call Honky Tonk Music brought him countless
fans who liked that sound because they could dance to it. Hank has
been one of their leading recording artists from then to 1966.
On "Capitol" was also his friend Merle Travis, a great guitar picker,
who worked on several of his sessions.
Perhaps inspired by the helping hand he received from Ritter after he
heard Wanda Jackson on KLPR, a local radio in Oklahoma City when she
was still in high school. He brought her into his own recording
studio and on stage with the Brazos Valley Boys at the legendary
Trianon Ballroom and on KWTV in Oklahoma City. After "Capitol" turned
her down to be too young, he helped her to have her first record
for "Decca". In Hollywood, she recorded a duet with former Brazos
sidemen Billy Gray on March 24, 1954 and "You Can't Have My Love"
was her first single (Decca 29140). On Aug 24, 1954, she recorded
at Hank Thompson studio: another duet with Billy covering the classic Jimmy
Lee Fautheree and Johnny Mathis song "If You Don't, Somebody Else
Will" soon issued on "Decca 29267". Billy Gray fronted Hank's band
for years except for a brief period when he decided to go out on his
own with Hank's blessing. Wanda said about Hank "I am forever
grateful for this talented, charming, and intelligent role model that
I had. Even now, each time i work with him, I realize I'm still
learning things from this wonderful man". Quite a compliment by that
great artist! Hank also discovered Jean Shepherd and helped set up
her record deal at Capitol where she secured a big hit dueting with
Ferlin Huskey on "A Dear John Letter".
Hank did not have the pleasure to see Wanda Jackson inducted to the
Rock and Roll Hall of Fame from Cleveland 'cause she missed, once
again, the final ballot by two votes in September 07. Anyway, Hank
will stay as the man who discovered the rockin' gal with the nasty
voice who can't be stopped when she start erupting. He brought
to "Capitol" a great rockin' female voice and even tried himself his
hands to Rock'n'Roll, in 1958, with "Rockin' in the Congo". Still a
favourite one in rockin' socks hop and ballroom floors worldwide.
Hank's first major hit for Capitol was the nursery rhyme
influenced "Humpty Dumpty Heart" in 1949 followed by his all-time
great "The Wild Side of Life", written by J.D Miller from Louisiana
in 1952. That song inspired an answer song in the form of "It Wasn't
God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels" recorded by Kitty Wells for "Decca"
records. It became the first number one song by a female in Country
Music and a million seller. Hank wasn't really that excited about
that song, first recorded by Jimmie Heap and the Melody masters, who
came out as the B side of the single. Like it happened often, the
disc jockeys turned it over and it became a smash hit. Among his
great waxings are "Whoa Sailor", "Swing Wide the Gate of Love", "Give
a Little, Take a Little", "A Six Pack to Go", "Wake Up Irene" (a
answer song to songster Leadbelly's "Goodnite Irene"), "The New green
Light", "Rub-a-Dub Dub", "Oklahoma Hills" or "Honky Tonk Girl".
Hank was a great outdoor man and liked squirrel hunting and deep sea
fishing. Another of his hobbies in the 50's was his large collection
of beautiful authentic Western Suits and shirt - many from his own
designs - that helped to establish him as one of the most colourful
and best-dresses men in the Western music field before Webb
Pierce or Porter Wagoner.
He recorded twenty one songs that reached the Top Twenty on the
sold over sixty million records during his career. Thompson became
the first Country entertainer to record in seven different decades
and was elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1989. He was
also the first to record a live album "Live at the Golden Nugget in
Las Vegas" in 1960 and the first to broadcast his television show for
in color. Hank also became the first entertainer to take Western
Swing into the domain of fashionable ballrooms in New York or St.
Paul or leading amusement parks like the New Lagoon in Salt Lake City
in 1959. His band was voted No. 1 Country and Western Band for
fourteen consecutive years in the 50's and 60's.
As result of his
thousands dollars spending in perfecting and presenting his "Brazos
Valley Boys" they were one of the greatest Country & Western aggregations
since the 50's. A good band would enable him to offer the people, as
well as the promoters, a double bill featuring a solo artist know by
his recording plus a top western dance band. Hank had always
encouraged them to be inovative and to raise a different sound from
the very popular Bob Wills one. In the 90's, "The Brazos Valley Boys"
used to back Tommy Horton, Johnny Horton's son, on various stage
shows across Texas. They are still a Top band today.
Hank had probably sold over 60 million records and his recordings had
been on "Best Seller", "Most Played On Juke Boxes" and "Most Played
By Disc Jockeys" charts for decades. He won himself many awards as
artist, band leader, songs writer or music publisher.
Country music world suffer here a severe lost once again and, I bet
my Blue Suede Shoes, that there will be many tears in beers tonight.
Hey, Mister Bartender!
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