March 22, 1958 Keep the Change

For the media, the business model depends on renting an audience to a sponsor.  Nothing sells like “controversy” and they were going to squeeze this one, for all it was worth.  Even if they were the ones who started it, in the first place. 

Randall Hank Williams was born May 26, 1949 in Shreveport, Louisiana, son of the country singer/songwriter, Hiram King “Hank” Williams.

The elder Williams has been described as “One of the most significant and influential American singers and songwriters of the 20th century”.  Impressive for a man who could neither read nor notate music and died, never having reached the age of 30.

hank-williams-sr-and-jr_thumbDad called the younger Williams “Bocephus” after the ventriloquist’s dummy used by Grand Ole Opry comedian Rod Brasfield.

Hank Williams climbed into the back seat of his powder blue Cadillac on New Years’ Day, 1953.  College student Charles Carr was at the wheel.

A lifelong victim of drug and alcohol abuse, the singer/songwriter was Liquored up as usual and abusing morphine, the pair heading west from a hotel room in West Virginia, to a concert venue in Ohio.

Carr became concerned when things got quiet back there – too quiet – and pulled over at 5:30 in the morning.  Hank Williams was pronounced dead, a short time later.  He was 29.  All  police found in that Cadillac, were empty beer cans and handwritten, unfinished song lyrics.

For little Bocephus, the apple didn’t fall far from the musical tree.  The younger Williams was raised by his mother Audrey, who encouraged the boy to copy his father’s dress and musical style. “Hank Williams Jr.” made his stage debut in Swainsboro Georgia on March 22, 1958.   He was eight years old.

Some of the top musicians, singers and songwriters of the era came to visit the family: Johnny Cash, Fats Domino, Earl Scruggs, and Jerry Lee Lewis, to name a few.  Each taught Bocephus a little of their favorite instruments, and musical styles.

BocephusWilliams was nearly killed in 1975, while climbing Ajax Peak in Montana. The snow collapsed beneath him, plunging him near-500 feet to the rocks below. There were multiple skull and facial fractures. Williams required several reconstructive surgeries, and had to learn to talk, and sing, all over again. The signature look of beard, sunglasses and cowboy hat have all become part of his brand, but it all began to hide the dreadful scars of that mountain climbing accident.

Bocephus’ work in the 1960s and ’70s earned him a string of country music hits, but he wanted to be more than just a “Hank Williams impersonator”.

A prodigiously talented musician in his own right, Williams’ repertoire includes guitar, bass guitar, upright bass, steel guitar, banjo, dobro, piano, keyboards, harmonica, fiddle, and drums.

The country music establishment was slow to accept the new sound, but Hank Williams Jr. would not be denied. Sometimes recording and releasing two albums a year, Williams released 21 albums between 1979 and 1990, all certified “gold” by the Recording Industry Association of America. There were 44 Top Ten singles on the Billboard Country charts, including 10 No. 1 singles over the course of his career.

“Directed by John Goodhue, the music video for the song features artists such as George Jones driving a riding mower; Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings playing poker; Little Jimmy Dickens and Paul Williams carrying a keg of beer; Cheech and Chong stumbling out of a smoke-filled limousine; William Lee Golden (of The Oak Ridge Boys) hitchhiking; Duane Allen (The Oak Ridge Boys) as a chauffer; and George Thorogood and the Delaware Destroyers entertaining other celebrities like Mel Tillis, Kris Kristofferson, Grandpa Jones, Porter Wagoner, Jim Varney, at Hank Jr.’s “party pad out in the woods.” At the end of the video, a ghostly Cadillac flies into the night sky, referencing the fact that his father, Hank Williams, Sr., died while riding in a Cadillac”. – H/T Wikipedia

In 1982, Bocephus had nine albums on the Billboard Top Country Albums chart, all at the same time.

For decades, every sports fan knew.  When “All My Rowdy Friends Are Coming Over Tonight” came over the television, it was time for Monday night Football.

In an October 2011 interview with Fox News’ “Fox & Friends”, Williams described a June golf match between then-President Barack Obama and Speaker John Boehner as “one of the biggest political mistakes ever”. Asked to explain, Williams said, “Come on. That’d be like Hitler playing golf with Netanyahu … in the shape this country is in?”

The media outrage machine cranked and sputtered to life.  First Amendment be damned, such language would not do.  First to go was the distinction, between metaphor and literal fact.  ESPN pulled the song three days later.  It was the first Monday night game, of the season.

Williams himself described the analogy as “…extreme – but it was to make a point…I was simply trying to explain how stupid it seemed to me – how ludicrous that pairing was. They’re polar opposites, and it made no sense. They don’t see eye-to-eye and never will.

Hank Williams Jr.No matter. ESPN announced that Williams and his song would be pulled from future broadcasts.  ABC and the National Football League, were quick to pile on.

For the media, the business model depends on renting an audience to a sponsor.  Nothing sells like “controversy” and they were going to squeeze this one, for all it was worth.  Even if they were the ones who started it, in the first place.

There would be a heartfelt apology, but no matter.  The “Cancel Culture’ or whatever you want to call it, had done its work.

“I have always been very passionate about politics and sports, and this time it got the best or worst of me. The thought of the leaders of both parties jukin’ and high fivin’ on a golf course, while so many families are struggling to get by, simply made me boil over and make a dumb statement. I am very sorry if it offended anyone. I would like to thank all my supporters. This was not written by some publicist.”- Hank Williams, Jr.

When it was over, Hank Williams, Jr. had the last word.  Bocephus responded with a song of his own, criticizing President Obama, ESPN and Fox & Friends.  He called it, “Keep the Change”.

Over the next two days, the song was downloaded more than 180,000 times.

In the song lyrics, Bocephus and all his rowdy friends were “Outta there”.  Outta there, but not for good.  The song was quietly re-instated, in 2017.

Author: Cape Cod Curmudgeon

I'm not a "Historian". I'm a husband, a father, a son and a grandfather. A history geek and sometimes curmudgeon, who still likes to learn new things. I started "Today in History" back in 2013, thinking I’d learn a thing or two. I told myself I’d publish 365. The leap year changed that to 366. As I write this, I‘m closing in on a thousand. I do it because I want to & I make every effort to get my facts straight, but I'm as good at being wrong, as anybody else. I offer these "Today in History" stories in hopes that you'll enjoy reading them, as much as I’ve enjoyed writing them. Thanks for coming along for the ride. Rick Long, the “Cape Cod Curmudgeon”

4 thoughts on “March 22, 1958 Keep the Change”

  1. Heck. There’s nothing easier than comparing Republican or Democrat platforms to National Socialist platform planks… because they ARE similar. But the quote from Hank Jr I remember is: “Lubbock… the very word evokes snores of discontent!”

    Like

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