BIRMINGHAM RECORD COLLECTORS
DEDICATED TO THE COLLECTING OF MUSIC, ITS PRESERVATION AND LASTING FRIENDSHIP
MONTHLY MEETING THIS SUNDAY, JULY 14th, 2019 – 2:00 PM
HOMEWOOD LIBRARY – 1721 OXMOOR ROAD 35209
NEXT MEETING SUNDAY, AUGUST 11th, 2019 THE SECOND SUNDAY
THIS MONTH’S MEETING
Thanks to BRC Hall of fame member Ross Gagliano for being with us last month as our special guest. Ross had lots of fond memories he shared with us about his time in local bands. Whether you are a record collector, music historian, music lover or whatever category you fall under, stories and information like we hear from guys like Ross are very important. Thanks to all who have come and shared them with us. Plans are to keep locating and inviting the people who were involved in the music business in some way or another and hear from them as well.
This month we begin the final preparations for our record show in August. We will be putting address labels and stamps on our postcards at the July meeting so make plans to help with that chore. Over 1800 postcards need to be done. HELP!! Thanks.
THE ‘LOST HIGHWAY’
A couple of weeks ago I drove south to Gulf Shores, AL for a quick getaway. The usual trip down I-65 through Pelham, Calera, Montgomery, Greenville and so on sometimes gets monotonous but knowing the beach awaits keeps me going. There is one area that usually catches my eye though and its just before exit 114 and the exit itself. There is a sign the State of Alabama has put up that says: Hank Williams Memorial ♪’Lost Highway’♪. This stretch of highway that honors Hank is about 2-3 miles long and in the center is exit 114 where you can get off and go to the Hank Williams Museum and boyhood home. There is no off ramp at mile marker 107 but there is a road that crosses over the freeway that is named Hank Williams Road. This is the area where the singer/songwriter was born and grew up.
On one of my trips down to the beach I took a book entitled ROCKIN’ DOWN THE HIGHWAY, a book about rock and cars. I came across an interesting article about the death of Hank Williams and thought I’d copy some of it for this month’s newsletter. Some interesting info contained within. Before I do let me give credit to the write, Jim Tharpe who at the time 2006 was with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Very good article by Mr. Tharpe. It is not the complete article but I have put the more pertinent paragraphs for you to read.
“Just before sunrise on New Year’s day in 1953, a sleek, powder-blue Cadillac roared up to the rural Oak Hill, West Virginia Hospital in the cold Appalachian darkness. The driver was just 17, exhausted, and scared. The passenger was barely 29 and dead.
At the wheel was Charles Carr, a college freshman on Christmas break from Auburn University. The man in the backseat was singer-songwriter Hank Williams. “I ran in and explained my situation to the two interns who were in the hospital. They came out and looked at Hank and said, ‘He’s dead’. I asked ’em, ‘Can’t you do something to revive him?’ one of them looked at me and said, ‘No son, he’s just dead’.
Carr thinks Williams died- the official cause was heart failure -somewhere between Bristol, TN and Oak Hill, on the way to a New Year’s Day 1953 show in Canton, Ohio. ‘I’m certainly not an authority on Hank Williams”, said Carr, ‘But I’m the only authority on Hank Williams’ death.’
Carr maintains that Williams was very much alive and wearing white cowboy boots, a stylish blue overcoat, and a white fedora when they left Knoxville, TN at 10:45 p.m. New Year’s Eve en route to a concert 500 blustery miles north. What ensued has been material for considerable speculation ever since.
Williams knew Carr’s father who ran a Montgomery taxi service and the teenager was asked to drive an obviously ailing Williams to gigs in Charleston, WV and Canton, major concert dates that Williams hoped would be the start of a comeback. It was a journey that seemed doomed from the start.
By the time Carr helped Williams load his guitar and stage suits into the car truck, the weather across much of the South was deteriorating. Rain was turning into ice and snow. Car recalls the 6-foot-2 Williams was sick and frail at the time perhaps 130 pounds, but disputes reports that the singer, long a heavy drinker, was guzzling booze most of the trip. Carr remembers Williams being in good spirits as the trip began. They told jokes, sang songs, and traded tales as they navigated the two-lane highway of the pre-interstate South. ‘We were just a couple of young guys on a car trip having fun’, Carr said.
It was snowing hard by the time they reached Chattanooga ans Williams decided to try and catch a flight from Knoxville to make the Charleston show on time. The flight took off at 3:30 p.m. But was turned back due to the bad weather. So, Carr and Williams found themselves stuck in Knoxville for the night. The Charleston show was a bust but they still hoped to make Canton. ‘We talked a while and ordered steaks up in the room’, Carr said. ‘As I remember, Hank didn’t eat much.’ Carr also called a doctor who came and gave Williams two injections – later determined to be morphine mixed with vitamin B12. ‘He calmed down after that, but looking back, maybe it was a combination, along with his bad health that led to the coronary,’ Carr said.
Williams dozed off fully clothed but about 10:30 p.m. Carr got a call from the concert promoter telling him they had to leave right away and drive through the night to make the Canton show. ‘There was a penalty clause in his contract….so we had to be there for the New Year’s Day concert or else,’ Carr said.
The teenager stopped in a small town to gas up and get a quick bite to eat. Carr said it could have been Bristol, TN, about 120 miles northeast of Knoxville or it could have been Bluefield, a town in West Virginia. It was pitch dark and he was bone-tired in unfamiliar territory. He specifically remembers a service station on one side of the highway and a diner and a cab stand on the other. ‘I remember Hank got out to stretch his legs and I asked him if he wanted a sandwich or something,’ Carr said. ‘He said, ‘No, I just want to get some sleep.’ ‘I don’t know if that’s the last thing he ever said. But it’s the last thing I remember him telling me.’
At the cab stand, Carr picked up a relief driver who helped him drive for a few hours before getting out somewhere in rural West Virginia. Carr drove on but became increasingly concerned about the eerie silence in the backseat. He pulled off the road to check on Williams, who was lying with his head toward the passenger seat and had his left hand across his chest. ‘He had his blue overcoat on and had a blanket over him that had fallen off’, Carr said. ‘I reached back to put the blanket back over him and then felt a little unnatural resistance from his right arm. It was ice cold’.
Carr pulled into the next service station he saw and told the owner he needed to get to a hospital fast. The man pointer the way and Carr remembered seeing a road sign for Oak Hill, 6 miles away. He was terribly frightened anticipating the frenzy of concern that would surely follow.
Fifty years later on a bright late-December day in 2003, Carr strolled through the Hank Williams Museum in downtown Montgomery. He sat for a few minutes in the driver’s seat of the Cadillac he drove that night. The overcoat that Williams was wearing was in a glass case nearby. At his own home, Carr has a framed poster for the concert that he and Williams never arrives at and he keeps a pair of cowhide gloves the singer gave him for that final trip.
# 12 – 1949 C/W Billboard charts
‘Hank Williams, You Wrote My Life’
# 2 – 1975 C/W Billboard charts
UPCOMING RECORD SHOWS
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July 20 Knoxville, TN
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November 2 Salem VA
November 16 Knoxville TN
November 17 Johnson City TN
December 14 Charlotte NC
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