FW: [AlabamaFolklife] Hank Williams PBS "Honky Tonk Blues" review, my apologies
- fyi.... ajwright@...
From: Alice Harp [mailto:rattlesnakexx@...]
Sent: Tuesday, July 06, 2004 8:37 AM
Subject: [AlabamaFolklife] Hank Williams PBS "Honky Tonk Blues" review,
I have taken my time in reveiwing this latest attempt to do a biography
of Hank Williams. There is some great footage, of which I contributed
(and got paid), and some great comments by Hank Junior and his aunt,
Leila Williams. The widow Williams, Billie Jean, is still beautiful and
still very outspoken in her opinion. Shelton Williams, is talented but
really just superfluous window-dressing in this supposed biography.
To begin, it is a British production, written by a Brit, directed by a
man from Los Angeles. Both of these have at least visited the South,
but haven't a clue how the South shaped the music of Hank Williams.
Morgan Neville, the director, and Colin Escott, on-camera narrator, are
the writers, too. Neither of these men are interested in an accurate,
academic, and historically truthful biography of Hank Williams.
This is all about drinking and whoring, whoring and drinking, and two
men's personal agenda. Ken Burns has nothing to worry about! This is a
very tabloid, E! Hollywood True Story type of work. Neville and Escott
do not have any scholars (unless you count me, will explain later), or
experts, in this program. Hank Junior is very eloquent about his
father's relationship with Rufus "Teetot" Payne, the African American
man that taught Hank Sr. to play, and with whom Hank spent ten years of
music partnership and friendship.
Nothing is discussed about why and how Hank's music is still current -
no historical context whatsoever. No scholars, such as Dr. Bill Malone
of Tulane or Dr. Charles Wolfe of Middle Tennessee State, or any other
recognized academic consulted. And most shockinglyy, Jerry Wexler - who
took "Cold, Cold Heart" to Skitch who took it to Tony Bennett for the
first country cross-over hit, who got Patti Paige to record "Tennessee
Waltz", who knew Hank! - was not asked to contribute. Mr. Wexler is one
of the great forces of post-WWII music in America, and a great music
scholar ( go "google" his name). The program featured a clip of Tony
Bennett, but no historical context or even why it was historically
Instead, we have Escott saying an alleged botched abortion of Audrey's
was the inspiration for "Cold, Cold Heart". One person said that Hank's
mother ran a whorehouse in Montgomery. One person's opinion does not
make history, it is only opinion.
For example, Escott states in his biography of Hank Williams that Rufus
"Teetot" Payne was a "hunchback simian...whose arms were elongated and
nearly dragged the ground". There is a churchfull of African Americans
at the Butler AME Zion Church in Greenville, AL that vigorously disagree
with this very false description of Teetot. And, the white folks in
Greenville that remember Hank and Teetot disagree with Escott. But
let's face it, racism sells, and Escott's publisher, Little Brown, has
informed me that people in Alabama - black and white - are not to be
trusted or listened to. It seems being born British is all it takes to
To be honest, Morgan Neville fought very hard to have the erroneous
description of Teetot in the program. it was impossible for this
Southerner to allow this racist lie to be telecast over public airways.
It is my footage of Teetot's son, Henderson, that is used.
If you like half-baked truths, a dour and unattractive Englishman, so-so
camera work, salacious gossip, no scholarship, and really just a venal
shot of making money off of Hank, go buy this dvd.
This is not something to purchase for a school (k-12) library.
Possibly, it could be of interest in a public library or an academic
library. Film schools should acquire it to illustrate how to make an
awful biography. This is my opinion, that is all. I respect the very
heartfelt words of Hank Junior and Leila, and Shelton (Hank III), they
are family. Of course, make up your own minds.
Thanks, Alice Harp