Legends are more often than not made rather than born. Take Hank Williams, a man gone from us over sixty years, and yet we still talk actively about his music and his life. The Hank Williams Reader takes a historians look at the man through the eyes of writers throughout Hank’s life, and the many years after, to bring out a picture of the legend. The book is edited by Patrick Huber, David Anderson, and Steve Goodson and Mr. Goodson was kind enough to answer a few questions for us:
Steve Goodson: Patrick Huber and David Anderson, my two co-editors, came up with the idea before I came on board. A number of readers were being published about important American musical artists, and they realized that Hank Williams would make an excellent reader topic because of his significance to the history of American popular music and because of the huge amount of writing that has been done about him.
MT: How did the research team come together?
SG: In 1993, I published a scholarly article on Hank Williams in a small academic journal. A few years later, Patrick and Dave published an article about Hank Williams’s father in another small academic journal. In their article, they extensively cited the article I had written. Someone told me about Patrick and Dave’s article. I found a copy, read it, and then e-mailed them at their university addresses to thank them for their use of my article. That initiated the relationship, and we then met face to face at the annual International Country Music Conference in Nashville, where they asked me if I’d be interested in joining them in writing a reader on Hank Williams. I was very interested, of course, and our book is the result.
MT: When looking for pieces to include, what criteria did you set?
SG: First, we wanted to include articles or excerpts from a wide variety of publications – biographies, memoirs by family and band members, newspapers, mass-circulation magazines, fan magazines, academic journals, etc. From these varied sources we tried to choose pieces that were significant in developing the various interpretations of Hank Williams that have evolved over the decades. We also looked for writing that was particularly eloquent and thoughtful. We couldn’t always meet all the criteria – some pieces we included, for example, are historically crucial but are not necessarily beautifully written, while we included other pieces that are gorgeously written but not necessarily crucial in shaping Hank’s image. Sadly, there were many, many outstanding pieces that we wanted to include but had to cut because of space limitations (the two articles I mentioned in answering the previous question ended up on the cutting-room floor, for instance, even though Patrick, Dave, and I had written them).
MT: What is something that surprised you in the research?
SG: I’m not sure that I was surprised by anything I learned about Hank Williams – I knew going in that he had been the subject of a lot of excellent writing by a broad array of people. I was more surprised by more mundane matters such as how much some publications wanted to charge for reprinting their material, and on the other hand how kind and generous some individuals were (like noted southern author Lee Smith) in allowing us to use their work free of charge. I guess I was also a little surprised by how much my co-editors and I disagreed about a few of the pieces we considered for the reader. One of us might have seen a particular writing as deserving to be in the reader while the other two failed to see its value. So a lot of negotiation went into deciding what would make the final cut.
MT: What are you currently working on?
SG: I am a professional historian, and I am working on one project that has nothing to do with music. It involves an attempted lynching that occurred in 1901 in the city in which my university is located. But I also have plans for a volume of essays about various aspects of Hank Williams’s life and work. I have been fascinated by him since I was a child – I grew up near Montgomery, Alabama, which he considered home – and I think I still have a lot I’d like to say about him.
MT: Can you recommend some of your favorite music tomes?
SG: One of my favorite nonfiction books about music is Jonathan Gould’s Can’t Buy Me Love: The Beatles, Britain, and America. But my very favorite music tomes are probably novels such as The Commitments by Roddy Doyle and The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love by Oscar Hijuelos. For me, novels can capture the elusive magical quality of music in a way that nonfiction books by their very nature often can’t.