Goshen News, Goshen, IN

August 23, 2012

Hank Williams’ life, music focus of show

By SCOTT WEISSER
THE GOSHEN NEWS

GOSHEN — The songs have been considered classics for decades. The man who made them famous never lived to see 30.

Tragedy and tunes factor heavily into the Hank Williams saga. It’s a musical story being told via “Hank Williams: Lost Highway” at the Amish Acres Round Barn Theatre in Nappanee.

“It’s definitely very much a biographical musical,” said “Lost Highway” director Jeremy Littlejohn. Hank (played by Timothy Leonard) stays in character during the show, with exposition offered now and by the other cast members.

Then there’s the music. Some of the Williams tunes performed in “Lost Highway” are snippets, Littlejohn said, but much of the score is made up of entire songs.

And Williams had nothing if not songs, 11 of which reached No. 1 in a five-year stretch. The hits include “Hey, Good Lookin’,” “Your Cheatin’ Heart” and “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry.”

Williams’ days enjoying his success were relatively few. He died on New Year’s Day, 1953, at age 29 from heart failure brought on by drug and alcohol abuse.

It was a sad and early end. Still, Williams’ influence has persisted.

The songs Williams wrote and recorded have been covered by musicians including Elvis Presley, Bob Dylan, Social Distortion, The Grateful Dead, Neko Case, Norah Jones, George Thorogood, Ray Charles and The Melvins, among many others. Rolling Stone magazine picked Williams as one of the 100 greatest artists of all time, and Country Music Television ranked him second behind Johnny Cash as one of the 40 greatest men of country music. That’s not a shabby second place.

Music is Williams’ legacy, and count Littlejohn as a fan of the late artist’s songwriting gifts. The Round Barn director terms Williams’ lyrics “unbelievable.”

“(He’s) definitely one of the first artists to ever transcend genres,” Littlejohn added.