The man who is considered the single most influential figure in country music has been dead nearly six decades, but his life story will be told in a special show making one stop in Iowa this month. Jason Petty was cast to portray celebrated singer-songwriter Hank Williams in a Nashville play in the mid-1990s and did his research for the part at the Grand Ole Opry.
“In finding out about my character, I had all these stories,” Petty says. “Everyone wants to tell you their favorite Hank story. He’s that big of a legend, 50 or 60 years after he died. I had all these stories and I started writing them down, just keeping notes.” Those notes eventually became the touring production “Hank and My Honky Tonk Heroes,” which makes its Iowa debut — starring Petty as Williams — in about two weeks.
“I decided to put this show together to tell the stories behind the songs and it’s basically how country music got started,” Petty says. “The early stars of country music were Hank Williams’ heroes, the ones that influenced him.” Williams had 11 number-one songs on the charts between 1948 and ’53, though he couldn’t read or write music. Petty says Williams came from humble roots and died in 1953 at age 29 after just a few years on the national music scene, but he helped launch an incredible new genre.
“He was dirt poor in southern Alabama,” Petty says. “He learned to play the blues from black street musicians. His love of gospel music and, of course, all the folk music that was around then, he took it all and developed what we call modern country music today. He was really the father.”
Petty’s show will play once only at Hoyt Sherman Place in Des Moines on Sunday, November 21st. Petty’s re-created role of Williams in the off-Broadway production “Hank Williams: Lost Highway,” earned him an Obie Award for Outstanding Actor in 2003. The show ran for nine months in New York City. Learn more at: “www.jasonpetty.com“.
By Pat Powers, KQWC, Webster City