Hank Williams is said to be one of the most legendary country music stars of all time. His songs tell tales of real men and real women, heartbreak and hard times that captured the adoration of fans from all over.
Today his music is living on through a musician named Jason Petty, who has been paying tribute to Williams for approximately three decades.
Petty will perform “Hank and My Honky Tonk Heroes” at the Arts Center of Cannon County on Jan. 19 and 20, covering Williams’ most memorable songs, as well as the songs of all those who helped influence Williams’ music.
Petty remembers music being a part of his life since early childhood. Born and raised in Manchester, Petty spent a large amount of time with on his grandparents’ farm in Hickman County. He helped his grandparents tend the fields and take care of livestock.
It was on that farm that Petty realized his love for Hank Williams.
As his grandmother would swing on the porch and shell peas, she would sing Williams’ “Blessed Assurance,” and while riding on the tractor with his grandfather, a young Petty listened to his grandfather sing Williams’ songs.
“I remember when I was a child one of my favorite hymns to sing was ‘I Saw the Light’,” said Petty. “Hank was already such a big influence in my life, and I didn’t realize that he had written it until I was in my 20s, but I sang it in church as a kid all the time.”
It was back in 1990 that Petty began his music career at the Opryland theme park in Nashville. Petty would portray Williams and sing his songs. It was there that Petty gained the attention of the producer at the Grand Ole Opry. Petty was asked to audition for a theater production called “Hank Williams: Lost Highway” that would commemorate Williams, and Petty was chosen to play the lead role.
“I was asked to do a cold reading of the part of Hank for a production that the Ryman was running,” Petty said. “When they asked me to come in, I saw all these people lined up for the part. I thought to myself, ‘There’s no way I’m going to get this part.’ I began the reading and it was right then and there that I was selected. I was so excited!”
“Lost Highway” ran for two years on the stage of the Ryman Auditorium, and Petty said it changed his life as a performer.
“Over the two years that the “Lost Highway” ran, I was able to meet a lot of people who worked with Hanks, those who influenced Hank and those who loved Hank,” Petty said. “I met a lot of old country stars and even new country stars that I was able to make friends with, too.”
Growing in popularity, “Lost Highway” completed a national tour and a few regional theater productions. The show gained so much popularity that in 2003 it moved to an Off Broadway venue in New York City.
The production ran on off-Broadway for six weeks, winning Petty an Obie Award – the off-Broadway equivalent of the Tony Award – for his portrayal of Hank Williams. The “Lost Highway” production ran for a total of nine years.
Throughout the years of portraying Williams, Petty met many friends, workers and influencers of Williams. Even though Williams died at the young age of 29 in 1953, many of the people Petty met had many stories to tell about the groundbreaking country star.
After hearing all the stories about Williams, Petty decided to start his own show. This show would intertwine storytelling and Williams’ songs to detail the life of the singer and the background behind his music. He named this show “Hank and My Honky Tonk Heroes.”
“While on the road, I heard so many stories about Hank,” said Petty. “He was a legend. Storytelling is always something that I have been good at, and it seems to run in my blood. So, I decided the combine the stories and the songs and give audiences a different kind of show.”
“Hank and My Honky Tonk Heroes” has been a major success for Petty as the show has hit many international stages including in Europe and Canada. Petty attributes the success of his show to the legend that Williams left behind.
“If Hank lived it, then he wrote it,” Petty said. “Hank made country music and put it on the map. He took a little of everything and combined it to give people something they could relate to and connect to. Like Elvis, Hank had the ability to connect with people. He wrote songs about ordinary men and women and the working-class problems they had and people loved it. His songs told a personal story, and that’s what makes them so special.”
Petty has performed twice before at the Arts Center of Cannon County in Woodbury, and he encourages people of all ages and all music preferences to come out and see the show.
“It’s a great rags-to-riches story,” Petty said. “Hank lived fast, loved hard and died young. You don’t have to be a country fan to appreciate his music because it will touch your heart. His music is timeless. Even if you don’t think you have heard a Hank song, I can almost guarantee that you have. His music is relatable, and it is everywhere.”
Petty will bring Williams’ music to life through the use of storytelling and memorable songs. He will start with those who influenced Williams, a little Williams himself and end with songs by musicians Williams influenced. Some top hits that will be performed will include: “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry” “Your Cheatin’ Heart,” “Hey Good Lookin’,” “Kaw-Liga,” “Cold Cold Heart,” “Lovesick Blues,” and many more.
The show will run at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, Jan. 19 and at 2 p.m. on Sunday, Jan. 20. Tickets are $15 and many be purchased by calling the box office at 615-563-2787 between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. Tickets can also be purchased online at www.artscenterofcc.com. The Arts Center is located at 1424 John Bragg Highway in Woodbury.
Faith Few can be reached via email at email@example.com.