SEE Magazine: Issue #480: February 6, 2003
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Raising hell
Paying tribute to county’s original outlaw, Hank Williams

Sat, Feb. 15
Arden Theatre (St. Albert)

Hank Williams was a lunatic, a pill-popping alcoholic who wet the bed, a renegade barely tolerated by the hidebound conservatives in Nashville – of which there were many – who loved his music but hated him for his excesses. He died on New Year’s Eve 50 years ago at the age of 29, but his legend still casts a long shadow over popular music, especially in the form of the outlaw country branch, from Johnny Cash to Merle Haggard, Waylon Jennings to Steve Earle. But, for all his hell raising ways, the reason we still remember Williams 50 years after the fact is his songwriting, which leapt over the invisible country music barrier to be covered by an almost astonishingly diverse number of performers. Ray Charles, Tony Bennett and Norah Jones all had their kick at the can with a Williams tune, and all had success translating it to their own style. The Grand Old Opry, the hypocritical Nashville institution that banned Williams in his lifetime, but quickly embraced him when he was safely dead, recently put together a tribute night for him. Little wonder that guitarist Doug Andrews of Circus in Flames had a little thought percolating in the back of his head last year as he was rehearsing in town for a performance of The Gift: a Tribute to Ian Tyson.

"I was having such a good time and I was telling Peter [North, promoter for The Gift] about Hank Williams, and he just said, ‘Yeah, yeah’ because we were right in the middle of the Ian Tyson thing," recounts Andrews, over the phone from his home in Vancouver. "And then later, he walks up to me and says ‘Y’know, I just can’t get that idea of yours out of my head.’"

North picks up the thread: "We were sitting in the hotel lounge, and [Doug] was saying how it was going to be 50 years since Hank had passed away. Once we got the other shows out of the way, we talked and, y’know, it just made sense. The Ian Tyson shows had so much camaraderie to them. It was unlike anything I had ever worked on, and I’ve worked on my fair share. And we also thought that maybe we were onto something, doing a show that focuses on somebody’s body of work and – in this case – a great body of work. Hank’s sure made sense in that regard. And everybody sort of, once again, jumped when they heard about it."

Thus was born Hangin’ With Hank: A Tribute to the Songwriting of Hank Williams, to be presented at the Arden theatre on Saturday, February 15th. Most of the same performers from the successful Ian Tyson tribute will take part, but there will be a few new faces, including the Bomba Trio, a local group notable for their unique synthesis of Latin, funk and jazz.

"It’s an interesting choice in that [we have] the McDades this time around. Some people couldn’t see the McDades doing Ian Tyson, or Ian and Sylvia tunes. But a lot of people thought they were one of the best things about the last show because they were so different. And Bomba, those three guys are such accomplished players. But it’s not like it’s really such a stretch. I mean, look at the Don Was Orchestra, which was put together for a Francis Ford Coppola movie. A record came out of it that had Don Was, Herbie Hancock and all these heavy jazz guys doing Hank Williams tunes. And man, they just took them somewhere else. I think Bomba will be able to do a little bit of that. Marco [Claveria, lead vocals] is taking one tune and translating the words into Spanish, which should be neat."

The trio will also back guitarist Lionel Rault on a version of "Jambalaya" and jazz vocalist Debbie Boodram on "Cold, Cold Heart." Other performances include Dannie Mack and Doug Andrew dueting on "My Bucket’s Got A Hole in It," pedal steel guitarist Ron Anderson on "Steel Guitar Rag," plus Boodram and guitarist Mark Sterling, who will join forces on "House of Gold."

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