Friday, February 24, 2012

Spoken Word: Pictures from Life's Other Side

Luke the Drifter (Hank Williams): Pictures from Life's Other Side


When Garth Brooks reinvented himself as rocker named Chris Gaines, many considered it more evidence that Brooks was cracking under the pressure of superstardom. But some theorized Brooks was reviving a long-abandoned practice by country music singers of assuming an alter ego to release off-beat material. For example, decades before Brooks/Gaines, Ferlin Husky cut novelty records as Simon Crum, Buck Owens rocked as Corky Jones and Hank Williams recorded recitations under the moniker Luke the Drifter.

Hank Williams began using the Luke pseudonym in 1950. Luke the Drifter records were often spoken-word homilies on the troubles of life and the rewards awaiting the pure of heart in heaven. In his definitive biography of Williams, Colin Escott describes Luke as “a wise and thoughtful soul, dispensing advice that the willful Hank Williams ignored.”

MGM, for whom Williams recorded, pushed him to release these morality plays under an assumed name, so as not to diminish his standing as a raucous honky-tonker. Though Hank’s secular records were hardly highfalutin, his releases as Luke are even more unvarnished, with scant instrumentation and Hank's thick rural accent on full display. Recorded in 1951, “Pictures from Life's Other Side” is the archetypal Luke record, with sorrow and southern drawl dripping from the record grooves.

The Luke the Drifter legacy continued long after Williams died on New Year’s Day, 1953. MGM and its successor labels released Luke the Drifter sets on 78, EP, LP, tape, CD and MP3. Hank Williams Jr. kept the Luke brand going, releasing three albums as “Luke the Drifter Jr.” in the late 1960s. Luke Jr. offered up the same mawkish recitations as his forerunner, starting with an awkwardly named hit single, “I Was With Red Foley the Night He Passed Away.”

Bonus track: Not every Luke the Drifter song was dark. Here Hank/Luke dabbles in some good-natured Commie bashing in a track spoken to Josef Stalin, "No, No Joe."

Luke the Drifter: No, No Joe


blog comments powered by Disqus