Hank Thompson was one of the most distinguished musicians in the 1940s until his death in 2007. His musical style roots back as honky tonk Western swing. He was an accomplished fiddler and guitarist with a distinctive, and smooth baritone vocals.
His career spanned for more than 70 years making him a prominent country music artist of all time. This day marks his 93rd birthday and it’s unfortunate that he already left us in 2007.
The Birth of a Great Musician
Born on September 3, 1925, Henry William Thompson, more popularly known as Hank Thompson, spent his early years in Waco, Texas. At such a young age, Thompson became interested in music. He joined amateur harmonica contests and later amassed several wins in the said contests. Years later, he studied electrical engineering at Princeton University. Later, he found himself serving the United States Navy. He became a radioman during the World War II.
After serving in the Navy, Thompson decided to pursue musical talent. Later, he had his first success as a musician after his first single, “Whoa Sailor,” became a regional hit. Simultaneously, his other single, “California Women,” also was a hit adding to his accolades. With these, he chose to pursue a full-time musical career.
In 1952, he tasted his very first victory with a no. 1 single, “The Wild Side of Life.” This song contained the famous line,
“I didn’t know God made honky-tonk angels.”
In particular, this line inspired songwriter J.D. Miller to write his answer song, “It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels.” This became the first hit song for then budding female country artist Kitty Wells.
Furthermore, this success of Thompson opened more doors for him paving for more hits in the 1950s through 1960s. He then began singing in a wistful honky-tonk style. It is a style similar to that of Ernest Tubb. However, he wanted to secure more engagements in the dance halls of the Southwest. Hence, he restructured his band, the Brazos Valley Boys. Thompson and his band went on to play a “light version” of the Western swing sound that Bob Wills made famous. While both Wills and Thompson had a similar musical style, the latter used the swing beat and instrumentation to enhance his vocals. In addition, Thompson emphasized the dance beat and meticulous arrangements and dropped the intense instrumental soloing from his musicians.
Thompson’s Final Years and Death
In the late 1980s until his final years, Thompson’s career has relatively declined. Like many men of his time, he had been a smoker for most of his adult life. In 2007, he was admitted into a Texas hospital for shortness of breath in mid-October. Later, he was diagnosed with lung cancer, which forced him to cancel his shows and tours. His last public performance was on October 8, 2007.
On November 1, 2007, Thompson officially retired from singing. He then went into hospice care at his home in Keller, Texas. Unfortunately, he lost his battle with cancer on November 6. He was 82.
In memory of Hank Thompson, here’s his “The Wild Side of Life,” which went no.1 in 1952:
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