“I Saw the Light” is a country gospel song written by Hank Williams. At some stage in his first session for MGM Records, he recorded the song. Sometime in September 1948, they released the track. Set to the tune of the traditional Scottish folk tune “Bonnie Charlie”—“Will ye no come back again”—it became the closing song for Williams’ show. Apart from that, it was one of his most popular tunes. Williams’ version was not that successful during its early release. Soon, several other acts made their own covers which became a country music standard. Moreover, with time, it became a country gospel regular.
Hank Williams’ Inspiration for “I Saw the Light”
In January 1947, he got his inspiration for the song. Mrs. Lilly Williams was driving him and the band back to Montgomery that night. While returning from a concert in Fort Deposit, Alabama, his mother made a remark.
As she was approaching the city, she spotted the lights of Dannelly Field Airport. She said that she “just saw the light”, as they were coming close to Montgomery. Williams, who was sleeping soundly in the backseat of the car, was woken by his mother.
Days later, on January 26, 1947, he wrote the first draft. The lyrics and the melody by Williams were closely similar to Albert E. Brumley’s “He Set Me Free”. Back in 1939, The Chuck Wagon Gang published “He Set Me Free” and in March 1941 they released it. In the song, they used Biblical citations. These included the Gospels of Matthew and John plus quotations from the First Epistle to the Thessalonians and Book of Revelation.
Digging Deeper into “I Saw the Light”
Colin Escott, Williams’ biographer, wisely observed something. It is true that the melody and even some of the lyrics bear a passing resemblance to Brumley’s “I Saw the Light”. However, it was not just “He Set Me Free” with new lyrics. He said that it was the prayer of the backslider living in hope of redemption.