by Paul Hemphill
Country legend Hank Williams was well acquainted with despair, addiction, adultery and fame—all elements key to a fascinating biography. And Hemphill, author of a variety of books set in the South, makes the most of his material. Born in Alabama in 1923, Williams lived just 29 years but managed to revolutionize country music, become America's signature working-class poet and endure plenty of heartache before dying mysteriously in the backseat of a Cadillac—probably from the hard drinking he was famous for. Smart, charismatic and driven, he phoned Tony Bennett—whose version of Williams's "Cold, Cold Heart" became a hit on the pop charts—to complain, "Hey, Tony, how come you ruined my song?" The author's storytelling skills and passion for his subject give Williams's life a heft that no Behind the Music ever could.