Sadly, the Tinsel and Rot Death March continues. Today we salute the great Hank Thompson, who died Tuesday at the age of 82 from lung cancer. Despite his Hall of Fame stature, Thompson's a somewhat underrated guy in the annals of country music, probably best known for "The Wild Side of Life," which inspired Kitty Wells's answer song, "It Wasn't God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels." I guess that's what USA Today was looking for when they titled his obit "Hank Thompson looked on the bright side of life." They probably should have saved that one for when Eric Idle passes on.
Thompson's records always had a clean, smooth sound to them, carried by Thompson's vocals, which were smoother than just about anybody in the country music pantheon (save maybe Ray Price). Hits such as "Humpty Dumpty Heart" and "A Six Pack To Go" still stand up pretty well today and aren't likely to lose any luster as time goes on. And Thompson's live record "At The Golden Nugget" (often credited as the first live record by a solo artist) is an easy All-Time Top Tenner and should find a place in the collection of any music lover. The record gives you the full casino experience, with the sounds of bells ringing and gamblers gambling captured right along with the crack band (which featured Merle Travis on lead guitar) supporting Thompson and shining on their own. If you don't have it, get it. It was recently released digitally (along with 17 other Thompson records from his Capitol years), so no excuses. Just do it.
I saw Thompson twice--once at Lincoln Center's Midsummer Night Swing series (where the photo of me looking young and happy below was taken) and the other at the American Music Theatre in Lancaster, PA (where I bought the belt buckle shown above). Glad to have done so, sad that I won't see him again.
Thanks, Hank. Rest in peace.