Hank, You Thought You had it Bad
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 by Frank Shortt
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When a person is seen in later years, seemingly, to be financially stable, dressed nicely, and able to get around pretty good, only he knows what he has been through to reach this status.

Unless you have experienced the other fellow’s life, it is almost impossible to judge him by his present state. When you have walked a mile in his shoes then you might begin to understand all that he has been through.

I dress pretty good these days. Have a nice car to ride, a nice house to live in, and enough money to buy whatever I need, thank God! It was not always this way…

When I first started out in the music business things were not like they are now. I was as poor as a country church mouse. There were lean times and fat times only because Country music was not too well thought of in the 1960’s. I played with a small band, playing rhythm guitar, one played an old beat up bass guitar, another played drums, and I did the singing. We practiced every time we had time, which was usually at night. We stayed up late drinking beer, smoking cigarettes, and talking about all the things we would do when we ‘hit it big’. If the prettiest girl in town would have come along and thrown herself at us, we could not have afforded to buy her a coke. All that practicing to play, who knows where, and for a gig that lasted about four hours. There was no guarantee that we would even be paid. We played several times at a place called the Golden Palomino in San Jose, later to be called Cowtown, and the owner stiffed us for several hours playing. I have to admit, we were not the best group! Sometimes we played joints where you had to cut your way in and cut your way out!

We sang Pizza Parlors, beer joints, honky tonks, and sometimes even a swanky place. The songs we played back then were the recent hits by well-known artists. My specialty was Ferlin Husky. At one time I could sing almost like him. I also was able to do Roy Orbison and Gene Pitney. They made the money and I invited the overripe fruit that some places were apt to dole out. We downed a lot of stale beer just to drown our sorrows. The only thing that kept us going back then was a promise of a better tomorrow. We always wore our blue jeans and flannel shirts in winter. In summer we wore short-sleeved shirts and blue jeans.

Going solo, I sang at a place in West San Jose called the Pub. They had a little eatery out front and in the back was the darkest, dingiest place one could imagine! I was mostly paid in drinks and greasy food. Once in a while a man would ask me to sing a certain song and my pay would be his gold wedding band. I was even paid a five-dollar gold piece for singing one song. I was married with one child and every time the phone rang, if it happened to be my wife, the bartender yelled out, “The war department is on the line!” I believe my wife would have burned down the Pub if she could have gotten away with it.

On the other hand, Hank Williams wore sequined suits. He thought he had it bad. He even had a Cadillac and a man to drive it. If one went by the songs he wrote, he would have been a homeless, helpless, outcast. Most of his troubles were brought on by drinking alcohol and taking drugs, mostly prescription ones. Some druggists were all too happy to keep him well supplied. He ate the best of steaks, meat ‘high on the hog’ and was wined and dined by the elite of Nashville. Not bad for a boy from Selma, Alabama.

On the other hand, we ate catsup soup, drove old pick-up trucks, (if we could keep one running), wore Rescue Mission hand-me-downs, and had to beg like a panhandler to get any gigs.

On a recent trip to Branson, Missouri, my wife and I went to see the Cal Smith show. He was the author of “Country Bumpkin”. After the show, we went up front and sat on the edge of the stage talking to Cal and his wife. We realized that we had played the same clubs in San Jose in the 1960’s. He was also a D.J. at KEEN Radio which for a long time was the only Country Music station in San Jose. As we reminisced about the clubs and dives we had played, I suddenly realized that here was a man who had walked the same roads that I had walked. He knew the un-glamourous side of Country Music. After we had shared some of our experiences, I suddenly realized, Ole Hank didn’t have is so bad after all!