It’s a song that helped define the legend of Hank Williams, even though it was originally a B-side. It’s been covered by scores of notable artists from Johnny Cash to Elvis Presley, Dean Martin to Del Shannon, and Roy Orbison to Little Richard. And it was on August 30, 1949, that Hank recorded “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry” in a studio in Cincinnati, Ohio.
Surely one of the most lovelorn lyrics in all of country music, “I’m So Lonesome…” was written by Williams during his troubled relationship with his wife Audrey Sheppard. He recorded it at Herzog Studio on that late summer day, as he approached his 26th birthday.
Hank was, by now, an established country star, having scored Top 10 hits in that format with “Move It On Over” and ”I’m A Long Gone Daddy” and a massive No.1 earlier in 1949 with “Lovesick Blues.” He would have no fewer than six country hits that year, and two of them were double-sided success in which the flip also made the charts.
Farewell to the 40s
But for his final single release of 1949 in November, MGM Records decided that “Lonesome” would be a mere B-side, playing second fiddle to the admittedly more uptempo and radio-friendly “My Bucket’s Got A Hole In It.” The A-side was indeed highly successful, climbing to No.2 on Billboard’s Best Sellers In Stores country chart.
But while “Lonesome” never attained a chart position of its own, it became a highly popular part of Hank’s repertoire, and later that of many others. When Elvis performed it on his Aloha From Hawaii TV special of 1973, he described it as “probably the saddest song I’ve ever heard.” It’s now one of the songs most closely associated with Williams and his all-too-short career.
Literally hundreds of covers of the tune have been recorded, starting almost immediately with one early in 1950 by the Foggy Mountain Boys. Interpretations have varied in style far and wide, from the Everly Brothers to Al Green, and from Townes Van Zandt to Yo La Tengo.
Buy or stream “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry” on Hank Williams’ 40 Greatest Hits.