“Goodbye Joe me gotta go me oh my oh…” Fans of Hank Williams and the Carpenters will have no difficulty identifying that as the first line of a song written by Hank that became a theme tune for both artists. Hank’s original “Jambalaya (On The Bayou)” made its US pop chart debut on September 6, 1952.
Williams recorded his original in June of that year in Nashville with a top-drawer band that included Chet Atkins on guitar. The Cajun-influenced recording went on to top the country chart for a spectacular 14 weeks. With supposedly “specialist” genres so marginalised in the US music scene of the 1950s, the field was open for pop singer Jo Stafford to maximise the song’s potential for that audience, and her version duly reached No.3 on the American pop chart.
Stafford’s version was already in the top ten of Best Selling Pop Singles in the Billboard issue of September 6, when Williams’ original entered that chart. Hank’s version debuted that week on Most Played Juke Box Folk (Country & Western) Records, and moved to the top of the even more fascinatingly titled Country & Western Records Most Played By Folk Disc Jockeys.
After further covers by everyone from Kitty Wells and Fats Domino to Jerry Lee Lewis and John Fogerty, “Jambalaya” was remade in classic style in 1973 by the Carpenters. Richard and Karen’s version appeared on their Now & Then album that year and became an international hit, reaching No.12 in the UK. Although it wasn’t a US single, the Carpenters’ version was also a winner in Gerrmany, Holland, and Japan, among other countries.
Since then, the interpretations of Williams’ standard have kept on coming, by such artists as Leon Russell (also in 1973), Professor Longhair (1974), and in 1985 by Waylon Jennings, on his full album tribute Ol’ Waylon Sings Ol‘ Hank. An archive version by Chuck Berry was released in 2010, and Garth Brooks weighed in with one in 2013. Big fun indeed.
Buy or stream “Jambalaya (On The Bayou)” on Hank Williams’ 40 Greatest Hits.