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Western Swing Personalities-Hank Thompson

By Leocthasme

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Historical Western Swing

In the next several issues of Pencilstubs, I will try to continue my several articles on the history of Western Swing.  Many, many, comments have been received directly by me and many more have appeared below the several articles I have written since the October Issue of 2000.  There are still comments being made on the original article because it is referenced any time someone just looks for Western Swing by typing just those two words into a search engine.  Well, let’s face It, I love the referrals, and now just thinking of that, I feel I should continue to add all the information I can find on an interesting subject, from all sources beside all the information I have accumulated over the years from clippings and the backs of old record covers.

Here is another article on a very interesting person and his band

who did so much for

Western Swing

Keep Posted to This Site!



One Year Ago Hank Thompson Died on November 6th at his home

In Keller , Texas

This is a remembrance of him and his style of music.


Henry "Hank" William Thompson:   September 3, 1925, . November 6, 2007    Hank Thompson and The Brazos Valley Boys:

Henry ‘Hank’ Thompson was an entertainer whose career spanned seven decades. He sold over 60 million records worldwide.  Thompson's musical style should be characterized as ‘Honky Tonk’ Western Swing.  It was a mixture of fiddles, electric guitar and steel guitar that featured his distinctive, gravelly baritone vocals.

His backing band, The Brazos Valley Boys, was voted the #1 Country Western Band for 14 years in a row by Billboard Magazine.  The primary difference between his music and that of Bob Wills, was that Thompson, who used the swing beat and instrumentation to enhance his vocals, discouraged the sort of intense instrumental soloing from his musicians that Wills openly encouraged.

On November 1, 2007, Hank Thompson canceled the rest of his 2007 "Sunset Tour" and retired from singing, two days after being released from a Texas hospital and diagnosed with lung cancer.  He went to his home in Keller , Texas where he died on November 6th.  Thompson's last performance was on October 8th in Waco , Texas his birthplace.

According to his spokesman Tracy Pitcox, who is also president of Heart of Texas Records, Thompson requested that no funeral be held. On November 14, 2007 a "celebration of life," open to both fans and friends took place at Billy Bob’s Texas , a Fort Worth country & western nightclub that bills itself as "The World's Largest Honky Tonk".

Hank was interested in music from an early age and won several amateur harmonica contests. He decided to pursue his musical talent after serving in the Navy in WWII as a radioman and studying electrical engineering at Princeton University before his discharge. He had intended to continue those studies on the GI Bill following his discharge and return to Waco . Later that year, after having a regional hit with his first single  "Whoa Sailor" for Blue Bonnet he chose to pursue a fulltime musical career.

1952 brought his first #1 hit, "The Wild Side Of Life”  which contained the memorable line "I didn't know God made honky-tonk angels" which inspired songwriter  J.D. Miller to write the answer "It wasn’t God Who Made Honky Angles” which became the first hit single for pioneer female country vocalist Kitty Wells.  Other hits followed in quick succession in the 50s and 60s for Hank

Thompson began singing in a plaintive honky-tonk style similar to that of Ernest Tubb  but desiring to secure more engagements in the dancehalls of the Southwest, reconfigured his band, the Brazos Valley Boys, to play a "lite" version of Western Swing that made Bob Wills famous, emphasizing the dance beat and meticulous arrangements.

Although not as prominent in later decades, he remained an active and respected performer in the field, finding new audiences as a result of the resurgence of a harder-edged sound in country music.

From 1948 through 1965 he recorded for Capitol then joined Warner Brothers where he remained through1967.  After that on through1980, he recorded for Dot Records and its successors, ABC Dot and MCA.  In 2000 he released a new album ‘Seven Decades on the Hightone label closer in sound to his older Capitol material, unlike the slicker Nashville Sound that permeated most of his Dot material.

Hank Thompson was elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1989 and was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1997.

Thompson continued limited touring, mostly in the West and Southwest, until shortly before he became ill. Often, he worked with a reconstituted version of the Brazos Valley Boys that included a few original members.

Hank Thompson will be sorely missed by those of us who like his style of ‘Honky Tonk Western Swing’ and a lot of his typical ‘Cryin’ In Your Beer’ style of just pure Honky Tonk.

Actually Hank Thompson is missed by all Music Aficionados


Compiled by Leo C. Helmer, October 22, 2008

For more on Hank Thompson, click Helmer's byline and check Helmer’s articles in earlier Pencilstubs issues starting in October 2000. 


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