Even though it’s been 70 years since his death, Hank Williams still looms large over country music.
The Alabama native’s songs, from “Your Cheatin’ Heart” to “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry,” remain as popular as ever with fans of classic country music, and Hank has gone on to inspire generations of artists who have come along well after his death on January 1, 1953.
There have been plenty of songs that name-dropped Hank over the years, with some of them being more country than others…
But one of the biggest songs about Hank – and his spirit – is David Allan Coe‘s “The Ride.”
Released in 1983 on Coe’s Castles in the Sand album, the song tells the story of a hitchhiker who’s trying to make it in the music business catching a mysterious ride from the ghost of Hank Williams on his way to Nashville from Hank’s hometown of Montgomery, Alabama.
Of course everybody knows the song:
Then he cried just south of Nashville And he turned that car around He said, “This is where you get off, boy ‘Cause I’m goin’ back to Alabam'” As I stepped out of that Cadillac I said, “Mister, many thanks” He said, “You don’t have to call me Mister, Mister The whole world called me Hank”
He said, “Drifter, can ya make folks cry when you play and sing? Have you paid your dues, can you moan the blues? Can you bend them guitar strings?” He said, “Boy, can you make folks feel what you feel inside? ‘Cause if you’re big star bound let me warn ya, it’s a long, hard ride”
But did you know that the writer of “The Ride” claims that the song was inspired by a conversation he had with none other than the ghost of Hank Williams himself?
“I was living at Country Place Apartments. I lit candles in the living room, and I wanted Hank to show himself. I wanted to write a masterpiece about Hank… I said, “Hank! Why were you so big? Just because you died young? Show yourself! Help me write this song.”
I looked down that long hallway, and Hank was sitting there without a shirt on, on my couch, in the living room. And I said, “Hank, we’re gonna take a ride. I wanna write about you. I think you’re the greatest songwriter and entertainer that ever lived.” Thus, “The Ride,” at 4:00 in the morning.”
But that’s not the only experience Gentry had with the spirit of the man who inspired his biggest song.
Later, Gentry was performing “The Ride” for a TV show at the Grand Ole Opry House. And when he got to the line in the last verse revealing the character in the song to be the ghost of Hank Williams, all of the lights and power in the Opryland complex went out.
Apparently Hank has a way of making his presence known.