With Hank Thompson's 1989 election to the
prestigious Country Music Hall Of Fame came the crowning touch of his first
six decades as a major contributing force and influence in the music world.
Hank's election to the Country Music Hall of Fame forever scaled the legend
and the man in the annuals of the music form he helped to create.
The shear volumes of accomplishments,
credits, awards, accolades, and history surrounding Hank Thompson might
tempt an artist of lesser creative energies
coast into neutral and rest comfortable "Rest?"
when asked what's still ahead on the Thompson career agenda. Carefully
studying the silver toe of the boot slung casually over his leg, Hank gave a
trademarked hearty laugh and said, "I get my best rest on the
Indeed, a glance at Hank Thompson's current itinerary gives testimony to the fact that here is a country music legend still very much creating new history. One quick sweep across the radio dial - whether in 100,000 watt major markets or 500 watt rural country stations, tells the story of Hank Thompson's influence on what we're listening to and buying in the Country Music in the 21st century. With the revival of the popularity of "Western Swing," Hank can feel honored to know, if imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, he has a lot of reasons to feel very flattered these days!
Known as the "King of Western Swing," Hank's brand of music, from it's first introduction in the '40's, was like no other. A magical blend of big band bravura with fiddle and steel guitar, "Western Swing" transcended the boundaries of country music. It was "big band homesteading the country!" Combined with Hank Thompson's personal genius for innovation and presentation, a bright new sound and era was born in music.
Accompanied by his famed "Brazos Valley Boys" (who were voted #1 Country Western Band for fourteen consecutive years during the '50's and '60's - an achievement never equaled) Hank Thompson managed to capture on one stage the very best elements of entertainment at its finest; an innovative, fun musical style for listening and dancing; state-of-the-art sound and lighting, which Hank, an electronics wizard since his days at Princeton University, personally developed; the careful, personal selection process that Thompson took in handpicking the right musicians for his patented sound; and the sheer attention to "star quality" that set apart the handsomely dapper Texan with his snow white Stetson, silver-toed boots, and glittering trademarked rhinestone outfits. On stage and off, Hank Thompson spelled "S-T-A-R."
Looking back from the vantage point of Country Music, Hank's success provided a formula that broadened and enriched the entire complexion of the music industry. Firmly holding on Hank Thompson's coattails Country Music in the '50's and '60's was "off to see the world!" Taking his music out of the small clubs and Texas honky-tonks was a career goal he more than greatly overshot! Hank took his music, as he continues to do today, on a whirlwind tour that has included stops at Carnegie Hall, The Hollywood Palladium, The Smithsonian Institution, Las Vegas, and all seven continents.
Along the way, Hank's innate ability to market himself and his music, setting new trends and blazing new trails, has found him establishing a series of "firsts" almost unparalleled by an entertainer of our time: first act to tour with a sound and lighting system; first to receive corporate tour sponsorship; first to record a live album "Hank Thompson, Live At The Golden Nugget In Las Vegas" released on Capitol in 1960; first country music show to play in Las Vegas; first to record in Hi-Fi stereo; and first to perform on a color broadcast of a television variety show. In the process he sold over 60 million records in the days before today's Garth Brooks. Hank also became the first entertainer to take Western Swing into the domain of fashionable ballrooms, such as the Meadowbrook in New York and The Prom in St. Paul. Stages that featured the talents of Glenn Miller, Lawrence Welk, and The Dorseys were surrounded to capacity when Hank and the band arrived in town.
The list goes on and on: "The Hank Thompson Show," telecast over WKY in Oklahoma City in the early '50's, was the first color broadcast of a variety show. With a discography of album and single record successes that's both lengthy and impressive, Hank can be credited with another - often overlooked - industry contribution. His classic million seller in the '50's, "Wild Side Of Life," forever altered the complexion of country music. The classic Thompson career hit spawned an "answer record" when Kitty Wells stepped behind a microphone in the Nashville Studio of Decca records. Fanned by the red-hot Thompson popularity and his chart-topping original, the record "It Wasn't God Who Made Honkytonk Angels" became the first career record for a country female artist. In a music until then populated by males, Hank Thompson's music directly opened the floodgates for major female artists to claim their share of country music stardom.
The Wild Side of Life... Humpty Dumpty Heart... Oklahoma Hills... Six Pack to Go... Classic records that only serve as a reminder that this, or any attempt to contain Hank Thompson's career and accomplishment in print, proves terribly inadequate.
With record sales well over 60 million internationally, Hank Thompson's career has impacted on seven decades (from the '40's into the 21st century) of recorded music history. New generations of his fans are eagerly snapping up recently released anthologies of Hank's music packaged by Capital and Curb Records.
A gifted songwriter, Hank's career goals encompass new recordings that promise to keep the tradition of his music alive and well into the new millennium.
In the midst of the burden of legend, Hank Thompson, the man, remains as genuine and unaffected by greatness as any true gentleman from Waco, Texas, could. His heart still beats to a Western Swing.
And... most of all, Hank Thompson is still busy making "new history" with the music he loves.
Like many country stars, Henry William Thompson
took an early interest in music, winning several amateur contests on the
harmonica. After he became enthralled by cowboy movie idol Gene Autry,
however, the guitar became Thompson’s instrument of choice. With a
Christmas present from his parents, a four-dollar guitar bought at a
secondhand store, young Hank was on his way. By the time he finished high
school he was broadcasting over radio station WACO as Hank the Hired Hand,
sponsored by a local flour company.
After graduating, Thompson enlisted in the U.S. Navy. While stationed in San Diego, he persuaded his superiors to let him play area clubs, and after putting out to sea, he entertained his shipmates as well. He kept on broadcasting, too, over a network of small stations organized by American military personnel in the South Pacific. While in the navy he also took advantage of training programs and studied electrical engineering at Southern Methodist University, the University of Texas, and Princeton University—making him one of country music’s better-educated stars.
© Hank Thompson Enterprises 2006