Toe-tapping, hand-clapping songs and music of the 1950s was the venue Saturday night at the Historic Constantine Theater.
Hankerin’ 4 Hank was an amazing tribute to the late Hank Williams Sr. As an American singer, song-writer and musician, Williams is regarded as one of the most important country music artists of all time with 35 recorded singles, five of which were released following his death in 1953.
Hankerin’ 4 Hank traces the life of Hank Williams, beginning when he was eight years old and shining shoes to earn five to ten cents to pay Rufus Payne for guitar lessons. Payne was a black street performer who had a major influence on Williams’s later musical style.
Standing behind a vintage microphone, Announcer/Producer Steve Cannon transported the audience back to 1937 to the recording studio of WSFA Radio Station where William’s career was launched. In the early 1950s, Williams was hired to perform and host a 15-minute program called “Health and Happiness.” It was during this time that Williams formed his long-lasting backup band, the Drifting Cowboys
Next up was a recreation of the Grand Ole Opry where the audience was treated to a seemingly unending bevy of melodies; intermingled with bits humor, and history as the story of Hank Williams unfolded.
Jim Paul Blair immersed himself into the role of the ill-fated singer by discussing how alcohol and drug abuse ruined his first marriage, destroyed his career, and ultimately his death at the young age of 29 – scarcely five months after his second marriage to Bill Jean. Despite his short life, Williams has had a major influence on country music. The songs he wrote and recorded have been covered by numerous artists, many of whom have also had hits with the tunes in a range of pop, gospel, and blues. Most notable were his hits “Your Cheatin’ Heart,” Hey, Good Lookin,” and “I’m So Lonesome I could Cry.”
Prior to resuming his role as Hank Williams, Blair spent three months portraying rock ‘n’ roll legend Buddy Holly. He attributed his lean physique to unintentionally losing 20 pounds. Blair said the Buddy Holly show was demanding with daily rehearsals and nightly performances. Holly, along with entertainers Ritchie Valens and the Big Bopper died in a plane crash in February 1959 following a show in Clear Lake, Iowa. Blair had the lead role as other Oklahoma musicians and vocalists brought Buddy back to life for the jukebox musical, “Buddy – The Buddy Holly Story” which had ten sold-out performances at the Muskogee Theater. “Tonight is my fist night back as Hank in a long time,” said Blair.
“I grew up playing western swing. My mom, Ramona Reed, started with the Grand Ole Opry but had a little tiff with Hank’s first wife, Audrey. She left there to go to Dallas and joined Bob Wells. I grew up in Odessa around the Texas Playboys. I switched to bluegrass 29 years ago with several of the band members, Mickey Flatt and Cliff Parrett. We formed Hankerin’ 4 Hank in 2009. The first time we did a Hank Williams program was in Oklahoma City in 2003. Later, I did the play Lost Highway and had a clothier named Manuel make me a couple of Hank’s suits and boots. Manuel worked on the original Hank Williams Sr. Nudie suits. Manuel just happened to be married to Nudie Cohen’s daughter. We decided to create ‘Hankerin’ 4 Hank to enable me to get my money back.”
Blair’s musical career began when he was about 11 or 12 and he started playing as a drummer. He said he always liked to sing, but didn’t really start until high school.
“I played with Garth Brooks back at Oklahoma State.” After graduating from college, Blair worked as a CPA. He then spent ten years in Nashville where he worked as a CFO for a hospital in addition to being a freelance musician.
Following a divorce, Blair moved to Muskogee and began devoting full-time to his musical career. He is currently Executive Director of the Oklahoma Music Hall of Fame. Blair affectionately calls wife, Tracy, “Billy Jean” after Williams’ second wife.
The Constantine audience was given a glimpse into Blair’s exceptional musical talents with pre-concert songs of the famed Johnny Cash. Blair has also re-invented himself and his music to mimic Elvis Presley and Marty Robbins.
Fans of Hankerin’ 4 Hank were overhead saying, “Blair actually sounded better than the late Hank Williams.” Many were asking when the Constantine would bring him back. “Blair and the Drifting Cowboys Band did a remarkable job of making us feel right at home,” said Barbara McVey. After their concert, all of the band members mingled with their fans and graciously consented to photo ops. Rave reviews continue throughout the community about the exceptional Hankerin’ 4 Hank performance.
In addition to Jim Blair as Hank Williams on his Rhythm Guitar, others members of the Drifting Cowboys include Virgil Bonham, Lead Guitar, Mickey Flatt, Steel Guitar, Cliff Parrett, Doghouse Bass, Cory Wyatt, Drums, and newest member Fiddler player, Tim Guillam. Steve Cannon is the Band’s Announcer/Producer.
Constantine President Garrett Hartness and his incredible board of directors are to be commended for their efforts in bringing quality entertainment to Pawhuska and the surrounding area. Hankerin’ 4 Hank was a first-class production and live entertainment at its best. Next on tap for the historic theater is Walt Disney’s production of Cinderella on August 24.