Laura Cantrell performed her beautiful tribute to the late “Queen of Country Music” Kitty Wells, the titletrack of her 2011 album Kitty Wells Dresses, Tuesday night at City Winery, with husband Jeremy Tepper, program director of SiriusXM satellite radio’s Outlaw Country and Willie’s Roadhouse channels, in attendance.
I don’t know why it took me so long—going on four years—to see the connection between it and a song Tepper co-wrote and recorded in 1990 with his band the World Famous Blue Jays. “Do It For Hank” was produced by Eric Ambel and released on Tepper’s Diesel Only label, which focused on trucker country songs but also put out Kitty Wells Dresses.
Cantrell’s song speaks for itself. It was the only original in a set of Wells songs expertly chosen by Cantrell, who’s as knowledgeable about vintage country music as her husband.
What’s so cool about “Do It for Hank,” though, is that it’s part of a grand tradition of Hank Williams tribute songs. I’ll touch on four.
Moe Bandy’s 1975 country hit “Hank Williams, You Wrote My Life,” is pretty straightforward in expressing the singer’s identification with Williams songs (“You wrote ‘Your Cheatin’ Heart’ about a gal just like my first ex-wife’”).
Waylon Jennings’ hit “Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way,” also from 1975, wearily questions whether the prescribed route to stardom being laid out for him—“ Ten years down the road, making one night stands/Speeding my young life away”—was really the way Hank done it.
David Allan Coe took a mystical approach on his spooky 1983 hit “The Ride,” in which a hitchhiker gets picked up and briefly mentored by the ghost of Hank.
Of course, no one could do a Hank Williams tribute song better than Hank Williams, Jr., whose “The Conversation” finds Waylon intensely querying Bocephus about his dad. Even the video is genius.
Coe actually took the Hank Williams tribute to the next level with his “Hank Williams Junior–Junior” tribute to Junior, who became so big both physically and talentwise that Coe didn’t feel comfortable calling him Junior anymore.
And Tepper? “Do It for Hank” is a rowdy country rockin’ trucker’s pick-up line that Junior, if not Senior, was certainly proud of—if he ever heard it—and an original take on a well-worn country music theme and subgenre.