I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry

If the lyric to I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry strikes you as particularly poetic, it may be because it was originally written to be spoken, not sung. There is a long tradition in country music of spoken-word performance with musical accompaniment—refered to as "recitations"—and according to Williams' biographer Colin Escott these words were penned for the first session of recitations Hank was to record in January of 1950. Instead, they became the lyric to one of his most enduring and oft-recorded songs, one that Williams himself cited it as his personal favorite.

Escott also recounts that the overtly poetic nature of the lyric left Hank himself unsure that such artsy material would fly with his rural audience. So although the song has been a hit for other artists and is one of very few songs from that era on Rolling Stone's 500 Greatest Songs of All Time, Hank's own version was a B-side of My Bucket's Got A Hole In It and didn't chart for him.

His is still the definitive take, however, so any study of the song has to begin with this track from 1949. Producer Fred Rose would have prefered that Hank stick with singing and drop the guitar altogether. Though Williams insisted on playing, his guitar was not miked, so that's rhythm guitarist Louis Innes you hear chunking out barred chords to great effect on this track. Zeke Turner is on electric guitar, laying down melodic figures on the low strings much as he did on the Delmore Brothers' Blues Stay Away From Me only a few weeks before this recording session. On this clip you'll hear the beginning of a very tasteful steel guitar solo by Jerry Byrd. Later (and unfortunately, not included on this clip) fiddle great Tommy Jackson steps up for an equally restrained pass. Both are worthy of a careful listen, especially by those who think a solo has to be hyper-complex to be effective.

Audio Clip: Hank Williams plays I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry, 1949

We could include countless recordings of this song by artists from every niche of the country music world, but we'll limit ourselves to just two. The first is from veteran bluegrass guitarist and vocalist Larry Sparks. Within the bluegrass world he is well known as both a singer and picker, all of which is well chronicled in this feature by Dan Miller in Flatpicking Guitar Magazine (a terrific publication) in 2000. Unfortunately, Sparks doesn't take a guitar break on this cut, but he does establish his creds as a straight-ahead interpreter of Hank Sr. He devoted an entire album to doing so, spendidly (shown right.)

Audio Clip: Larry Sparks singing I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry, 1994


By the standards of Sparks, the young members of Crooked Still are the proverbial new kids on the block. But their success at reinterpreting traditional bluegrass and old timey music has property values going up all around them, so I don't suppose any of the neighbors are complaining. They were featured at the Grey Fox bluegrass festival in 2006 and the following clip is from that performance. I've included one vocal chorus and then yet another tasteful solo, this one by cellist Rushad Eggleston. As it happens, they are performing the song in the same key as our arrangement so you might be interested in trying out the slight reharmonization they employ. After the F chord, our arrangement (ignoring the 7ths for the moment) reads C-C-C-G-C-G; for that same 6 bars they play C-Am-Dm7-G7-C-G7. Fancy schmantsy.

Audio Clip: Crooked Still on I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry, recorded live in 2006.


Lest you think that this song is only fodder for the country mill, however, here are a few snapshots of how citified artists have taken their country cousin under wing and shown it the sights. Proof positive that you can't keep a good song down (on the farm!)

Audio Clip: Little Richard

Audio Cip: The Reverend Al Green

Audio Clip: Jazz guitarist Lenny Breau with pedal steel great Buddy Emmons