Mysterious Final Few Days of Hank Wiliams, "The Last Ride" and Leonard Cohen's Tower of Song

July 1, 2012

A film about the last few days of Hank Williams, The Last Ride "rolled in" to Los Angeles a few days ago. It is being screened for only one week and at only at one location..

Whenever I hear the name Hank Williams, I think of these lyrics in Leonard Cohen's Tower Of Song:
I said to Hank Williams: how lonely does it get?
Hank Williams hasn't answered yet
But I hear him coughing all night long
A hundred floors above me
In the Tower of Song
When I went to the Leonard Cohen concert in Nashville (Nov/09), I visited the County Music Hall of Fame where I was fortunate to view the special limited time exhibit, Family Traditions: The Williams Family Legacy. It was one of the highlights of my first trip to Nashville.

Luckily for me, the Los Angleles cinema showing the film is reasonably close to where I live. So, I was excited to see it at the first show on the first day. Others had the same idea - it was very well attended for an early Friday afternoon.
Hank Williams-1951 promotion photo,wikipedia
The Last Ride - Synopisis:
He called himself Luke The Drifter. He pioneered what we know today as country music. At the peak of his career; he was acknowledged to be the greatest singer-songwriter in American history. After a meteoric rise to radio super-stardom in the late 1940's, Hank Williams had made a train wreck of his life. Drugs, alcohol and a hair-triggered temper ended two marriages, ruined a host of friendships and made the tortured genius an untouchable in the music business.

At the end of 1952, Hank Williams gathered what was left of his physical strength to make things right and began the long road back. On his way to a couple of New Year's shows in West Virginia and Ohio, he hired a local kid who didn't even own a radio, much less know who this legend was, to drive him to the gigs form Montgomery, AL.

Hank Williams never got there. Somewhere on that last highway, the country music legend passed away on New Years Day, in 1953, in the back of his powder blue Cadillac, carrying only his guitar and a notebook full of unfinished songs. He was 29.

Inspired by the mysterious final days of Hank Williams' life, THE LAST RIDE is the story of that final drive through the bleak Appalachian countryside of 1950's America.
  (Curb records, Facebook)
The media reviews have been varied.  Here are two: one by the snooty LA Times and one by NPR which I consider balanced. 
  • Hank Williams' 'Last Ride' goes nowhere (LA Times)  here  
  • Hank Williams Takes A Back Seat In 'The Last Ride' (NPR)  here

Here is my report as a cinema goer

First off, yes, "Hank Williams" coughed throughout the film.

Overall, I was disappointed with the movie for the lack of dramatic story telling.  I found the acting bland - probably because of the shallow script. The sparse story is well known and nothing was added to spark one's interest.

Hank Williams' 1952 Baby Blue Cadillac in which he took his final journey

To me, the powder blue Cadillac was the star of the movie.  It certainly dominated the screen especially against the desolate background of the countryside through which it traveled.

One dramatic device I found interesting - not once during the film was the name "Hank Williams" ever spoken. I suppose this was in keeping with one of the themes of this car trip - the driver never knew the real identity of his passenger.

Had I not watched an hour long pre-release Q&A on the film's official website, I would not have known how this could be possible.

In fact, I learned many interesting things from this Q&A, which included panelist Jett Williams, who was born 6 days after her father died.  I highly recommend watching it, especially if you intend to see the movie.

To watch the Q&A - open the film's official website  here  and on the right frame, choose BEHIND THE MOVIE

The other star of the film is the soundtrack - fantastic.

The soundtrack greatly enhanced the otherwise dull movie and I thoroughly enjoyed it.  And lucky for us, the entire soundtrack of The Last Ride is accessible online at Curb records, Facebook.

Tracks on The Last Ride soundtrack:
The Last Ride Theme – Benjy Gaither
Hey Good Lookin’ – Jett Williams
Honky Tonk Man – Russ Taff
Keep on the Sunny Side – Rebecca Frasier
I Will Marry You – Wes Hampton
It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels – Sarah Johns
Cold, Cold Heart – Doug Anderson
The Swing Low Sweet Chariot – Clyde Wright & The Incredible Golden Gates
I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry – Michael English
Longing – Jett Williams
Footprints – Benjy Gaither
I’m Winging My Way Back Home – The Blackwood Brothers
Can’t Help It If I’m Still In Love With You – Jett Williams
On I Down The Road – Val Storey
Chino – Nathan Young
Ilene – Nathan Young
What Ya Gonna Do – Nathan Young
Tennessee Waltz – Nathan Young
O Come Angel Band – The Isaacs
Hank Williams’ Blues – Jett Williams
The Night Hank Williams Came To Town – Johnny Cash & Waylon Jennings
The Last Ride – Tony Ramey

Tower Of Song
Las Vegas, Caesars Palace
December 10, 2010  
At his outro, Leonard Cohen pays special thanks to his back up singers 
(see earlier post here)

In LA, the film was shown at the Laemmle NoHo 7, North Hollywood.

One of the producers in the Q&A mentioned they were "rolling out" the film one city at a time which was how it was done back in the 50's. Hence my reference in quotes at the top.

For other cities where this film is scheduled, check out the official movie site - on the right frame there is a link for THEATER LISTINGS.

Photo of Hank Williams' 1952 Baby Blue Cadillac: The Hank Williams Museum 

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