Hank Thompson

****Hankworld (1954; Bloodshot, 1999)
***1/2Dance Rance/Songs for Rounders (1957-59; Koch, 1999)
****1/2Vintage Collections (1946-61; Capitol, 1996)
****The Best of Hank Thompson 1966-79 (Varese, 1996)
***1/2In the Mood for Hank (Jasmine, 2000)
***1/2Seven Decades (Hightone, 2000)

Hank Thompson wrote "Whoa Sailor" as a teenager in the Navy, and turned it into a minor hit when he got out in 1946. He put together a western swing band called the Brazos Valley Boys, and had big hits with "Humpty Dumpty Heart" in 1948 and his honky tonk classic "The Wild Side of Life" in 1951, the latter provoking the most famous of all answer songs, Kitty Wells' "It Wasn't God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels." Thompson's warm smile, silky voice, penchant for drinking songs and novelties, and business hustle charted songs into the next millennium.

Vintage Collections is a good sampler of Thompson's hits up to 1961, although it omits hit novelties like "Squaws Along the Yukon" to focus on his western swing. The Best of Hank Thompson 1966-1979 continues the story with fare like "He's Got a Way With Women" ("and he just got away with mine") and his latest pickup line, "The Older the Violin, the Sweeter the Music."

Thompson recorded dozens of albums, but very little remains in print. Hank World is a set of radio transcriptions from 1954, an interesting glimpse into Thompson's repertoire and a good showcase for his band. Dance Ranch/Songs for Rounders combines two albums that Thompson cut with Merle Travis, a mixed bag of traditionals, fancy instrumentals, honky tonk classics, and a near-classic drinking song, "Teach 'Em How to Swim."

Thompson has kept touring and recording well into his 70s: on his sprightly Seven Decades he's still on the prowl, singing "if there's honey in that hive/there's a sting in this old bee."


Unavailable, out-of-print, minor interest:

***1/2Radio Broadcasts 1952 (Country Routes, 1997)
***1/2At the Golden Nugget (1961, Liberty)
Six Pack to Go/Breakin' in Another Heart (1961-65; EMI, 1999)
Country Music Hall of Fame Series (MCA, 1992)
20 Greatest Hits (1994)
Greatest Songs, Vol. 1 (Curb, 1995)
Greatest Songs, Vol. 2 (Curb, 1995)
The Best of Hank Thompson (1996)
Hank Thompson & His Brazos Valley Boys (1946-64; Bear Family, 1996)
Real Thing (Curb, 1997)
Country Music Hall of Fame 1989 (King, 1999)

Born Henry William Thompson in Waco, Texas, September 3, 1925. In early '40s played on radio (WACO) as "Hank the Hired Hand." Graduated HS in 1943. Joined Navy, served in Pacific as radioman. Performed and started writing songs while in Navy, including "Whoa Sailor." After service, studied electrical engineering (Princeton, Texas, SMU). Returned to Waco, started working for KWTX. Assembled band Brazos Valey Boys. Recorded "Whoa Sailor" for Globe in 1946. In 1951 most successful single, "The Wild Side of Life," which was answered by Kitty Wells' "It Wasn't God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels." Thompson's "Wake Up, Irene" was an answer to "Goodnight, Irene."