I Saw the Light (Hank Williams song)
|"I Saw the Light"|
|Single by Hank Williams|
|B-side||"Six More Miles (To the Graveyard)"|
|Format||10" single (MGM 10271)|
|Recorded||April 21, 1947|
|Hank Williams singles chronology|
"I Saw the Light" is a country gospel song written by Hank Williams. Williams was inspired to write the song while returning from a concert by a remark his mother made while they were arriving in Montgomery, Alabama. He recorded the song during his first session for MGM Records, and released in September 1948.
The song became the show closer for Williams and one of his most popular tunes. Williams' version did not enjoy major success during its initial release. The song was soon covered by other acts and with time became a country-gospel standard.
In September 1946, Hank Williams auditioned for Nashville's Grand Ole Opry but was rejected. After the failure of his audition, Williams and his wife Audrey tried to interest the recently formed music publishing firm Acuff-Rose Music. Williams and his wife approached Fred Rose, who signed him to a six song contract, and leveraged a deal with Sterling Records. In December 1946, Williams had his first recording session. The songs "Never Again" and "Honky Tonkin'" became successful, and earned Williams the attention of MGM Records.
Writing and recording
Williams was inspired to write the song in January 1947 while returning from a show in Fort Deposit, Alabama. His mother, Lilly, drove him and the band back to Montgomery that night. As she was approaching the city, she spotted the lights of Dannelly Field Airport. Williams, who slept inebriated in the backseat of the car was waken up by his mother, who told him "I just saw the light", announcing him that they were close to Montgomery. He wrote the first draft on January 26, 1947.
The lyrics and the melody by Williams closely resembled Albert E. Brumley's "He Set Me Free", published in 1939 and released in March 1941 by The Chuck Wagon Gang. Biblical citations were used, including the Gospels of Matthew and John, as well as excerpts from the First Epistle to the Thessalonians and Book of Revelation.
Williams recorded the song during his first session with MGM Records on April 21, 1947. The band was composed by part of Red Foley's backing, including Zeke and Zeb Turner (guitar), Brownie Raynolds (bass), Tommy Jackson (fiddle) and Smokey Lohman (steel guitar). Williams had also recorded a version of the song on a later session with his wife, which he sent to Rose on August 19. On the accompanying letter, he discouraged the producer to issue the recording.
While the release of Williams' recording was held, the first issued version was by Clyde Grubb. Grubb recorded it on August 13, 1947. It was released by RCA Records (RCA 20-2485) in October 1947 with "When God" on the flipside, backed by his Tennessee Valley Boys.
Williams' version was released in September 1948, while it was later copyrighted on November 16. It was backed with "Six More Miles (To the Graveyard)" and issued on MGM Records (MGM 10271). Boys' Life favored the record, stating: "It's a typical Hank Williams lament, which you western and hillbilly fans will eat up".
"I Saw the Light" was not a commercial success upon its release. Williams used it as the closer of his shows. It later became one of his most popular songs. The song became a standard for Country Music, and was covered by several artists of the genre. Allmusic called it one of Williams' "finest songs concerning his strong religious conviction". It was ranked first in Country Music Television's 20 Greatest Songs of Faith in 2005. The 2015 Williams biopic starring Tom Hiddleston was named after the song.
Roy Acuff covered the song in a recording session on November 11, 1947. The single was released by Columbia Records (CCO-4895) in February 1948, with "Thank God" on the flipside. During Williams' funeral in 1953, Acuff led the singing of the song, while he was joined on the chorus by artists including Red Foley, Webb Pierce, Carl Smith and Bill Monroe among others present.). Acuff turned the song into his show closer, he later recorded it again in collaboration with Nitty Gritty Dirt Band in 1971. The collaboration reached number 56 on Billboard's Top Country Singles.
Monroe recorded the song in 1958, which he released as the title-track of his first gospel album the same year. Merle Haggard included it on his 1971 album The Land of Many Churches. In 1972, Earl Scruggs included it on his album I Saw the Light with Some Help from My Friends.
In 1973, Tompall Glaser included a cover in his release Charlie. The same year, Chicago-based country band Mason Proffit released a cover version. Crystal Gayle included the song in her 1995 album Someday.
- Williams, Roger M 1981, p. 59-60.
- Young, William H.; Young, Nancy K. 2010, p. 234.
- Escott, Colin 1994, p. 69.
- Wolfe, Charles 2002, p. 245.
- Kindred, Douglas 2014, p. 65, 66.
- Collins, Ace 1999, p. 127.
- Escott, Colin 1994, p. 67.
- Koon, George William 1983, p. 36.
- Billboard staff 1947, p. 130.
- Escott, Colin 1994, p. 313.
- Koon, George William 1983, p. 34.
- Waring, Fred 1948, p. 25.
- Collins, Ace 1999, p. 126.
- Ward, Thomas 2015.
- CMT 2005.
- Michaels, Sean & 2014.
- Agenant, William 1996, p. 16.
- McNeil, W.K. 2013, p. 6.
- Wolfe, Charles; Akerson, James 2002, p. 175.
- Rosenberg, Neil; Wolfe, Charles 2007, p. 118.
- Erlewine, Stephen Thomas; Bogdanov, Vladimir; Woodstra Chris 2003, p. 309.
- Dicaire, David 2007, p. 136.
- Erlewine, Stephen Thomas; Bogdanov, Vladimir; Woodstra Chris 2003, p. 286.
- Whitburn, Joel 2001, p. 551.
- Erlewine, Stephen Thomas; Bogdanov, Vladimir; Woodstra Chris 2003, p. 275.
- Karras, Steve 2014.
- Agenant, William (1996). Columbia 78 Rpm Record Listing, 20001 Thru 21571, Plus OKeh Records 18001 Thru 18059. Joycee Record Club.
- Billboard staff (1947). "Advanced Record Sales". Billboard (Nielsen Business Media, Inc) 59 (42). ISSN 0006-2510.
- CMT (2005). "20 Greatest Songs of Faith". 60 minutes in. Country Music Television. Missing or empty
- Collins, Ace (1999). Turn Your Radio On: The Stories Behind Gospel Music's All-Time Greatest Songs. Zondervan. ISBN 978-0-310-86449-3.
- Dicaire, David (2007). The First Generation of Country Music Stars: Biographies of 50 Artists Born Before 1940. McFarland. ISBN 978-0-786-43021-5.
- Erlewine, Stephen Thomas; Bogdanov, Vladimir; Woodstra Chris (2003). All Music Guide to Country: The Definitive Guide to Country Music. ISBN 9780879307608.
- Escott, Colin (1994). Hank Williams: The Biography. Hachette Digital, Inc. p. 307. ISBN 0-316-24986-6.
- Karras, Steve (2014). "Orange is the New Black's Annie Golden". Huffington Post (TheHuffingtonPost.com, Inc). Retrieved April 27, 2015.
- Kindred, Douglas (2014). Read Matthew to Live Your Life, Read John to Save Your Soul. WestBow Press. ISBN 978-1-490-83587-7.
- Koon, George William (1983). Hank Williams, so lonesome. University of Mississippi press. ISBN 978-1-57806-283-6.
- McNeil, W.K. (2013). Encyclopedia of American Gospel Music. Routledge. ISBN 978-1-135-37700-7.
- Michaels, Sean (2014). "Tom Hiddleston set to play country icon Hank Williams in new biopic". The Guardian (Guardian News and Media Limited). Retrieved 16 June 2014.
- Rosenberg, Neil; Wolfe, Charles (2007). The Music of Bill Monroe. University of Illinois Press. ISBN 978-0-252-03121-2.
- Ward, Thomas (2015). "I Saw the Light". Allmusic. Rovi Corporation. Retrieved April 14, 2015.
- Waring, Fred (1948). "Off the Record". Boys' Life (Boy Scouts of America, Inc) 39 (2). ISSN 0006-8608.
- Whitburn, Joel (2001). Joel Whitburn's top pop albums, 1955-2001. Record Research. ISBN 978-0-898-20147-5.
- Williams, Roger M (1981). Sing a sad song: the life of Hank Williams. University of Illinois Press. ISBN 978-0-252-00861-0.
- Wolfe, Charles (2002). Classic Country: Legends of Country Music. Routledge. ISBN 978-1-135-95734-6.
- Wolfe, Charles; Akerson, James (2002). Country Music Annual 2002. University Press of Kentucky. ISBN 978-0-813-12698-2.
- Young, William H.; Young, Nancy K. (2010). World War II and the Postwar Years in America: A Historical and Cultural Encyclopedia. ABC-CLIO. ISBN 978-0-313-35652-0.