Kaw-Liga (// kaw-LY-jə) is a country-music song written by Hank Williams and Fred Rose. Backed by the Drifting Cowboys, Hank Williams recorded the song in Nashville in September 1952 and the single was released posthumously in January 1953 on the MGM Records label. It was first released by Champ Butler. It remained No. 1 on the Billboard Country chart for 14 weeks. The flipside, "Your Cheatin' Heart, remained No. 1 on the country chart for 6 weeks. Kawliga is a community in central Alabama on Lake Martin. Named after a legendary Indian for which a wooden statue was later placed near the lake, the song was written by Hank when he was staying at a lakeside cabin that still stands today. It is myth that Hank was looking out of his window at the statue when he wrote the song. The original Indian statue was actually removed from the Hale Motor Company, the Pontiac dealership in Alexander City, after Hank’s death (and later replaced, due to vandalism, by the Pontiac chieftain statue from the Pontiac dealership in Sylacauga, Alabama). Pontiac had revamped its image in 1952 with the new Chieftain line, and the “chieftain” proved to be Kaw-liga’s doppelganger. Alexander City pre-owned car dealer Fred Dobbs says in 1962 Lake Martin local Andy Thomas, a friend of his, drove to Sylacauga in a 1955 Ford wagon after local attorney Sim Wilbanks and WRFS disc jockey Bob Mckinnon had arranged for him to pick up Chieftain number two at John Ogletree Pontiac Company. Thomas was accompanied by local handymen Rickey, Johnny and wife Sue Howard. Fred's general manager and son Todd Dobbs has a picture in his office of the four with the Chieftain in the Ford Wagon.
"Kaw-Liga" is a song about a wooden Indian, Kaw-Liga, who falls in love with an "Indian maid over in the antique store" but does not tell her so, being, as the lyrics say:
- Too stubborn to ever show a sign,
- Because his heart was made of knotty pine.
The Indian maid waits for Kaw-Liga to signal his affection for her, but he either refuses or is physically/emotionally unable (interpretations vary) to talk, ever the stoical Native American of the popular stereotype. Because of his stubbornness, Kaw-Liga's love continues to be unrequited, with Hank Williams, the narrator/singer of the song lamenting,
- Poor ol Kaw-liga, he never got a kiss,
- Poor ol Kaw-liga, he don't know what he missed,
- Is it any wonder that his face is red?
- Kaw-liga, that poor ol' wooden head.
The song ends with the Indian maid being bought and taken away from the antique store by a buyer, leaving Kaw-Liga alone,
- As lonely as can be,
- And wishes he was still an ol' pine tree.
"Kaw-Liga" has also been covered by artists such as Charley Pride, Roy Orbison, Marty Robbins, Loretta Lynn, Boxcar Willie, Johnny Cash, Don McLean, Big Sandy & His Fly-Rite Boys, New Riders of the Purple Sage, and Jayke Orvis & the Broken Band.
Hank owned a cabin in Kowaliga Bay on Lake Martin, Alabama. The home was privately owned by Hank's daughter Jett Williams and was donated to Children's Harbor. Children's Harbor is a not for profit camp for seriously ill children and their families. The camp does not allow tours of the cabin at this time but does host weddings and functions when camp is not in session.
The avant-garde band The Residents recorded the song for their album Stars & Hank Forever: The American Composers Series, replacing its original backing music with the bassline of Michael Jackson's Billie Jean. This was more than likely a reference to Williams' wife, who was named Billie Jean.
- Jim Dawson, & Steve Propes (1992). What Was the First Rock'n'Roll Record. Boston & London: Faber & Faber. pp. 111–114. ISBN 978-0-571-12939-3.
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