I Saw the Light (Hank Williams song)

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"I Saw the Light"
Single by Hank Williams
B-side "Six More Miles (To the Graveyard)"
Released September 1948
Format 10" single (MGM 10271)
Recorded April 21, 1947
Genre Country, gospel
Length 2:45
Label MGM Records
Writer(s) Hank Williams
Producer(s) Fred Rose
Hank Williams singles chronology
"I'm a Long Gone Daddy"
(1948)
"I Saw the Light"
(1948)
"A Mansion on the Hill"
(1948)

"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.[1] 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.[2] His first MGM session took place on April 21, 1947. The first song he recorded was "Move It on Over." The second was "I Saw the Light."

Composition[edit]

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 roused 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.[3] 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.[4] Biblical citations were used, including the Gospels of Matthew and John,[5] as well as excerpts from the First Epistle to the Thessalonians and Book of Revelation.[6] As Williams' biographer Colin Escott astutely observes, while the melody and even some of the lyrics bear a passing resemblance to the earlier Brumley tune, "'I Saw the Light' wasn't just 'He Set Me Free' with new lyrics, though. It was the prayer of the backslider, who lives in hope of redemption."[7]

Recording & Release[edit]

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).[8] 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.[9] Audrey, like many people who sing badly, seemed to have no sense of how bad she was as a vocalist, and her duets with Hank were like an extension of their married life as she fought him for dominance on every note.[7] In the American Masters episode on Williams' life, steel guitarist and Drifting Cowboy Don Helms recalls Hank "came off stage one day and said, 'Boy, it's rough to have a wife who wants to sing, but it's hell to have one who wants to sing and can't."

While the release of Williams' recording was held, the first issued version was by Clyde Grubb, who recorded it on August 13, 1947.[3] It was released by RCA Records (RCA 20-2485) in October 1947 with "When God" on the flipside, backed by his Tennessee Valley Boys.[10] Williams' version was released in September 1948, while it was later copyrighted on November 16.[11] It was backed with "Six More Miles (To the Graveyard)" and issued on MGM Records (MGM 10271).[12] Boys' Life favored the record, stating: "It's a typical Hank Williams lament, which you western and hillbilly fans will eat up".[13] Hank first appeared on the Kate Smith Evening Hour on March 26, 1952, and joined in with the rest of the cast singing "I Saw The Light."

Legacy[edit]

"I Saw the Light" was not a commercial success upon its release but has since become his most recognized hymn and one of his most popular songs.[14] The song became a standard for Country Music and was covered by several artists of the genre and beyond. Allmusic called it one of Williams' "finest songs concerning his strong religious conviction".[15] It was ranked first in Country Music Television's 20 Greatest Songs of Faith in 2005.[16] The 2015 Williams biopic starring Tom Hiddleston was named after the song.[17]

Cover versions[edit]

Footnotes[edit]

Refereces[edit]

  • 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 |title= (help)
  • 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.