From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Sheet music cover
Single by Hank Williams With His Drifting Cowboys
B-side"Your Cheatin' Heart"
PublishedDecember 2, 1952 (1952-12-02) Milene Music[1]
ReleasedJanuary 1953 (1953-01)
RecordedSeptember 23, 1952 (1952-09-23)[2]
StudioCastle Studio, Nashville
GenreCountry, Honky-tonk, country blues
LabelMGM K11416
Songwriter(s)Hank Williams, Fred Rose
Hank Williams With His Drifting Cowboys singles chronology
"I'll Never Get Out of This World Alive"
"Take These Chains From My Heart"

"Kaw-Liga" (/kɔːˈlə/ kaw-LY-jə) is a country music song written by Hank Williams and Fred Rose.


Hank Williams was from Alabama, and would vacation on Lake Martin.[3] The Lake Martin-area was once the home of Kowaliga, a former unincorporated town and a historically African-American community that was active from roughly 1890 until the mid-1920s.[4][5] When the song was written it was originally Kowaliga, but Fred Rose changed the spelling to "Kaw Liga" in order to focus on the storyline.[6] In 1953, "Kowaliga Day" was proclaimed by Alexander City Mayor Joe Robinson.[3]

"Kaw-Liga" is one of just a handful of songs that Williams wrote with Fred Rose, who produced his records and published his songs through his company Acuff-Rose. Rose often "doctored" the songs Williams composed, making suggestions and revisions, with biographer Roger M. Williams (no known relation) noting that Rose's contribution to Williams' songs was probably craftsmanship, whereas Williams' was genius. Roy Acuff later recalled:

Hank would come up with the ideas, and Fred would say, "Well, write it down and let me look at it." Hank'd bring it to Fred, and Fred would sit at the piano and compliment Hank and say, "Maybe you can express this a little differently, let's change it a little bit," but Fred never changed Hank's thinking.[7]


The song tells the story of 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. Some interpret Kaw-Liga as a stoical Native American stereotype; however, the subject of masculine pride and emotional hardness is a popular one in country music, and the then-common "dime-store Indians" (which were the store's way of advertising that they sold tobacco) being made of unmoving wood was a perfect symbol of an aversion to expression of emotion.[8] 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, and he

...stands thar
As lonely as can be,
And wishes he was still an ol' pine tree.

Recording and release[edit]

The song was recorded during Williams' final recording session on September 23, 1952, at Castle Studio in Nashville. The session also produced "I Could Never Be Ashamed of You," (written for his soon-to-be wife Billie Jean), "Take These Chains From My Heart" (also written by Rose), and Williams' signature ballad "Your Cheatin' Heart." ' More than any other song, "Kaw-Liga" bears evidence of the guiding hand of Rose, who moulded the song into nothing like Williams had recorded up to that point. It begins in a minor key, which modulates into a major key on the chorus, and also features big-band drummer Farris Coursey, who had played brushes on Williams' previous song "Moanin' the Blues" and played in WSM's dance band.[9] In addition, the song fades out, the only Hank Williams song to do so. Williams is also backed by Tommy Jackson (fiddle), Don Helms (steel guitar), Chet Atkins (lead guitar), Jack Shook (rhythm guitar), and Floyd "Lightnin'" Chance (bass). The single was released posthumously in January 1953 on the MGM Records label and it remained No. 1 on the Billboard Country chart for 14 weeks.[10] The flipside, "Your Cheatin' Heart, remained at No. 1 on the country chart for 6 weeks.[11]

A demo version of Williams singing "Kaw-Liga" with just his guitar, likely recorded in 1951,[12] is also available. On the recording, Williams misplays a chord and can be heard muttering "shit" before starting the song again.

The song is featured in two Wes Anderson films: Moonrise Kingdom and Asteroid City.[13]

Other versions[edit]


  • Escott, Colin; Merritt, George; MacEwen, William (1994). Hank Williams: The Biography. New York: Little, Brown. ISBN 978-0316249867.


  1. ^ "U.S. Copyright Office Virtual Card Catalog 1946-1954". vcc.copyright.gov. Retrieved September 9, 2021.
  2. ^ "Hank Williams 78rpm Issues". jazzdiscography.com. Retrieved September 23, 2021.
  3. ^ a b Huntley, Harold (March 20, 1953). ""Kowaliga Day" Program is 'Success'". The Alexander City Outlook. p. 1. Retrieved March 6, 2023.
  4. ^ Carlton, Bob (April 23, 2013). "Kowaliga Restaurant, a Lake Martin landmark that dates back to the early 1950s, gets ready to reopen". al.com. Retrieved March 5, 2023.
  5. ^ Morris, Bilal G. (February 14, 2022). "The Black Town Under Lake Martin: A Father & Son's Dream Of Greatness". NewsOne. Retrieved March 4, 2023.
  6. ^ Schafer, Elizabeth D. (November 1, 2002). Lake Martin, Alabama's Crown Jewel. Arcadia Publishing. pp. 104–105. ISBN 978-0-7385-2390-3. ...he asked Rose to travel to Alabama to compose the music. Rose retitled William's Kowaliga as "Kaw-Linga" and focused the story on the dime store Indian
  7. ^ Escott, Merritt & MacEwen 1994, p. 124.
  8. ^ "Journal of American Indian Education-Arizona State University". asu.edu. Archived from the original on November 1, 2006.
  9. ^ Escott, Merritt & MacEwen 1994, p. 324.
  10. ^ Whitburn, Joel (2004). The Billboard Book Of Top 40 Country Hits: 1944-2006, Second edition. Record Research. p. 388.
  11. ^ 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.
  12. ^ Escott, Merritt & MacEwen 1994, p. 328.
  13. ^ "Wes Anderson's Asteroid City Soundtrack Out from ABKCO Digitally Today". Focus Features. June 23, 2023.

External links[edit]