Thompson, Hank, (Henry William)

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Thompson, Hank, (Henry William)

Thompson, Hank, (Henry William), American country music singer and songwriter; b. Waco, Tex., Sept. 3, 1925. Thompson effected a transition between the Western Swing style of country music and the more hard-edged honky-tonk style, especially in the late 1940s and early 1950s, when he scored such hits as “The Wild Side of Life,” “Rub-a-Dub-Dub,” and “Wake Up, Irene.”

Thompson took up the harmonica as a child and switched to guitar after receiving one for Christmas when he was ten. As a teenager he had his own radio show on a local Waco station. After graduating from high school in January 1943 he enlisted in the navy and served during World War II in the Pacific theater of operations. Discharged in 1945, he used the G.I. Bill to attend Princeton Univ., Southern Methodist Univ. in Dallas, and the Univ. of Tex. at Austin. In 1946 he returned to his radio show, formed a band, The Brazos Valley Boys, and began recording for small record labels.

Thompson signed to Capitol Records in 1947; his first single for the label, the self-penned “Humpty Dumpty Heart”, peaked in the country Top Ten in March 1948. He scored four more country Top Tens through 1949, the most successful being a remake of his composition “Whoa Sailor”, which he had first cut three years earlier. But his real breakthrough came in 1952, when he released the honky tonk anthem “The Wild Side of Life” (music and lyrics by Arlie Carter and William Warren), which topped the charts in May and became the biggest hit of the year.

Thompson had two more country Top Tens in 1952 and four in 1953, among them the chart-toppers “Rub-a-Dub-Dub” (music and lyrics by Hank Thompson) and “Wake Up, Irene” (music and lyrics by Weldon Allard and John Hathcock), the latter an answer record to “Goodnight, Irene.” The most successful of the five country Top Ten hits he scored in 1954 was a remake of his 1948 record “Green Light,” “The New Green Light” (music and lyrics by Hank Thompson); among his four 1955 country Top Tens was an instrumental recording of “Wildwood Flower” (music and lyrics by A. P. Carter and Hank Thompson) that featured Merle Travis.

Thompson’s record sales diminished in the second half of the 1950s, although he scored five more country Top Ten hits through 1961, the most successful of which was 1958’s “Squaws Along the Yukon” (music and lyrics by Cam Smith). His sales picked up when he moved to Warner Bros. Records in 1966 and again when he joined Dot Records in 1968, the latter association quickly bringing him two new country Top Ten hits, “On Tap, in the Can, or in the Bottle” and “Smoky the Bar.” Though he had at least one single in the country charts every year through 1983, his last two Top Tens came in 1974 with “The Older the Violin, the Sweeter the Music” and “Who Left the Door to Heaven Open?” Meanwhile, he and his band toured regularly, playing hundreds of dates each year well into the 1990s.


Live at the Golden Nugget (1958); The Best of Hank Thompson (ree. 1966-78; rei. 1996).

—William Ruhlmann

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Thompson, Hank, (Henry William)

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