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Hank Thompson Biography

Hank Thompson Biography

Hank Thompson was a country music entertainer whose career spanned seven decades. He sold over 60 million  records worldwide.  Thompson's musical style, characterized as Honky Tonk Swing, was a mixture of fiddles, electric guitar and steel guitar that featured his distinctive, gravelly baritone vocals. His backing band, The Brazos Valley Boys, was voted the #1 Country Western Band for 14 years in a row by Billboard Magazine. The primary difference between his music and that of Bob Wills was that Thompson, who used the swing beat and instrumentation to enhance his vocals, discouraged the sort of intense instrumental soloing from his musicians that Wills openly encouraged.  He was interested in music from an early age and won several amateur harmonica contests. He decided to pursue his musical talent after serving in the U.S. Navy in World War II as a radioman and studying electrical engineering at Princeton University before his discharge. He had intended to continue those studies on the GI Bill following his 1946 discharge and return to Waco. Later that year, after having a regional hit with his first single was "Whoa Sailor" for Blue Bonnet Records, he chose to pursue a fulltime musical career.  1952 brought his first #1 disc, "The Wild Side of Life", which contained the memorable line "I didn't know God made honky-tonk angels" (which inspired songwriter J.D. Miller two write the answer song, "It Wasn't God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels") which became the first hit single for pioneer female country vocalist Kitty Wells. Other hits followed in quick succession in the 1950s and 1960s.

Thompson began singing in a plaintive honky-tonk style similar to that of Ernest Tubb but desiring to secure more engagements in the dancehalls of the Southwest, reconfigured his band, the Brazos Valley Boys, to play a "lite" version of the western swing sound that Bob Wills and others made famous, emphasizing the dance beat and meticulous arrangements. Although not as prominent in later decades, he remained an active and respected performer in the field, finding new audiences as a result of the resurgence of a harder-edged sound in country music. From 1947 to 1965, he recorded for Capitol Records, then joined Warner Bros. Records, where he remained from 1966 through 1967. From 1968 through 1980, he recorded for Dot Records and its successors, ABC Dot and MCA Records. In 2000 he released a new album Seven Decades on the Hightone label closer in sound to his older Capitol material, unlike the slicker Nashville Sound that permeated most of his Dot material.  Hank Thompson was elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1989 and was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1997. Thompson continued limited touring, mostly in the West and Southwest, until shortly before he became ill. Often, he worked with a reconstituted version of the Brazos Valley Boys that included a few original members.

On November 1, 2007 Hank Thompson canceled the rest of his 2007 "Sunset Tour" and retired from singing, two days after being released from a Texas hospital and diagnosed with aggressive lung cancer. He went into hospice care at his home in Keller, Texas. Thompson's last performance had been on October 8, 2007 in Waco, Texas, his birthplace. He died a month later from lung cancer. According to his spokesman Tracy Pitcox, who is also president of Heart of Texas Records, Thompson requested that no funeral be held. On November 14, a "celebration of life," open to both fans and friend, took place at Billy Bob's Texas, a Fort Worth, Texas country & western nightclub that bills itself as "The World's Largest Honky Tonk".


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