b. Henry William Thompson, 3 September 1925, Waco, Texas, USA.
Thompson, as a young boy, was fond of records by Jimmie Rodgers
and the Carter Family. He first learned the harmonica and then
his parents gave him a guitar for his tenth birthday. He also
played Hawaiian guitar, learned conjuring tricks and had a
ventriloquist's doll. With his range of talents, he was a popular
performer at Saturday morning stage shows in Waco. In 1942, he
began his own local radio series, HankThe Hired Hand.
From 1943 Thompson served three years in the US navy. He worked
as an electrical engineer and, in his spare time, he entertained
his shipmates. He says, The navy enhanced my career as it
gave the opportunity to perform all the time. When I was overseas,
I knew the guys were getting tired of hearing the same songs and
so I started writing. In 1946, he returned to Waco, formed
the Brazos Valley Boys (named after the river running through
Waco), and began performing at dances throughout Texas. His own
song, Whoa Sailor, was a regional hit on Globe Records. It was
followed by A Lonely Heart Knows on Bluebonnet. Country star Tex
Ritter heard Thompson and recommended him to his label, Capitol.
Almost immediately, Thompson had a number 2 country hit with (I've
Got A) Humpty Dumpty Heart. In 1949 he had another country hit
with a re-recorded Whoa Sailor. Thompson was a tall, upright
performer with a resonant voice not unlike Ritter's, who dressed
himself and his band in expensive Nudie suits. Applying his
engineering knowledge, he gave the band a powerful live sound and
lighting, and soon he had the most successful western swing band
in the USA.
In 1951 Thompson began a 13-year partnership with the Hollywood record producer Ken Nelson and recorded his most successful single, The Wild Side Of Life, in one take. (Ironically Crying In The Deep Blue Sea was the original a-side). The Wild Side Of Life stayed at the top of the US country charts for 15 weeks and won Thompson a gold record. Kitty Wells recorded an answer version, It Wasn't God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels, while Thompson himself answered Goodnight, Irene with Wake Up, Irene. Defying conventions, Thompson was permitted to repeat its snare drum sound on the Grand Ole Opry. Thompson had further country hits with Waiting In The Lobby Of Your Heart, Rub-A-Dub-Dub, Breakin The Rules, Honky Tonk Girl, The Blackboard Of My Heart, and Breakin In Another Heart, which was co-written with his wife Dorothy. In 1957 Thompson parodied rock n roll in Rockin' In The Congo and became a successful performer in Las Vegas. He heard Squaws Along The Yukon on a hunting trip in Alaska with Merle Travis and together they arranged and updated the song. In 1959 became the first country artist to record in stereo via the best-selling SONGS FOR ROUNDERS, and the first to record an in concert album, LIVE AT THE GOLDEN NUGGET. He heard a band in a club in Holbrook, Arizona and was most impressed with their original song, A Six Pack To Go. He turned the song into a country standard, later reviving it in duet with George Strait, and had further country hits with She's Just A Whole Lot Like You and Oklahoma Hills. Since Thompson left Capitol in 1964, he has recorded for several labels and his country hits have included Smokey The Bar, Where Is The Circus?, The Older The Violin, The Sweeter The Music and, appropriately, Mr. Honky Tonk, The King Of Western Swing. He has recorded tribute albums to the Mills Brothers (CAB DRIVER) and Nat King Cole. In 1973 Thompson opened a school of country music in Claremore, Oklahoma, where he taught. He was elected to the Country Music Hall Of Fame in 1989, and still tours throughout the world, wearing his sequinned jackets: The public is entitled to something that is colourful and flashy. We're in show business and there's nothing colourful about a T-shirt and ragged jeans.
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