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McAlester News-Capital, Okla.
RAMBLIN: Hank Williams: Time to leave ole Hank and his songs alone
James Beaty, McAlester News-Capital, Okla.
Sun, October 23, 2022 at 11:40 AM

Oct. 23—I recently ran across the name of a man identified as a country music songwriter, a man I I'd never heard of before named Paul Gilley, who purportedly wrote some of the classic country songs of the 1940s and '50s.

Since I like a lot of the music from that era, I decided to look a little deeper — and felt surprised to learn there were claims he wrote the Hank Williams classic songs, "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry" and "Cold, Cold Heart."

I immediately felt some skepticism because there have been many times where some have claimed they wrote the songs which are credited to other writers by the song's publisher and record company.

Sometimes such claims can be validated — but many more times they are not.

I've long been weary — and wary — of claims made by some that music publisher Fred Rose wrote many of the songs credited to Williams.

Rose, who founded the music publishing giant Acuff-Rose with country singer and fiddler Roy Acuff, was no doubt a great songwriter himself. Born in Indiana, relatives in St. Louis raised Rose, who as a young man performed on pianos for tips in the riverfront city.

He later moved to Chicago and started hitting as a songwriter, writing hits such as "Red Hot Mama" for Sophie Tucker.

Moving to New York City, Rose continued his songwriting endeavors in Tin Pan Alley, including collaborations with Gene Autry that led to songs such as Autry's hit, "Be Honest With Me."

When Grand Ole Opry star Roy Acuff decided to start the first country music publishing company in Nashville, he invited Rose to become his partner, and the rest is music-publishing history.

Acuff-Rose had the credo "that no man, or girl, that entered our door would be cheated out of a song, or one penny of anything that they've got coming."

When a young Hank Williams made the move from Alabama to Nashville to try and break into the country music business, he pitched his songs to Acuff-Rose — dealing with Fred Rose himself.

The story goes that Rose felt so impressed with Hank's songs, that he asked him to write a song virtually on the spot — supposedly to ensure that Hank had not "bought" his songs from another songwriter. He gave Hank the basic subject of a poor boy whose true love is about to marry a rich man for his money.

Supposedly, it only took Hank a short time to come up with what evolved in the classic song " A Mansion on the Hill," also known as "Mansion on the Hill."

I say evolved because "Mansion on the Hill" lists both Hank Williams and Fred Rose as writers. The Hank Williams classic "Kaw-Liga" is another hit credited to both Hank and Rose as co-writers.

But does that bolster the argument that Fred Rose wrote many of the songs credited to Hank Williams? No, it does the opposite — because the songs that Rose and Hank worked together on listed both of them as credited co-writers.

On most of Hanks' biggest hits, Hank alone is listed as the sole writer of his songs. If they'd been written by Rose, or even if they were collaborations between the two, Rose would have rightly taken a co-writing credit.

Both Hank and Rose were great songwriters. Rose wrote one of my favorite songs, "Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain."

Rose's music publishing partner Roy Acuff, originally recorded and later released in the song in 1947 — with "Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain" achieving country music immortality when Willie Nelson recorded it as the centerpiece for his 1975 album "Red Headed Stranger." Willie's version not only hit #1 on the Billboard Country Music charts it also earned Willie a Grammy for "Best Male Country Music Vocal.

All of which goes to show that although Hank and Rose collaborated on a few of Hank's classic recordings, Hank wrote most of them by himself.

If Rose wrote a Hank Williams hit that Hank had no hand in writing, Rose understandably took the sole writing credit — unless he had another co-writer.

I still remember my surprise in learning that Hank Williams had no hand in writing one of his most Hank-sounding songs, "Settin' the Woods on Fire." It's credited to Rose and another co-writer. — which also goes to show, Fred Rose would credit writers and co-writers of Hank's hits.

Hank is listed as the sole writer on many of his most enduring recordings, including "Hey Good Lookin'," "I Can't Help It" and "Jambalaya" as well as the two songs some claim Gilley wrote, "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry" and "Cold, Cold Heart."

I've seen Gilley mentioned as the real writer of the song "Crazy Arms," the career-making honky-tonk anthem that became Ray Price's first #1 song in 1956. But steel guitar player Ralph Mooney and Chuck Seals are the credited writers and I believe they wrote the song.

I've also seen Gilley listed as the "real" writer of another Hank Williams hit, "Half As Much." If you look at the songwriter credits, sometimes the songwriter of "Half As Much" is listed as simply "Williams" — but that doesn't refer to Hank Williams. Instead, it's reference to the credited songwriter, Curley Williams, from Georgia, which clearly disproves the Gilley authorship claim for that song.

Not that Gilley himself publicly claimed to have written any of the songs, as far as I can tell. He supposedly had coy answers when asked about them by his friends, such as he couldn't talk about such matters for contractual reasons.

Some of those who push the Gilley claim for authorship say that his parents were so distraught when he drowned in 1957, they burned all of his records, materials and contracts which supposedly would have proven his authorship of all those classic songs. That too, seems a convenient way of explaining why the claims cannot be definitely proven.

Hank took 12 songs to #1, and had 55 charted singles in his career, which ended all to soon when he died on Jan. 1, 1953, at the age of only 29. He is listed as the writer or co-writer of 167 songs in his lifetime.

So he supposedly met with Gilley in a bus station in Nashville where he bought the lyrics to "Cold, Cold Heart" and "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry," according to those pushing the Gilley theory.

Really? Hank was wildly famous in his lifetime, far beyond country music circles, as pop artists were also recording and scoring hits with his songs. And he's meeting with some unknown guy in a bus station to buy songs written by someone else?

That's a theory I don't buy. Fred Rose would have had to been in on it too, since Acuff-Rose was Hank's music publisher — and I've never seen anything to impugn Rose's character. After all, he's the same guy, who along with Roy Acuff, made the vow that no one dealing with their publishing company "would be cheated out of a song, or one penny of anything that they've got coming."

If anyone has proof to the contrary, I'd love to see it.

In the meantime, I think it's time to leave ole Hank alone and let him sing his songs — on those enduring recordings still treasured by his fans world-wide.

Contact James Beaty at jbeaty@mcalesternews.com.

There will always be another song to be written. Someone will write it. Why not you? www.garyeandrews.com
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The fact the Acuff-Rose company made this their credo;
"Acuff-Rose had the credo "that no man, or girl, that entered our door would be cheated out of a song, or one penny of anything that they've got coming.""
is an indication that some people would steal the Intellectual Property of the 'real' Song-Writer.
It was common knowledge, either that it had been done, or that people had claimed it had been done to them.
And people commonly undervalue their product. A guy once offered to hook me up with people who would buy all rights to a Song for about $1,400, as I recall.
Even today, 2022, people know the value of a 'hit' Song, and may try to get as much 'ownership' as possible, buying it completely, the writer signing a contract conveying all Song-Writing and Publishing Royalties to the 'buyer', retaining no right to claim authorship.
When the record business fell apart it wasn't uncommon for Artists to try to contract for permission to change one word in a Song, making them a 'co-writer', and earning a slice of the Song-Writing Royalties.
Colonel Parker always contracted to add Elvis as a co-writer on the Songs he 'covered', 'covered' because Elvis never wrote a Song.
When he tried it with Dolly Parton, who wrote "I Will Always Love You", she pointed out that she had already had a big hit with it so it wasn't logical to cut Elvis in now. Elvis never released the Song, though it is likely there's a recording of it somewhere. When Whitney Houston covered it Dolly said, "I paid a lot of bills with that one!"
Myths, stories, lies, three chords and the truth. Who knows. But going forward, beware. Your signature on a contract binds you to abide by whatever is written in that contract. Don't give away the store! Your Song is your Company. Take care of business.

Last edited by Gary E. Andrews; 10/24/22 02:21 PM.

There will always be another song to be written. Someone will write it. Why not you? www.garyeandrews.com
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Changing a word or two to become co-writer on a song is still being pulled today. That is about as low as a person can go.

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