The keynote speaker [pullquote quote=”I was playing ‘Hank Williams’ Greatest Hits’ over and over, trying to crack its code.” credit=”Bruce Springsteen”]at the 2012 South by Southwest Music Conference was Bruce Springsteen, who got going at the “ungodly hour” of noon (Central Time) today. Touching on the many musical influences and inspirations he’s experienced over the years, he spoke quite a bit about how he “found his way to country music” during the 1970s. “In country music I found the adult blues, the working men and women’s stories I’d been looking for,” he said.

Springsteen’s address was tailor-made for music fans, covering a wide range of territory, from doo-wop and soul to early rock and roll, including Elvis Presley, Roy Orbison, the Beatles and the Animals (he even sang a few lines from the latter’s classic “We Gotta Get Out of This Place”).

During the late 1970s, though, Springsteen told how he “found (his) way to country music.”

“I was playing Hank Williams‘ Greatest Hits over and over, trying to crack its code.” He admits at first it sounded hokey, but then “slowly my ears became accustomed to (the music’s) beautiful simplicity, it’s darkness and depth. I lived on that for a while.”

Songs like the Williams classics “Lost Highway,” “I’ll Never Get Out of This World Alive,” and even “My Bucket’s Got a Hole in It” fascinated him.

He spent time focusing on the [lastfm link_type=”artist_info”]Charlie Rich[/lastfm] gem “Life’s Little Ups and Downs” (written by Rich’s wife, Margaret Ann), and when he sang a few lines, it was clear the song had truly touched him–and still resonated. “When he sings, ‘She wears a gold ring on her finger, and it’s mine,’ that reduced me to tears,” Springsteen said.

He also noted the [lastfm link_type=”artist_info”]Merle Haggard[/lastfm] classic “Working Man’s Blues.” That song, he said, to him was about “the stoic recognition of everyday reality, and the small and big things that allow you to put a foot in front of the other and get through.”

Which, if you’ve spent much time with the Springsteen catalog, you can clearly understand why it would resonate. This is exactly the song and story territory that Springsteen often travels. Country songs like these were “provincial,” said Springsteen, “and so was I.” Which, based on the truthful tone of his speech, was meant fully as a compliment.

Yet while he did love the music, he continued, he wasn’t entirely satisfied. “I wanted an answer to Hank Williams question: Why does my bucket have a hole in it? It was a question that was eating me for a long time.” And one that ultimately led him to [lastfm link_type=”artist_info”]Woody Guthrie[/lastfm].

“Woody’s gaze was set on today’s hard times,” Springsteen said. “But also somewhere over the horizon, there was something. Woody’s world was a world where fatalism was tempered by a practical idealism.”

“Why do we continue to talk about Woody so many years on?” Springsteen asked. “I believe it’s because (he) tried to answer Hank Williams question, why your bucket has a hole in it.”

The story wound up with Springsteen talking about standing next to Guthrie cohort [lastfm link_type=”artist_info”]Pete Seeger[/lastfm] at President Obama’s inauguration. “And on that day, when we sang that song, Americans young and old, of all beliefs, were united for a brief moment, by Woody’s poetry.”


– Kurt Wolff, CBS Local


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