70 Years Ago, Hank Williams Records ‘Tear In My Beer’ & it Disappears
We love to talk about country music as a continuum, and how a good song will always be relevant in country music no matter when it was written or released. We’ve seen this happen many times in country music history, from Dwight Yoakam having a hit with “Streets of Bakersfield” performed as a duet with the song’s original performer Buck Owens in 1988, or more recently Chris Stapleton reprising “Tennessee Whiskey,” which was once a hit for George Jones in 1983 (and recorded by David Allan Coe the year before). Stapleton’s version has now gone 6x Platinum, and is one of the biggest songs in country music in the last decade.
One song in particular illustrates this phenomenon, and it was recorded 70 years ago tonight, October 25th, 1950, though it never saw the light of day for another 40 years. Some people recall “Tear In My Beer” originally written and recorded by Hank Williams as a classic in line with all of his other legendary songs. But Hank never even intended to release the song. He only cut it to be a demo for “Big” Bill Lister who was looking for a drinking song.
Collin Escott tells the story in the Hank Williams biography.
Capitol’s West Coast-based chief of country A&R, Ken Nelson, scheduled a session for Lister on Friday, October 26th. “I told Hank I needed a beer drinkin’ song,” says Lister, ‘and he said, ‘Don’t worry ’bout it, Big un, I got you covered. I got one that’s hotter’n a pistol.’ ”
Hank cut a demo on the night before the sessions, right after he’d finished prerecording some radio shows. After the session, Lister threw the demo acetate, which had no markings on it, into a box of records at his house … Hank was more or less off the road by then, and his troupe had disbanded. The acetate then went back to San Antonio with the Listers and sat out in their yard under a trap for a few years before being moved up to the loft where, as Lister says, it’s hot enough to fry eggs in July. It was discovered in the mid 80’s when Lister was cleaning house.
Bill Lister’s son did occasional work on Hank Williams Jr.’s firearms, and the next time Jr. came to San Antonio, he was presented with the acetate. Since the music and vocals were too sparse to release it as it was, the idea to release the song as a duet took shape.
Though today we might think creating both a song and video from a simple demo recording that only contained Hank and his guitar would be relatively easy. But in 1989, the technology to merge Hank’s original recording with Hank Jr. and a band helping fill in the blanks was cutting edge.
It was even more impressive when a video was produced that was able to superimpose Jr. playing along with his father to the song, based off of old footage of Hank Williams singing “Hey Good Lookin'” on the Kate Smith Evening Hour in 1952, with an actor’s lips dubbed to make it look like Hank was singing “Tear In My Beer.” The legendary rock photographer Ethan Russell directed the video.
The result was a smash both in audio and video form. Despite being a 40-year-old composition, “Tear In My Beer” became a hit, making it to #8 on the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart. Hank Williams Jr. made sure to share some of the proceeds from the song with Big Bill Lister down in San Antonio. The song also went on to win the 1990 Grammy for Best Country Vocal Collaboration. It was the first Grammy Award for Hank Williams, and the first and only Grammy Award win for Hank Williams Jr.
And remember, 1989 is near the height of the MTV revolution when the medium of video was a major deal in music. The “Tear in My Beer” video was so well-received, it won both the CMA and the ACM Award for Video of the Year.
The success of “Tear In My Beer” also helped Hank Williams Jr. win the 1989 ACM Entertainer of the Year for a third year straight. During his acceptance speech (see below), Hank Jr. mentioned the video specifically. “The video with daddy…” Hank Jr. starts in before pausing, with his lips quivering, clearly emotional in the moment, “…was the most special thing I ever did, in my life.”
That might the most vulnerable moment of the otherwise boisterous Bocephus ever captured on film. As the crowd applauds, the camera cuts to a young Hank Williams III, who a decade later would begin his own career in country music, helping to keep the Hank Williams name and legacy alive.
Today, many may take “Tear In My Beer” for granted, when the song could very well have ended up discarded in a dumpster, or it could have never been recorded at all if Bill Lister wasn’t on the hunt for a drinking song. It makes you wonder how many other songs Hank Williams had swirling in his noggin that we never heard.
On this night in 1951 when Hank found the time to record the demo for “Tear In My Beer,” and 40 years later when it became a big hit in country, it proved that a good song with a simple sentiment can often withstand the ultimate test of time, and be entered into eternal cultural relevance.
October 25, 2021 @ 6:34 pm
Wonderful history. Thanks again, Trig.
October 25, 2021 @ 8:52 pm
We never know just how many song Hank Sr. wrote, I know Hank Jr once said “Daddy wrote so many songs, I would never have to write a song in my life if I didn’t want to.” I have even heard Bocephus say that he had two or three suitcases full of songs that Hank Sr wrote but never got to record. I love All Three Hanks its hard for me to pick my favorite I all of Hank Jr’s Albums from his first which was released in 1963 to his last which was released in 2015, I have nearly all of Hank Sr’s stuff I would say probably 90% of it, & I got all of Hank 3’s country stuff plus a little of his rock. I miss Hank 3 but with his son getting in the family business I don’t think he will be coming back anytime soon, but no matter how many Williams there are singing none of them will make the impact on country music the way Hank Sr. & Hank Jr have. Both are a knockout duo!
Lance - from HogLeg Band
October 25, 2021 @ 10:15 pm
Holy Moley. 3 Suitcases. Thats gotta be about 50 songs. Tape takes up a lot of space. I would sure love to hear those tunes. If I ever run into Hank Jr, I’m gonna ask him if still wants to do it. I would sift through those reel to reels for free. Probably better to transfer them to new reels and digitize it after . I had to do that for the John Walton Estate. Its like a window into the past. You never know what you’re gonna get.
October 25, 2021 @ 10:44 pm
Well, I don’t think these songs were never recorded at all, the way I took it these suitcase’s were full of sheets of paper with lyrics written down on them & if that’s the case then god only knows how many songs there are. But either way that’s a lot of songs. I have heard former band members of Hank Sr say the he would write songs down on anything he could get his hands on napkins, receipts, an old crumbled up piece of paper, anything.
October 26, 2021 @ 8:17 am
Hank Williams sr is my favorite country singer of all time and his son will be close to that but never as good.
October 31, 2021 @ 3:23 pm
Hank Williams sr. No one just no one can ever take his place n beautiful voice not even his son nor grandson. There will never be one as good as him ：
Lance - from HogLeg Band
October 26, 2021 @ 8:26 am
I believe it! They didn’t have have fancy schmancy iPhones to track ideas on the road by then. Ideas come and go like the wind, if you don’t stop and record quickly the idea it gets lost.
That could be a few hundred songs if on paper. The hard part is know HOW Hank would’ve sung it, without an audible reference of key and swag, it could be difficult . I would love to try though!
Lance - from HogLeg Band
October 25, 2021 @ 10:07 pm
What a great history and great break down.. Don’t ever stop these posts..
October 25, 2021 @ 11:08 pm
As a wee lad I was at a Hank Jr. concert after this song was a hit. They’d play the video in the background with the hank sr. vocal track while the band played live.
Later on during the ‘sit down’ parts of his shows, I’ve heard him sing the whole song or parts of it ,depending on his mood that night I guess. 😀
Great, fun song to sing along to, I have the hank sr with his guitar version in my country playlist in my truck.
Country Charley Crockett's Butter
October 25, 2021 @ 11:55 pm
“Single drinking doubles,
Tear Drops turning into bubbles!”
A nice nod to this Hank song
Mark Emond Sr
October 26, 2021 @ 5:06 am
Back at the Del Mar County Fair in California in 1989; I was privileged to see this song performed by Hank Williams Jr. I still remember him saying how he had a special treat for us and then a movie screen came down and WOW what a performance of Tear in my beer. I was a Marine stationed at Camp Pendleton, CA and my oldest son, Mark Jr was on my shoulders. I was Honorably Discharged soon after. Good Lord works in mysterious ways allowing me to be one of the first to see that.
October 26, 2021 @ 9:16 am
I heard that song by the three hanks. & what about “ the hearts of men”
October 26, 2021 @ 9:49 am
I know Hank 3 didn’t like the Three Hanks album because at that time he hadn’t establish himself or his style, but I think he should do a Hank Sr/Hank 3 album do the album in his “Hellbilly” style as someone who loves both of them I think that would be a cool treat for fans. I love the Three Hanks album but that album always felt like a Hank JR album to me.
October 26, 2021 @ 4:00 pm
I love Hank Williams Senior he was my pride and my joy but I want to tell you something about my big Bill Lister back in the early 2000 I met him at the Hank Williams special gathering in Alabama and he signed my guitar and we had a picture made he told me of the story when he called Hank to get a good beer drinking song he had done run out of the old ones and he’s tired and he needed a new one well as it says no Hank never did public record to the public the song like he says he recorded it on an old wire recorder throw it in the shoe box under the bed but then he gave it to Big build a sister I had the original copy of the Y recording of there’s a tear in my beer and also the one that big building sister done and let me tell you something Jr you can’t do a thing nowhere near like your daddy did you did it one time but then you lost it shame on you boy I do love your daddy even now God bless you and Hank senior
Barbara D Blankenship
October 26, 2021 @ 5:02 pm
Hank Sr was our Elvis around 1950!!
October 26, 2021 @ 9:19 pm
Mr Hank Williams and I share the same birthday
October 28, 2021 @ 4:25 pm
Hank Sr would have sold even more records, but the vinyl record manufacturers couldn’t make enough for the demand. Hank Jr had eight albums on the country chart concurrently, and four of those eight were in the top ten concurrently. He was winning only video of the year awards during the years where he was this dominant. Reminds me of the politics driving awards winners versus no award nominations for some , most popular and talented artist banned, etc in 2021.
October 28, 2021 @ 5:18 pm
Hank Sr originally wrote … “ into these 13 beer , I have shed a million tears” Then it officially changed to “nine” . The lyrics in the video say “ into these last FEW beer…”
I’ve noticed Jr does this a lot. When he sings Whiskey Bent & Hell Bound, the lyrics are …” … and I end up with a honkie to lie woman I found” But his live versions often have the following( due to being Whiskey bent) … “ I find a honkie Toni woman I found”
October 28, 2021 @ 5:23 pm
Dam spell check messed my post oh well
Bruce Anne Steadman
October 29, 2021 @ 5:45 am
My keyboard hates me too