Thursday, April 9, 2009

Hank Williams: Ramblin' Man

SONG Ramblin' Man

SONGWRITER Hank Williams

APPEARS ON Gold, Original Singles Collection, The Ultimate Collection, 20 Of Hank Williams Greatest Hits, 24 Greatest Hits, 40 Greatest Hits

NOTE Any Williams anthology without "Ramblin' Man" is by definition incomplete and should be avoided.

Hank Williams sang so often of loneliness and isolation that in his hands they became the the Scylla and Charybdis of the human psyche. This was never more evident than in his performance of "Ramblin' Man," certainly one of the eeriest vocals ever recorded.

"Ramblin' Man" is a perfect example of how lyrics require the right interpretation to achieve greatness as a song. On the surface, it's a well-written account but also not uncommon account of a man who can't sit still, even for love. Williams chalks it up to fate ("When the Lord made me, he made a ramblin' man") to the point of divine intervention. He recognizes that "some folks might say that I'm no good," but their opinion is of small consequence compared with "the life I believe/He meant for me." There's a defensive quality to the lyrics, as if Williams wants to rationalize an inability to commit.

Now, listen to Williams' spooky interpretation of the lyrics. Williams becomes a reluctant rambler, drawn irresistibly by "that old freight" away from hearth and home to the "open road." His vocals echo the train whistle that beckons him to a life leading inevitably to a lonely grave. The defensiveness and rationalization fall away, revealing a man powerless before a fate that he may not want but cannot resist.

I could settle down
and be doin' just fine
'til I hear that old freight
comin' down the line
Then I hurry straight
home and pack and if i didn't go
I'd be 'bout lose my stack
I love you baby, but you gotta understand
When the Lord made me, he made a ramblin' man

Some folks might say that I'm no good
that I wouldn't settle down if i could
but when that open road starts callin' me
there's somethin' o'er the hill that i got to see
Sometimes it's hard, but you gotta understand
when the lord made me, he made a ramblin' man

Let me travel this land
from the mountains to the sea
'cause that's the life I believe
He meant for me
And when I'm gone and at my grave you stand
Just say God's called home your ramblin' man


  1. Great song. The lyrics could be about Woody Guthrie as much as anyone. He really did live like that for a long time and drove his family crazy. Families, really. Williams had his own powerful demons, of course, some similar, some different.

  2. "Still is still movin' to me" -- Willie Nelson.

    Love, C.

  3. Talk about a great Restless Farewell song! One of my favorite Willie tunes, and I have a lot of them.

  4. I'm sorry to be so behind the times-- this is a great take on a truly great song-- one of Hank's best. My folks had this on 78-- can't remember what the B side was, but I was fascinated by this song from an early age, & still am today. I sing this song myself, & I fully acknowledge that Hank's "million dollar voice" is what's required to lift this number to the heights. By the way, the "million dollar voice" quote comes from Roy Acuff, who said Williams had "a million dollar voice, but a ten-cent brain" (because of his alcoholism).

    Wonderful review-- I see it was picked up by the HW Journal, & deservedly so.

  5. Thanks, John. A 78...I'm awed. That would be the ultimate way to hear this one.

  6. Songwriter Darrell Scott thinks that Ramblin' Man is about addiction. I've added Darrell's fine cover of it.