Hank Williams is the undisputed king of country music.
Raised dirt poor in southern Alabama, Williams would overcome poverty, crippling health problems and closely associated drug and alcohol issues to electrify the world with a powerful, nasal sound that was dripping with the blues and powerfully addictive.
He mesmerized the audience with “Lovesick Blues” the first time he played the Grand Ole Opry in 1949, receiving a legendary six encores.
More than 64 years after his death, Williams' impact is still being felt.
In January, sitting in a shopping cart at a Paducah Walmart, a 10-year-old from Golconda wearing a white cowboy hat sang an a cappella version of “Hey Good Lookin'” and the viral video has received over 3.4 million YouTube views.
Before he was 4, the same child received a standing ovation for his jaw-dropping rendition of “I Saw The Light” at the Carson Center, leaving headliner Josh Turner flabbergasted and joking about who was “the real star of the show.”
The music of Hank Williams has made an indelible stamp on the music preferred by Mason Ramsey, and he carries the “Little Hank” moniker with pride.
“I had a karaoke set up in my garage and Hank Williams is my favorite, so I always had his music playing. Mason has been singing Hank songs since he was big enough to walk,” says the youngster's 79-year-old grandfather, Ernest Ramsey.
Mason Ramsey first gained recognition by winning talent contests sponsored by Clay Campbell at the Kentucky Opry in Draffenville. It was Campbell that put him on stage with Turner. He has also opened shows for Kenny Rogers, Gene Watson and the Bellamy Brothers.
There was no scheme or grand plan to have the toddler begin a country music career before attending his first day of preschool. He was just a product of his environment.
“Grandaddy always had Hank playing out in the garage,” Mason Ramsey confesses. “I heard it so much I just started singing. It was sorta like jumping in a pool. You just start swimming.”
Ramsey has spent years perfecting the mannerisms and delivery of timeless Williams classics like “Your Cheatin' Heart,” “Jambalaya (On The Bayou),” “I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry,” “I Can't Help It (If I'm Still in Love With You)” and “Hey Good Lookin.'”
His show is so slick and precise that it has attracted the attention of those most familiar with the Williams legacy.
By personal invitation of the Hank Williams Fan Club, Ramsey will appear June 2 and 3 at the 38th annual Hank Williams Festival in Georgiana, Alabama. Also appearing at the festival will be Gene Watson and Jett Williams.
Georgiana is the childhood home of Hank Sr., and Jett Williams is his biological daughter.
“We were pretty excited when the folks down in Montgomery called. We take Mason all over the country. He just loves to sing. Getting to play on Hank's home turf will be special,” says Ernest Ramsey. “Country music fans today don't understand how big Hank really was in his prime. It was nothing for him to have three songs in the Top 10 at the same time.”
Ramsey said he was delivering bundles of daily Chicago, St. Louis and Evansville newspapers to Southern Illinois distributors on Jan. 1, 1953, the day of Williams' death at just 29.
“His death was front-page news in all the papers. The whole top half was about Hank,” he said.
Mason Ramsey has been raised by his grandparents in Golconda since he was three weeks old. They also raised his 20-year-old sister, who is not a singer. Their biological parents live in Oklahoma.
Local fans will have an opportunity to see Mason “Little Hank” Ramsey in concert Saturday, April 15, at the Southern Illinois Opry in Herrin, sharing the stage with bluegrass masters Cassie Andrews & Calico Creek and the blistering rockabilly sound of The Number 9 Blacktops.
Doors open at 6 p.m. and music starts at 7:30 p.m.
Tickets are $15 and will be available at the door, or can be purchased in advance at the Herrin Pawn Mart, the Herrin Civic Center or online at www.siopry.com. For more information, call 618-988-1207.
Patterned after the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville, the SI Opry strives to provide family-oriented entertainment from various musical genres.
Andrews is in charge of comic relief each month as she transforms from banjo picker to spot-on Minnie Pearl impersonator. Calico Creek will play bluegrass standards and also dip into its Southern gospel repertoire.
The Number 9 Blacktops is a popular trio from Franklin Country that has performed in 10 different countries. Members include: Cody Beckman, drums; Kasey Lee Rogers, upright bass and vocals; and group founder “Skinny” Jim Rotramel, lead guitar and vocals. Steel guitarist Lee Brothers of Murphysboro will join the Blacktops trio to provide instrumentation and vocal support for "Little Hank."