Hank Thompson

Hank Thompson was perhaps the most popular Western swing musician of the '50s and '60s, keeping the style alive with a top-notch band, tremendous showmanship, and a versatility that allowed him to expand his repertoire into romantic ballads and hardcore honky tonk numbers. Born September 3, 1925, in Waco, TX, Henry William Thompson was the son of immigrants from Bohemia and grew up idolizing Western swing and country musicians like Bob Wills, Jimmie Rodgers, and Gene Autry. He began learning harmonica and guitar as a child, and appeared in local talent shows as a teenager, which eventually led to his own local radio program (billed as Hank the Hired Hand). After graduating from high school in 1943, Thompson joined the Navy as a radio technician and often wrote songs to entertain his fellow soldiers. Following his discharge, Thompson studied electrical engineering at Princeton through the G.I. Bill, but eventually decided to pursue music as a career. He returned to Waco and to the radio business, and set about putting together a band he dubbed the Brazos Valley Boys. They quickly became a popular live act around the area and recorded their first single, "Whoa Sailor" (a song Thompson had written in the Navy) for the Globe label in 1946. A few more singles followed for Bluebonnet, by which time Tex Ritter had become a Thompson admirer. Ritter helped Thompson land a record deal with Capitol in 1947, an association that would last for the next 18 years.