Lovesick Drifters

The Music & Mystery of Hank Williams, Sr.

The Lovesick Drifters Tribute to the Music & Mystery of Hank Williams, Sr. 

Rumor has it that Hank Williams learned to drink whiskey when he was a teenager in Fountain. So perhaps it’s only appropriate that a Hank Williams tribute band that is getting a lot of attention for their authenticity will be playing at R.A. Fountain General Store next Saturday, January 13. 

To put a finer point on it, the whiskey-drinking Williams allegedly indulged while in Fountain, Alabama. One can rest assured that Garrett Newton, the Hank Williams doppleganger in the Lovesick Drifters, will be swilling nothing stronger than the store’s famous orangeades during the break.

A recently uncovered photo of Hank WIlliams, Sr., the night before he died.

It has been 71 years since the Cadillac bearing 29-year-old Hank Williams drove up to Oak Hill Hospital in West Virginia and he was declared dead on January 1, 1953. It was an unplanned stop on a road-trip bound for a gig in Canton, Ohio. 

“The doctor gave him a shot of morphine in the hotel in Knoxville,” Lovesick Drifters band member Clyde Mattocks said. “The hotel employees that loaded him in the car said he wheezed when they put him in the back seat. Some medical experts say that could have been air escaping from his lungs. No one knows what drugs or alcohol was already in his system when he got the morphine. At any rate the hotel was anxious to get him out of there, fearing the publicity if he was already dead. The authorities in Oak Hill say he was already cold when he was brought in. We’ll never know.”

Speculation and mystery have swirled for years as to the exact time and cause of death. But one thing is not up for debate: the music outlived the man. 

In fact one of his well-known songs, “Your Cheatin’ Heart,” was released posthumously. It was also the title of a 1964 film about the singer’s life, starring George Hamilton.

Eerily, a 1952 Williams recording featuring Chet Atkins on guitar that was on the hit parade at the time of his death was “I’ll Never Get Out of This World Alive.”

These and other well known hits like “I Saw the Light” and “I’m so Lonesome I Could Cry” are likely to be on the set list when the Lovesick Drifters, fronted by Garrett Newton with band members ranging in age from 12 to 86, perform Saturday. 

Clyde Mattocks photo by Donna Davis

“Anytime we can get Clyde Mattocks to Fountain, we know it’s going to be an outstanding show,” Alex Albright, proprietor of R.A. Fountain General Store, said. “He’s a local legend whose rep as a musicians’ musician is national in scope. There’s not a better steel guitar player anywhere for the job of channeling Don Helms, whose pedal steel was as much a part of Hank’s sound as was his voice. Don played here a few times, always with the Malpass Brothers, and always with Clyde backing him up.”

On Newton, Albright added: “Garrett was picking banjo in an outstanding bluegrass band under Lorraine Jordan’s tutelage last time he was in Fountain. We’re all looking forward to seeing what’s up with his latest project, which includes some of the best musicians around—an all-star band for sure.”

Mattocks, who is in a position to know, said, “This is the most authentic Hank Williams Tribute show on the road. Garrett Newton is a ringer for young Hank and we are playing period correct instruments. I’m actually playing one of Don Helms’ old Gibson Console Grande steel guitars.”

Bassist Alan Hicks said, “I absolutely love how a 24-year-old Garrett Newton captures the essence of Hank Williams, Sr. Playing behind him, I sometimes feel like I’m with Hank himself. Garrett is definitely an old soul in a young man’s body.”

Diehard fan Walt Weatherington said: “I was that guy at Scott Dorm at ECU 1974-77–transferred in for 2 years that became 3–that played Hank Williams and bluegrass while everyone else was blasting out Zeppelin and the Beatles. I loved that old Hank and still do. I was raised in an ‘all country music except for Christmas exceptions’ household. Garrett Newton ain’t struggling to sound like Hank. He sounds like himself but eerily emotes Hank in his voice and even his appearance. He sang at our church last Sunday and I tried not to think of Hank and just him. Great, humble and personable young man.”

Another fan said, “I like the band name–combination of one of his songs and Hank’s band name.” 

Alan Hicks photo by Donna Davis

Hank Williams’ backing band was known as the Drifting Cowboys. “The Lovesick Blues” was a breakthrough hit for Williams. He performed it on June 11, 1949 for his debut at the Grand Ole Opry at the Ryman Auditorium, receiving six encores.

In addition to Garrett Newton, the Lovesick Drifters includes bassist Alan Hicks, steel guitar player Clyde Mattocks, guitarist Steve Shannon, Lizzy Tobell, who has been a drummer since she was 2, and fiddler Keith Thomas, formerly of the Bluegrass Experience.

A fan on the band’s social media page said simply, “I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart for keeping Hank’s music alive.”


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Originally published in the Daily Reflector January 6, 2024.






Lizzy Tobell photo by Donna Davis

Steve Shannon photo by Donna Davis

Keith Thomas photo by Donna Davis