Peter Rowan premieres the video for “The Song That Made Hank Williams Dance,” a unique combination of music, history, and spirituality from his new bluegrass album, ‘Calling You From My Mountain.’
by guest writer Mike Fiorito
“The Song That Made Hank Williams Dance” – Peter Rowan
Singer/songwriter Peter Rowan’s new album, Calling You From My Mountain, will be released on June 24, 2022, by Rebel Records. Sparkling with talent like Billy Strings, Shawn Camp, Molly Tuttle, Lindsay Lou, and Mark Howard, the album also features Peter’s own band of extraordinary young players like Christopher Henry (mandolin), Max Wareham (banjo), Julian Pinelli (fiddle), and Eric Thorin (acoustic bass).
“I’ve got a young band, it’s fabulous,” Peter has said. “They’re bursting with ideas. They’re in their years of inspiration. They’re really quick learners and their ears are wide open because this generation is built on everything we did, dare I say, all those years ago.”
Peter and I discussed the making of the video “The Song That Made Hank Williams Dance” on a phone call in early June 2022. Peter told me that the inspiration for this video was born in one of his dreams.
“A tantric goddess approached me in a dream. I was in Texas at that time. Doing meditation practices. Every day I’d go by the Guadalupe River to meditate. Evenings after those meditations, I would have dreams. I think she was an emanation of Tara. In the inner sleeping awareness state, Tara can appear as a dakini [a tantric goddess],” Peter said.
“How does this relate to Hank Williams?” I asked.
“Luke the Drifter is the spirit of Hank Williams.”
Early in his career, Hank Williams sang fourteen songs as “Luke the Drifter,” an idealized alter-ego who went across the country preaching the gospel and doing good deeds, while Hank Williams, the country idol, lived on the wild side of life.
“When I find that voice, I connect with Hank Williams. Hank was defined by the success of his songs. But his Luke the Drifter songs were more philosophical, more fluid. He could go between these identities. In shamanistic practices, people use a different identity to get out of their own ego-centered identity. Luke the Drifter is Hank talking about his own embodied self.”
After a pause, Peter added, “in a dream, a dakini said to me I’m the dance that made Hank Williams sing. I’m the song that made him dance. It was a moment of what I think of as ‘mythological immediacy,’ when the so-called past takes shape in our mind as an enduring moment, a kind of spirit. Then follows the consequential ‘Seven Obeisant Dromedaries,’ or factors of awakening.“
It’s clear that Peter is an artist working on a whole other level.
“I loved the way you and Shawn [Camp] popped your head out of the barn doors in the video. Can you tell me why you chose that location and setting?” I asked.
“It’s the Wilkes Heritage Museum in Wilkesboro, NC. I had done an interview there a long time ago, so I knew the place. When, to my surprise, Dan Schram, who directed the video, said they wanted to do a video in that location, I agreed that it would be a good idea. There is a lot of history in that place. There is one room with all the old radio equipment. Another room with old, canned goods. And there’s a lot of Native American history in that region,” said Peter.
Artifacts show that Native people lived in North Carolina as far back as 10,000 to 12,000 years ago. Of North Carolina’s three dominant tribes, the Cherokee, Catawba, and Tuscarora, the Cherokee were the most prominent locally. Like their counterparts in Massachusetts, they taught European settlers how to grow corn.
In addition to Native American history, I learned that the Wilkes Heritage Museum covers everything from African American history to antique medical instruments and military displays to moonshine stills and vintage race cars. The old Wilkes Jail, built in 1859 and used as the county jail until 1915, is part of the campus of the Wilkes Heritage Museum. The jailhouse is one of the best-preserved examples of nineteenth century penal architecture in North Carolina. Tom Dooley, one of the famous inmates of the jail, was a Confederate soldier who was tried and hanged shortly after the Civil War for the murder of his fiancée, Laura Foster. The story was popularized by the Kingston Trio’s song “Hang Down Your Head Tom Dooley.” The museum is saturated in American history: the good, the bad and the ugly.
“I love the way you and Shawn sing that song together. You really have a connection,” I said.
“Shawn fits in authentically with the setting of this song; he has got the credentials. And he is featured on Calling You From My Mountain, my new album. Shawn and I were both friends of Guy Clark. First time I met Shawn he was playing fiddle. Now Shawn is writing hit songs. He wrote the title cut on Willie Nelson’s new album, A Beautiful Time. We keep threatening to write a song together.”
“Does Hank Williams have any connection to Bill Monroe?” I asked finally.
“When Hank got kicked out of the Grand Ole Opry, due his substance abuse issues [which resulted from his struggle with chronic pain and subsequent addiction to pain medication], Bill told Hank that whatever happened, he would always be behind him,” said Peter. “Bill was one of the few people who comforted Hank when his public reputation had been tarnished. They even wrote the song ‘I’m Blue, I’m Lonesome’ together. In fact, my playing back in the days with Bill Monroe was very much inspired by Hank’s. The way Bill wanted me to sweep the strings in a strong rhythm. Big connections there.”
Watch the music video for “The Song That Made Hank Williams Dance” exclusively on Atwood Magazine. You’ll be invited into the mysterious world of that weird old America, with its unique combination of music, history, and spirituality.
Peter Rowan’s new album Calling You From My Mountain releases June 24, 2022 via Rebel Records.
Mike Fiorito is an author and freelance music reviewer. His book Falling from Trees won the 2022 Independent Press Distinguished Book Award. Mike’s latest book, Mescalito Riding His White Horse, Inspired by the Music of Peter Rowan, will be available for pre-order in August 2022. For more information, please go to: https://mikefiorito.com
“The Song That Made Hank Williams Dance” – Peter Rowan
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