“Honky Tonk Blues” was a hit country and western song written and performed by Hank Williams. The original 1952 recording was a major hit, and it later became a hit for later-day superstar Charley Pride.
“Honky Tonk Blues” is one of the most problematic songs Williams ever recorded. According to Colin Escott’s 2004 Williams memoir, Hank and producer Fred Rose had attempted to record the song several times previously: in August 1947 (the session that produced the novelty “Fly Trouble”); in March 1949 (this version featured a light, jazzy feel and an intricate solo from guitarist Zeb Turner, but Hank broke meter and it was abandoned); and again in June 1950. The backing on the December 1951 session is believed to have been Don Helms (steel guitar), Jerry Rivers (fiddle), possibly Sam Pruett (electric guitar), probably Jack Shook (acoustic guitar), and Ernie Newton or Howard Watts (bass).
The song was about a young farmboy who leaves his father’s farm for the enticements of the city, only to become worn down and disillusioned. The version that was released did not contain all the lyrics on his original demo; the next-to-last verse in which Maw and Paw are “really gonna lay down the law” was missing, emphasizing in a way that Hank himself never made it back from the honky-tonks to pappy’s farm. Williams’ version reached No. 2 on the Billboard magazine country best-sellers chart.