Lonesome Onry and Mean: The Houston Origins of "Lost Highway"

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Lonesome, Onry and Mean has been thinking about Hank Williams a lot lately since being presented with a copy of Waylon Sings Hank. One of LOM's favorite Hank tunes has always been the mournful "Lost Highway," which much later lent its name to Universal's alt-country boutique label.

A lot of people think Hank Sr. wrote "Lost Highway," but it was in fact written by an old boy with quite a Houston connection, Leon Payne. Payne, who was born in Alba in East Texas, spent time in Houston in the early 1950s, working with people like Jerry Irby. It was during this period that Payne began recording for Capitol and had a modicum of national success.

Payne, who lost his eyesight at a young age, had a hit with "I Love You Because," and the tune has since been widely covered by both pop and country performers. Payne also wrote another song made famous by Williams, "They'll Never Take Her Love From Me." But, as Williams was fond of saying, "Lost Highway" put a lot of biscuits on Payne's table.

Yep, that's U2 all right...

According to Payne's wife, Myrtie, Payne wrote the song while attempting to hitchhike back to Alba from California to visit his ailing mother. Payne, who was posthumously elected to the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1979 (he died in 1969), was stranded on the road for a while in a Salvation Army shelter and wrote the song about that experience. It's one of those songs whose simple truth is undeniable.

No wonder Hank was attracted to it:

I'm a rolling stone, all alone and lost

For a life of sin, I have paid the cost.

When I pass by, all the people say,

"Just another guy on the lost highway."

Just a deck of cards and a jug of wine

And a woman's lies make a life like mine.

Oh, the day we met, I went astray,

I started rollin' down that lost highway.

I was just a lad, nearly twenty-two,

Neither good nor bad, just a kid like you.

And now I'm lost, too late to pray,

Lord, I've paid the cost on the lost highway.

Now, boys, don't start your ramblin' round,

On this road of sin or you're sorrow bound.

Take my advice or you'll curse the day

You started rollin' down that lost highway.

If you're interested in reading a little more about Payne, here's an interesting biographical link.


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