Written and first recorded by Hank Williams (B-side C&W #4 1949 |C&W #43 1966).
Other hit versions by B.J. Thomas & the Triumphs (US #8/CAN #2 1966), Charlie McCoy (C&W #23/CAN #21 1972), Terry Bradshaw (C&W #17 1976).
From the wiki: “According to Colin Escott’s 2004 book Hank Williams: A Biography, Williams was inspired to write the song when he saw the title (of a different song) on a schedule of upcoming MGM record releases.
“Music journalist Chet Flippo and Kentucky historian W. Lynn Nickell have each claimed how 19-year-old Kentuckian, Paul Gilley, wrote the lyrics, then sold the song to Williams along with the rights, allowing Williams to take credit for it. They stated that Gilley also wrote the lyrics to ‘Cold, Cold Heart’ and other songs before drowning at the age of 27. However, Williams has stated he wrote the song originally intending that the words be spoken, rather than sung, as he had done on several of his ‘Luke the Drifter’ recordings.
“‘I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry’ was recorded on August 30, 1949, at Herzog Studio in Cincinnati, Ohio. Williams is backed by members of the Pleasant Valley Boys. As Escott observed, the plaintive despair in Williams’s voice on the recording is echoed by the backing of the musicians. It was released as the B-side to ‘My Bucket’s Got a Hole in It’ ostensibly because up-tempo songs were deemed more appropriate for the jukebox trade than were melancholy ballads. ‘My Bucket’s Got a Hole in It’ reached #4 on the Country singles chart in 1949. Re-released in 1966, as an A-side this time, in the wake of B.J. Thomas’ success with the song, it peaked at #43 on the Country singles chart.
“‘I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry’ has become closely identified with Williams’s musical legacy and has been widely praised. In the 2003 documentary The Road to Nashville, singer k.d. lang stated, ‘I think ‘I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry’ is one of the most classic American songs ever written, truly. Beautiful song.’ In his autobiography, Bob Dylan recalled, ‘Even at a young age, I identified with him. I didn’t have to experience anything that Hank did to know what he was singing about. I’d never heard a robin weep, but could imagine it and it made me sad.’ In its online biography of Williams, Rolling Stone magazine notes, ‘In tracks like ‘I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry’, Williams expressed intense, personal emotions with country’s traditional plainspoken directness, a then-revolutionary approach that has come to define the genre through the works of subsequent artists from George Jones and Willie Nelson to Gram Parsons and Dwight Yoakam.’ Rolling Stone also ranked ‘I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry’ #111 on its list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time, the oldest song on the list, and #3 on its 100 Greatest Country Songs of All Time.
“In 1966, B.J. Thomas recorded ‘I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry’ as his debut single. It launched his career, reaching at #8 on the Billboard Hot 100 and peaking at #2 in his native Canada. Thomas remembers:
‘The song was covered about seventy-two times by the time I did it. My dad loved Hank Williams’ music and he requested that I record the song. At the time, I was recording with a group known as the Triumphs and I wanted to sing R&B songs. However, being a good son, I recorded the song in three takes and it was placed on the B-side of a 45. Wouldn’t you know it, disc jockeys in Houston started playing the B-side and the record caught on and became a number 1 hit in Houston. At that point, Sceptor Records picked up the record from the tiny Pacemaker label and – thanks to my dad – I had my first national Top 10 record. Father really does know best.’
Grammy-winning Nashbille session musician Charlie McCoy, noted mainly for his harmonica performance but also skilled on a wide variety of other instruments, recorded an instrumental version of ‘I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry’ in 1972 for his album Charlie McCoy. In a fifteen-year period at the height of his activity, McCoy played on over 400 recording sessions per year (~6000 total recordings), playing guitar on Dylan’s ‘Desolation Row’ and ‘Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands’, bass guitar on all the tracks from Dylan’s John Wesley Harding album, keyboards, and drums plus several wind and brass instruments. For 19 years McCoy also worked as music director for the popular television show Hee Haw, and was a member of the Million Dollar Band, a group of all-star session musicians who performed on the show. In 2009, McCoy was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame.
“In 1976, Terry Bradshaw, at the time the starting quarterback of the Pittsburgh Steelers, recorded ‘I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry’. Bradshaw’s version was a Top-20 hit on the country charts.”
B.J. Thomas, “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry” (1966):
Charlie McCoy, “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry” (1972):
Terry Bradshaw, “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry” (1976):