CENTRAL CITY, Ky. (7/7/14) — In Nashville, when people mention Hank, it's most likely referring to Hank Williams.
But in Mobile, Ala., even two years after the death of Hank Becker, his is still a name that has not been forgotten. In fact, Ben Jernigan, who performed often with Becker, is busy planning the Second Annual Tribute to Hank, to be held on Becker's birthday, Aug. 6.
For those unfamiliar with Becker, here is some background.
Many in Muhlenberg County still remember the Henry and Hazel Becker family, who lived for decades in Central City. Henry Sr., known as Buddy, owned and operated Buddy's Hardware for years in downtown Central City. Closely related to the E.A. Cohen family of Greenville, the Beckers had four children, with sons and daughters Linda, Patty, Doug and Hank all excelling in the high school band. It seemed appropriate that the Becker home was directly across from the Central City High School band room.
Becker quickly gained local attention among musicians, performing with area garage bands and welcoming friends to watch as he perfected his guitar skills in his parent's attic.
The youngest of the Becker siblings, Hank caught the Muhlenberg guitar picking fever early, and decided to make music his profession for life. After graduating from CCHS in 1975 he attended Berklee School of Music in Boston. He then moved to Mobile, where he married twice and had several step children. Becker developed a love of the Gulf Coast blues. It did not take long for his talent to become the talk of Mobile. His disarming smile, heavy beard and an openness to teach akin to that of Mose Rager, opened many doors in the city with a very large, active music community.
Hank began making his mark in Mobile by combining his keen sense of humor and musical talent. Becker composed a light-hearted song titled "Hobie Rabbit, King of the Hot Tub Hares", a song about a real rabbit whose owner soaked the pet in a makeshift hot tub to combat a bacterial infection. The story, and Becker's song, were picked up by CBS and CNN. Remembering Hobie Rabbit.
By the late 1990s, Becker had written enough strong tunes to make his first album with his backup band, Chillin' at Play. Through a twist of fate, Johnny Sandlin, best known as the record producer for the Allman Brothers, found Becker's music so good, he agreed to produce his first album. It was local hit on radio, and in big demand at Becker's shows. Local music critics compared Becker's laid back style to Eric Clapton and J.J. Cale. But like many talented musicians, Becker never received the national attention many in Mobile felt he deserved. Becker once posted his $18 royalty fee from the album on his Facebook page, joking, "18 dollars for a life in music."
Becker later returned to Muhlenberg County for one of the annual Everly Brothers Homecoming Concerts, a reminder of just how much talent the native son had. It was the biggest audience Becker would ever perform for. Tens of thousands of people were on hand, and Becker often told friends this was the true highlight of his life.
Severe respiratory problems plagued Becker through much of the 2000s, but in his usual light-hearted manner, Becker not only continued to perform, but even wrote a jovial song about his ailment, titled Ventilator Blues. Becker returned home to Muhlenberg County again in 2004 to perform on the special hour-long radio show, Airplay.
Becker finally succumbed to severe respiratory problems two years ago, passing away at 54. His death was the top story on Mobile television news, and it made headlines in the Mobile newspaper, which noted that the 'Patriarch of Gulf Coast Music' was dead. Becker played his last of hundreds of Mobile shows just hours before his passing.
Becker's memory is now kept alive in Mobile, thanks to the efforts of many local musicians including Ben Jernigan. Jernigan spearheaded last year's Tribute to Hank Becker concert, and again he is coordinating the Second Annual Boogie Chillin' Reunion Show for this year.
According to Jernigan, the event will be held Aug. 6 at one of the many clubs Becker loved Veet's Bar and Grill. Billed as a "birthday celebration", Jernigan says the event will be filled with Becker's music, and the stage will be filled with his many close friends from the area.
Shortly before his death, Becker was still creating new music, and making crowds howl with off-the-cuff songs like "Suplex of Love", based on the name of a professional wrestling hold.It's just one more example of how yet another young man from Muhlenberg County could take his God given talent, and go out to capture the hearts of all who heard him play.
Photo by Paul McRee
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