"Lovesick Blues" is a show tune written by Cliff Friend and Irving Mills. The song first appeared in the 1922 musical Oh, Ernest. It was recorded by Emmett Miller in 1928 and later by country music singer Rex Griffin. The recordings by Griffin and Miller inspired Hank Williams to perform the song during his first appearances on the Louisiana Hayride in 1948. Receiving an enthusiastic reception from the audience, Williams decided to record his own version despite initial push back from his producer Fred Rose and his band.
MGM Records released "Lovesick Blues" in February 1949, and it became an overnight success, quickly reaching number one on Billboard's Top C&W singles and number 24 on the Most Played in Jukeboxes list. The publication named it the top country and western record of the year, while Cashbox named it "Best Hillbilly Record of the Year".
Several cover versions of the song have been recorded. The most popular, Frank Ifield's 1962 version, topped the UK Singles Chart. In 2004, Williams' version was added to the National Recording Registry.
"Lovesick Blues" was originally entitled "I've Got the Lovesick Blues" and published by Jack Mills, Inc. in 1922; Irving Mills authored the lyrics and Cliff Friend composed the music. It was first performed by Anna Chandler in the Tin Pan Alley musical Oh! Ernest and first recorded by Elsie Clark on March 21, 1922 with Okeh Records. Following the recording, Cliff and Friend copyrighted the song on April 3, 1922. It was featured in a show at the Boardwalk Club in New York City in June 1922 and also recorded by Jack Shea on Vocalion Records later that summer.
On September 1, 1925, OKeh Records sent scout Ralph Peer and a recording crew to Asheville, North Carolina. Among the aspiring artists recorded by Peer was Emmett Miller. Accompanied by Walter Rothrock on the piano, Miller cut four sides for the label, including "Lovesick Blues". The single was paired with "Big Bad Bill (is Sweet William Now)" and released in November 1925. On June 12, 1928 accompanied by the Georgia Crackers (Tommy Dorsey, Jimmy Dorsey, Eddie Lang, and Leo McConville), Miller re-recorded the song, which was subsequently released to weak sales. Miller's version was covered by country music singer Rex Griffin in December 1939 on Decca Records. Griffin rearranged the song by using the original chorus - "I got a feeling called the blues"—as a verse and turning the verse "I'm in love, I'm in love, with a beautiful gal" into the new chorus.
Hank Williams, who heard both the Miller and Griffin versions, started performing the song on the Louisiana Hayride shortly after joining in August 1948. Horace Logan, the show's producer and programming director for KWKH, reported that the audience "went crazy" the first time Williams performed the song on the show. In light of the live audience's strong positive reaction, Williams decided to record the song. His decision was questioned by his musicians and also his producer, Fred Rose, who felt that the song did not merit a recording. Williams, mindful of the reaction he received live, persisted, and the recording took place during the final half-hour of a session recorded at Herzog Studio in Cincinnati, Ohio, on December 22, 1948. For this recording, Williams replaced the jazz musicians with a modern country music band, using a rhythm guitar, mandolin, string bass, drums and a steel guitar. Williams' session band was composed of Clyde Baum (mandolin), Zeke Turner (electric guitar), Jerry Byrd (steel guitar), Louis Innis (rhythm guitar), Tommy Jackson (fiddle) and Willie Thawl (bass). With little time left, Byrd and Turner replicated the musical arrangement they previously used on an Ernest Tubb session for a cover of Jimmie Rodgers' "Waiting for a Train". In the episode of American Masters about Williams, Drifting Cowboy Don Helms recalls, "When they recorded 'Lovesick Blues,' Fred told Hank, 'That song's out of meter! Got too many bars in it. And you hold that note too long.' And Hank said, 'Well, when I find a note I like, I wanna hold on to it as long as I can,' you know, just tryin' to be funny. And Fred said, 'Well, I'll tell you what I'm gonna do. That thing is so much out of meter, I'm gonna get me a cup of coffee and when I get back maybe ya'll have that thing cut.' And they did, but it was still out of meter. So Fred lived with that the rest of his life." Williams combined Griffin's lyrical arrangement with a two-beat honky-tonk track, borrowing the yodeling and beat drops from Miller's recording. "Lovesick Blues" was recorded in two takes.
MGM released "Lovesick Blues" on February 11, 1949, coupling it with "Never Again (Will I Knock On Your Door)". The single sold 50,000 copies in the first two weeks. On its February 26, 1949 review, Billboard opined: "Hank's razz-mah-tazz approach and ear-catching yodeling should keep this side spinning". Based on votes sent to Billboard, the record was rated with 85 points by disc jockeys, 82 by record dealers and 85 by jukebox operators. Between the three, the track scored an overall of 84. In reference to its 100-point scale, Billboard regarded the record as "Excellent". It reached number one on Billboard's Top C&W singles, where it remained for sixteen weeks and reached number twenty-four on Most Played in Jukeboxes. The magazine listed it as the "number one country and western record of 1949" while Cashbox named it "Best Hillbilly record of the year". In March 1949, Wesley Rose requested Williams to send him the records by Griffin and Miller to prove that the song was in the public domain. Irving Mills, the original lyricist, sued Acuff-Rose. The suit was settled on November 1, 1949 and it was agreed that Mills and Acuff-Rose would share the publishing of Williams' recording. Mills retained the rest of rights to the song as he had also purchased Friend's rights during the Great Depression.
Following the success of the song, Williams was invited to appear as a guest on the Grand Ole Opry, on June 11, 1949. After the performance, Williams received a standing ovation. "Lovesick Blues" became his signature song, which he used to close his shows. It was also his first number one hit, and garnered Williams the stage nickname of "The Lovesick Blues Boy". In 1949, the singer received second billing behind Eddy Arnold on the list of the "Year's Top Selling Folk Artists". Williams' version of the song was featured in the films The Last Picture Show (1971), Forrest Gump (1994) and The Shawshank Redemption (1994). In 2004, "Lovesick Blues" was added to the National Recording Registry by the Library of Congress.
The Crickets released their cover of the song (based on Williams' version) in 1971 on the Philips label. The song appeared originally as the B-side to the single "My Rockin' Days". The recording lineup consisted of Sonny Curtis providing lead guitar and vocals, Joe Osborn on bass, Jerry Allison on drums, and Glen Hardin on piano. The song was performed live on The Old Grey Whistle Test in 1972. The song was later released on the album Bubblegum, Bop, Ballad And Boogies in 1973.Singer Sonny James released a version of the song on the flip side of "Dear Love" in June 1957. The song peaked at number fifteen on Billboard's Hot Country Songs.
Jerry Lee Lewis recorded a version for Sun Records.
Patsy Cline released a version of the song in 1960.
Floyd Cramer's 1962 instrumental version of the song peaked at eighty-seven on the Billboard Hot 100.
In December 1962, Frank Ifield's version of "Lovesick Blues" topped the UK Singles Chart, and reached number forty-four on the Billboard Hot 100 the following month. Gramophone compared his singing to a "rough and raucous Jimmie Rodgers". Meanwhile, Elizabethan delivered a negative review, stating: "No true country singer would dare do to a Hank Williams number what Frank Ifield has done to 'Lovesick Blues'." The review finished by declaring that Ifield had "none of Jim Reeves' depth and character, nor of the subtle melodic quality (of) Don Gibson." By the end of February 1963, Billboard estimated that the single had sold close to a million copies worldwide.
Merle Haggard recorded a version on his 1973 live album I Love Dixie Blues.
Glen Campbell recorded the song on his 1974 album Houston (I'm Comin' to See You)
Don McLean recorded a version on his 1976 live album, Solo
In 1992, George Strait released a version that reached number twenty-four on the Billboard Hot Country Singles. The single peaked at number twenty-two on RPM's Country Tracks. This chart placing broke a string of 31 consecutive top ten country hits for Strait.
Loretta Lynn, Dolly Parton, and Tammy Wynette included it on their 1993 album "Honky Tonk Angels" featuring Patsy Cline.
A version by Alex Chilton appears on the recording of his 1997 live performance at the Knitting Factory in New York, Electricity By Candlelight, released in 2013
Ryan Adams recorded the song for Timeless, a 2001 collection of songs made famous by Hank Williams.
LeAnn Rimes recorded it on her self-titled album.
The Little Willies recorded the song on their 2012 album For the Good Times.