In this country throwback, we are heading back to 1983 when country legend Hank Williams Jr. performed “Kaw-Liga” shirtless at a live concert.
“Kaw-Liga” is one of just a handful of songs that Williams wrote with Fred Rose, the producer, and publisher of his songs through his company Acuff-Rose. Rose was known for making suggestions and revisions to the songs that Williams would compose. In fact, biographer Roger M. Williams noted that Rose’s contribution to Williams’ songs was probably craftsmanship, whereas Hank’s was genius.
Roy Acuff, known as the “King of Country Music,” later recalled how the writing process would happen.
Hank would come up with the ideas, and Fred would say, “Well, write it down and let me look at it.” Hank’d bring it to Fred, and Fred would sit at the piano and compliment Hank and say, “Maybe you can express this a little differently, let’s change it a little bit,” but Fred never changed Hank’s thinking.
“Kaw-liga” was recorded as part of Williams’ final recording session on in 1952 at Castle Studio in Nashville.
More than any other song, however, “Kaw-Liga” definitely shows evidence of Rose’s input. He molded the song into nothing like Williams had recorded up to that point. Take a listen to the Hank Williams Jr. classic below:
Story Behind the Hank Williams Jr. Song
Williams’ song is in reference to Kowaliga — a community in central Alabama on Lake Martin. It’s named after a legendary Native American for which a wooden statue was later placed near the lake. Williams wrote the song while he was staying at a lakeside cabin that he owned. The cabin still stands to this day.
The classic song tells the story of a wooden Indian, Kaw-Liga. As the lyrics say, he falls in love with an “Indian maid over in the antique store” but does not tell her so.
“Too stubborn to ever show a sign,
Because his heart was made of knotty pine”
In the song, the Indian maid waits for Kaw-Liga to signal his affection for her. However, he never does. He either refuses or is physically or emotionally unable to talk. Some interpret Kaw-Liga as a stoical Native American stereotype. Meanwhile, others point to the subject of masculine pride and emotional hardness as a popular theme in country music. Hank Williams hasn’t made it clear what the reason behind Kaw-Liga’s inaction is.
Nonetheless, because of his stubbornness, Kaw-Liga’s love continues to go unreturned.
“Poor ol Kaw-liga, he never got a kiss,
Poor ol Kaw-liga, he don’t know what he missed,
Is it any wonder that his face is red?
Kaw-liga, that poor ol’ wooden head.“
The song ends with the Indian maid being bought and taken away from the antique store by a buyer. That leaves Kaw-Liga standing there alone.
As lonely as can be,
And wishes he was still an ol’ pine tree.”