Country Throwback: Jamey Johnson Covers Hank Williams at 2010 Farm Aid

by Clayton Edwards

“I Saw the Light” is one of Hank Williams Sr.’s most popular songs. Like many tracks cut by the country music legend, it has been covered by numerous artists since its release in 1948. Unlike many of Williams’ other songs, “I Saw the Light” went on to be a country gospel standard. Many churches include the song in their repertoire on Sunday mornings. In 2010, Jamey Johnson took the crowd at Farm Aid 25 to church with his rendition of the tune.

The song is a tale of redemption. A backsliding Christian lives a life of sin, fighting against the conviction of the Holy Spirit. One night, Jesus intercedes and he sees the error of his ways and goes back to the fold. Looking at the lyrics of the song, it’s easy to see why it became a country gospel standard. The chorus itself is a profound yet simple message of faith. “I saw the light, I saw the light/ No more darkness, no more night’ Now I’m so happy no sorrow in sight/ Praise the Lord I saw the light.”

Jamey Johnson’s Performance of “I Saw the Light”

In the original recording, Hank Williams is backed by a full band. The result is a beautiful blend of country and gospel. The lyrics highlight the power of faith while the instrumentation accentuates that lonesome feeling of being lost. Jamey Johnson’s cover, however, is stripped down. It’s just Johnson and his guitar. He sings the lyrics like he has lived them while beating his guitar stings as if they owe him money. As he moves into the final verse, both his vocals and guitar get quieter and more contemplative. This dynamic in Jamey Johnson’s performance goes a long way in bringing home the emotion behind the lyrics.

While the first two verses have a celebratory feel. The final verse is a lament of time wasted, “I was a fool to wander and stray/ Straight is the gate and narrow’s the way/ Now I have traded the wrong for the right/ Praise the Lord I saw the light.”

So, it makes sense that so much emotion would go into the final verse. Jamey Johnson has a way of taking classic songs and making them his own while respecting their original iterations at the same time.

Hank Williams Sr. gave us one of the greatest country gospel tunes of all time and Jamey Johnson took that tune, stripped it down, and turned it into something soulful, beautiful, and a little rough around the edges.