Track of the Day: 'There Stands the Glass'

Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.

Imagine a boardwalk on Venice Beach. A handsome man with a salt-and-pepper beard, perhaps a bit more weathered than his years alone would suggest, is strumming the closing notes of a tune on his guitar. Imagine he finishes the song, shifts a bit in his seat, and moments later, lets loose with this:

The Daily Country recounts what usually happened next:

Boardwalk passersby always noticed the singular singer belting his songs. They stopped cold. Listened. Amazed. “A lot of street musicians are really good, but there was something about him that was just pure presence,” says Jon Dee Graham, who witnessed Hawkins on the beachfront while recording in Los Angeles three decades ago. “Also, his songs aren’t like anybody else’s. He’s singing in this huge, soulful voice, ‘What do you want from the liquor store? Something sweet? Something sour?’ What? So wholly original.” Imagine blues and country and folk having no dividing lines.

There have been a lot of excellent covers of “There Stands the Glass” since Webb Pierce popularized the song in the ‘50s—Jerry Lee Lewis, Loretta Lynn, Van Morrison, George Strait. But for my money, no one’s captured the pull and the peril of that glass as heartbreakingly as the late Ted Hawkins, dubbed “the greatest singer you’ve never heard” by the L.A. Times upon his death 20 years ago last January.

A tribute album to the singer is scheduled to be released on October 23.