In the fall of , the Williams family moved to Greenville, Alabama , where Lillie opened a boarding house next to the Butler County courthouse. After a while, they moved with his cousin Opal McNeil to Georgiana, Alabama  where Lillie managed to find several side jobs to support her children, despite the bleak economic climate of the Great Depression.
She worked in a cannery and served as a night-shift nurse in the local hospital. Their first house burned, and the family lost their possessions. They moved to a new house on the other side of town on Rose Street, which Williams' mother soon turned into a boarding house. The house had a small garden, on which they grew diverse crops that Williams and his sister Irene sold around Georgiana. Representative J. Lister Hill while he was campaigning across Alabama. Williams told Hill that his mother was interested to talk with him about his problems and her need to collect Elonzo Williams's disability pension.
With Hill's help, the family began collecting the money. There are several versions of how Williams got his first guitar. His mother stated that she bought it with money from selling peanuts, but many other prominent residents of the town claimed to have been the one who purchased the guitar for him. Payne gave Williams guitar lessons in exchange for meals prepared by Lillie Williams or money.
He taught Williams chords, chord progressions, bass turns, and the musical style of accompaniment that he would use in most of his future songwriting. His mother subsequently demanded that the school board terminate the coach; when they refused, the family moved to Montgomery, Alabama. Payne and Williams lost touch, though eventually, Payne also moved to Montgomery, where he died in poverty in Williams later credited him as his only teacher.
It was at this time that Williams decided to change his name informally from Hiram to Hank. As Williams told the story about it in his later concerts, the name-change was supposedly all because of a cat's yowling,  though, as the Hank Williams: The Biography authors point out, "Hank" simply sounds more like a hillbilly and western star than "Hiram".
Williams wrote the lyrics and used the tune of Riley Puckett 's "Dissatisfied". He never learned to read music and, for the rest of his career, based his compositions in storytelling and personal experience. In August , Elonzo Williams was temporarily released from the hospital. He showed up unannounced at the family's home in Montgomery. Lillie was unwilling to let him reclaim his position as the head of the household, so he stayed only long enough to celebrate Hank Williams' birthday in September before he returned to the medical center in Louisiana.
Hank's mother had claimed that he was dead. Williams' successful radio show fueled his entry into a music career. His salary was enough for him to start his own band, which he dubbed the Drifting Cowboys. James E. Jimmy Porter was the youngest, being only 13 when he started playing steel guitar for Williams. Arthur Whiting was also a guitarist for The Drifting Cowboys.
James Ellis Garner later played fiddle for him. Lillie Williams became the Drifting Cowboys' manager.
Williams dropped out of school in October so that he and the Drifting Cowboys could work full-time. Now free to travel without Williams' schooling taking precedence, the band could tour as far away as western Georgia and the Florida Panhandle. Meanwhile, between tour schedules, Williams returned to Montgomery to host his radio show. While he received a 4-F deferment from the military for his back after falling from a bull during a rodeo in Texas, his band members were all drafted to serve.
Many of their replacements refused to play in the band due to Williams' worsening alcoholism. During one of his concerts, Williams met his idol, Grand Ole Opry star Roy Acuff backstage,  who later warned him of the dangers of alcohol, saying, "You've got a million-dollar talent, son, but a ten-cent brain.
He worked for the rest of the war for a shipbuilding company in Mobile, Alabama , as well as singing in bars for soldiers. Williams and Sheppard lived and worked together in Mobile. The couple were married in at a Texaco Station in Andalusia, Alabama , by a justice of the peace.
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The marriage was declared illegal, since Sheppard's divorce from her previous husband did not comply with the legally required sixty-day trial reconciliation. He wrote songs weekly to perform during the shows. After the failure of his audition, Williams and Audrey Sheppard attempted to interest the recently formed music publishing firm Acuff-Rose Music.
Williams and his wife approached Fred Rose , the president of the company, during one of his habitual ping-pong games at WSM radio studios. Audrey Williams asked Rose if her husband could sing a song for him on that moment,  Rose agreed, and he liked Williams' musical style. Williams signed with MGM Records in and released " Move It on Over "; considered an early example of rock and roll music, the song became a massive country hit.
In , he moved to Shreveport, Louisiana , and he joined the Louisiana Hayride , a radio show broadcast that propelled him into living rooms all over the southeast appearing on weekend shows.
Williams eventually started to host a show on KWKH and started touring across western Louisiana and eastern Texas, always returning on Saturdays for the weekly broadcast of the Hayride. Williams' version became a huge country hit; the song stayed at number one on the Billboard charts for four consecutive months,  crossing over to mainstream audiences and gaining Williams a place in the Grand Ole Opry.
In , Williams began recording as "Luke the Drifter" for his religious-themed recordings, many of which are recitations rather than singing. Fearful that disc jockeys and jukebox operators would hesitate to accept these unusual recordings, Williams used this alias to avoid hurting the marketability of his name. Most of the material was written by Williams himself, in some cases with the help of Fred Rose and his son Wesley. A pop cover version by Tony Bennett released the same year stayed on the charts for 27 weeks, peaking at number one.
Williams' career reached a peak in the late summer of with his Hadacol tour of the U. During the tour, Williams was photographed signing a motion-picture deal with MGM. The demo was later overdubbed by his son, Hank Williams Jr. Photos but no existing footage remain of this appearance. It is also included on the 40 Greatest Hits, a staple of his CD re-released material. In November , Williams suffered a fall during a hunting trip with his fiddler Jerry Rivers in Franklin, Tennessee. The fall reactivated his old back pains. He later started to consume painkillers, including morphine, and alcohol to ease the pain.
Footage remains of these appearances. That same year, had a brief extramarital affair with dancer Bobbi Jett, with whom he fathered a daughter, Jett Williams born January 6, , two days after his burial. In early July, Audrey Williams divorced him.
As a girl, Jones had lived down the street from Williams when he was with the Louisiana Hayride, and now Williams began to visit her frequently in Shreveport, causing him to miss many Grand Ole Opry appearances. On August 11, , Williams was dismissed from the Grand Ole Opry for habitual drunkenness and missing shows.
His performances were acclaimed when he was sober, but despite the efforts of his work associates to get him to shows sober, his abuse of alcohol resulted in occasions when he did not appear or his performances were poor. Due to Williams' excesses, Fred Rose stopped working with him. By the end of , Williams had started to suffer heart problems. Marshall had been previously convicted for forgery, and had been paroled and released from the Oklahoma State Penitentiary in Among other fake titles he said that he was a Doctor of Science.
Under the name of Dr. Lemon he prescribed Williams with amphetamines , Seconal , chloral hydrate , and morphine , which made his heart problems worse.