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ROOTS OF COUNTRY


offered to sell Molly and Lynn a number of songs for $25, which they turned down thinking it would be unethical. Molly did record several of his songs, and for this he was able to enjoy his composer’s royalties. One of the songs offered to O’Day was When God Comes


And Gathers His Jewels, recorded by Hank in December 1946 at his first ever recording session for Sterling Records, covered by Molly at her Columbia recording debut just six days earlier on December 16, 1946. No one knows when Hank wrote the song, but at this time he was just a 23-year-old with talent, ambition and a drink problem—an incredible song from someone of this age and background. Collecting Hank Williams records became a gradual process.


applied for the job, saying: ‘If you can play it better than that you’re hired.’ He said it wouldn’t have been difficult to play fiddle better than Hank Williams. Quite often, musicians are not overly happy when questions


are asked about someone else’s music and not really their own contribution. Having played with Williams though, they both said that his music would always be the main topic of conversation, adding that Hank Williams did drink, but possibly no more than any other Opry stars did; Hank just couldn’t handle drink and took very little of it to have an affect on him. Perhaps they were being loyal; maybe they’d just missed the point that only a small quantity of drink was needed to top up the system of an alcoholic already filled with alcohol. As I recall, Rivers had also told me—he hadn’t joined the band


until 1949—he’d not played on all of the records, having to learn fiddle parts created by the great Tommy Jackson and Chubby Wise. This was before we had access to detailed session data, and now know that Dale Potter, another fine fiddler also played on early records. Similarly, Helms was tied to Jerry Byrd’s steel playing from the early records. They were both discreet about the musical talents of Miss Audrey, Hank’s wife who never knowingly seemed to sing a note in tune. Other times I have met up with direct sources to


Hank Williams that involved a visit to the wonderful Molly O’Day. A tremendously popular singer in the late 1940s, early 1950s. Molly eventually turned her back on music and devoted her life to religion. She and her husband, Lynn Davis encountered Hank Williams when they were working in Montgomery, Alabama and although he had a drinking problem back then, his talent was obvious, and they used him on some of the shows they did in the area. One song Molly learned from Hank’s singing was Tramp On The Street; not a song he wrote himself but one he taught to Molly at her request and became the first song she ever recorded. Hank was already writing songs, but was having trouble getting them published and


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The one elusive track—released under Hank’s Luke The Drifter alias—was No No Joe. This had never appeared on any LP and took some finding. A quite witty, for the time, narration with the Joe in the title being Joe Stalin and featuring some hot swing fiddle from Jerry Rivers. Another gem I found by chance was a version of Thy Burdens Are Greater Than Mine, with just Hank playing acoustic guitar behind a simply stunning vocal performance. The more commonly released LP version had dubbed in backing, which—although appropriate for the era— was not over clever due to the limitations of recording technique when it was done. It seemed obvious that there was more original Hank Williams music we were being denied. If the dubbed backing on Thy Burdens Are Greater Than Mine


was appropriate, it didn’t offer the same endorsement to the Hank Williams and Strings albums that appeared in the late 1960s. This was not only denying the original music of Williams but was dressing it up in a tasteless way. I said above that no matter what Hank sang his voice was country through and through and I couldn’t see that adding strings did anything to enhance his music. Just before the Hank and Strings came the almost inevitable


film in 1964—Your Cheating Heart, with George Hamilton (the actor not the singer) playing the part of Hank and dubbing his voice to the recordings of Hank’s songs by Hank Jr. It has been a long time since I saw the film, but it was dire. As I recall, Hank’s best friend in the band was the saxophone player. Obviously no effort was spared to achieve authenticity! One could also ask if Hamilton was miming the singing, why not to the originals and not inferior versions by his son.


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