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ROOTS OF COUNTRY Through the years, not only have Hank Williams’ songs been


covered countless times, and in almost every musical genre, there has been a steady flood of tribute albums. Rock‘n’roll singers, often making the transition to country music included Jack Scott, Ronnie Hawkins and Charlie Rich. George Jones, and fairly obviously Hank Jr. came from country music. In later years, an excellent compilation, TIMELESS featured artists from Bob Dylan to Johnny Cash singing his songs. More recently, THE LOST NOTEBOOKS OF HANK WILLIAMS was a unique project that gave life to Williams’ unrecorded lyrics; Dylan again, plus Norah Jones and other high profile singers trying to create the sort of tune Hank may have written to his lyrics. The real Holy Grail for Hank Williams fans though was a


‘rumoured to exist’ pile of shows recorded for radio in 1951 and allegedly preserved on acetate records. Slowly, the story began to unravel. The original discs had been discovered in a clear-out at WSM and had it not been for photographer Les Leverett, the discs would have been thrown away and lost forever. Thankfully they were preserved, although the general public were denied listening to it for many years, as ownership was disputed in a long legal battle between Hank Williams’ heirs, Hank Jr. and now Jett Williams, plus Polygram and Legacy Records. The courts finally ruled in favour of the heirs and so the music could be released. Some time earlier, I had acquired a copy of the discs—fifteen incredible jaw dropping CDs including many, many songs that had never been recorded by Hank Williams, and studio dialogue that for the first time ever reveals Hank as the young man he really was. His physical appearance in the photographs that were around was not that of a young man. Neither was his singing voice, but here he could be heard joking and actually giggling with his band as they recorded their shows. Thankfully, the legal wrangles were resolved and the music could be properly released. Initially available on three edited CD sets on the Time Life Label, and now finally on a massive 15 CD box set released by our old friends Bear Family, housing in a package designed to look like an old fashioned valve radio set that actually plays a clip of Hank Williams. Yes, I know it is expensive, but if you only ever buy one box set in your life, this has to be it and looking recently on Amazon I see you can pick up a new copy for less than £100. It has to be the bargain of a lifetime, and what a shame that it took so long to get the music out to the general public. Radio transcriptions of this nature often provide the best


way to listen to the real music of an artist. They would all be recorded first take, and the mere fact that they cut so many shows indicates how often the band were playing together and having to work up new material. Not only did they play their own hits but Hank and the band played many songs from other writers that they never themselves recorded. Where The Old Red River Flows, Seaman’s Blues, The Blind Child’s Prayer, Pins And Needles, Next Sunday Darling Is My Birthday, Deck Of Cards amongst them. So many new songs added to Williams’ recorded legacy. I wonder if he actually learned all of these, or if he sang from a prompt sheet? The only down side of THE COMPLETE MOTHER’S BEST


RECORDINGS is having to listen to the simply dreadful singing of Audrey Williams. Fortunately, she only appears on the earlier shows and is missing on all of the later discs, but not before she inflicts mortal harm on a number of songs that deserved better.


52 Maverick


As in introduction to, or a completion of listening to the music of Hank Williams, I don’t think there is a better way. Quite recently I continued my Hank Williams pilgrimage with


a visit to Montgomery, Alabama. In truth I was prepared to be disappointed as I recall a week spent in Cincinnati, Ohio on a business trip some years ago where I also found time to seek out the legacy of King Records—perhaps the greatest of all the independent record labels. I may as well have looked for King Kong, as at the time I was there Cincinnati certainly had no direct or indirect legacy of Syd Nathan and his empire. Thankfully, this is not true of Montgomery. They’re proud


of the Hank Williams connection and it’s mentioned in all of their tourist literature. I approached the city on The Hank Williams Highway, subtitled ‘The Lost Highway’. His grave is well signposted and preserved; there is a life-size statue outside the old City Auditorium, the scene of Hank’s funeral where so many people had to listen to the service relayed outside. Even more impressive is the Hank Williams Museum right in the heart of downtown Montgomery. The amount of memorabilia is quite incredible, including the Cadillac in which he died; original Sterling Label records, and original 16” transcriptions from the Health and Happiness Radio Shows as well as clothing and countless autographed records and other artefacts—a fascinating couple of hours. Being in Montgomery, even for a short time, leaves no doubt that this was the home of the late Hank Williams, and they are rightly proud of this legacy. A legend like no other, in his tragically short lifetime Hank


Williams rose to become a massive star, with hit records in the country music field that came one after the other, being the first to see his songs become massive sellers in the field of popular music. He was fired from the Grand Ol’ Opry in August 1952 for his repeated drunkenness—one of the very few artists to have achieved this blemish. He married twice, the second time to Billie Jean Jones, who although his legal widow at the time of his death, was soon replaced as his official widow by Audrey Williams, and had to turn to the courts to join in with the controversy that followed Hank’s death. His original records still sell, and his songs are covered as much as ever before. Just the songwriting royalties off a handful of his songs, try Jambalaya, Cold Cold Heart, Your Cheating Heart and Hey Good Looking as just four examples that would make anyone a very rich person indeed. If I ever tune into a country radio station in America today, it


can take several minutes before I am sure it is country music I am listening to. Tuning in to Hank Williams—it takes ten seconds before there’s absolutely no doubt. John Atkins


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