Thursday, October 20, 2011


Amazingly, the treasure-trove of Williams material continues to yield incredible finds. Considering we're talking rare recordings from as early as 1938, and never commercially available, it's a shock these things survived. This time, there's enough for 3 CD's. The bulk comes from syndicated radio station programs Hank and his group recorded, shilling miracle cures for The Health And Happiness shows, or playing for charity on the March Of Dimes broadcast. Best, of all they are in great shape, probably better-sounding than you would have heard them on the radio back then.

The Health and Happiness Shows were eight separate programs recorded in 1949, after Williams had become a star with Lovesick Blues. They were about 15 minutes long, with commercial breaks inserted by local DJ's. The format was the same for all, a verse of Hank's theme song, Happy Rovin' Cowboy, one of his hits, a commercial, another tune, another commerical, a finale and a blast of fiddler Jerry Rivers doing Sally Goodin to end. Often there would be a hymn, always a staple in Williams repertoire, and for the first four shows, a guest spot by Miss Audrey, Hank's wife, either solo or as a duet partner. She was awful, barely able to carry a tune, and if she did, it would wander off-course at some point. After the first four, the sponsor asked that she not return for the next recordings. Too bad other live audiences weren't so lucky at the time. Hank's stuff was gold though, including band renditions of Wedding Bells, Lost Highway, A Mansion On The Hill, and I Saw The Light. While there is some repetition over the two CD's because of the theme songs, this is pure music history, time capsule stuff.

Disc three has the March Of Dimes broadcast from 1951, Williams by now the biggest country star in the U.S. While we get the immortal Lovesick Blues again, we also have Audrey to deal with, and Mrs. Williams graces us with a version of There's A Bluebird On Your Windowsill that's akin to Jack Benny's violin playing. However, hearing the couple discussing the year-old Hank Jr., and how sad it would be if he got polio, is quite a chilling moment.

There are significant audio problems with the other tracks on the third disc, but their inclusion is because of the historical value. Back in 1938, a teenage Williams was first captured on a radio show in Birmingham, Alabama. The very scratchy acetate of two songs was kept by the MC his whole life, a Williams pal, and he eventually gave it to Hank's illegitimate daughter, Jet, who now co-manages these archival releases. A bit better fidelity is found on four cuts found on a home recording from 1940, Williams doing popular covers of the day, including St. Louis Blues and Freight Train Blues. The teen obviously had a drive to perform.

I find these releases fascinating. What else exists in the world, waiting to be found? What do collectors have squired away, or which artists are holding onto their own debuts, thinking them insignificant or embarrassing? Maybe we'll even hear more from Hank from those vaults, "if the good Lord's willing, and the creeks don't rise," as he told his audience each week on radio.

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