New Music From Ol’ Hank

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1951 was a busy year for Hank Williams. As his biggest hit, Cold, Cold, Heart, climbed the country and pop (as covered by Tony Bennett) charts, he was on the road almost all year, criss-crossing the south with his band, the Drifting Cowboys. Being away from Nashville so much, Hank wasn’t able to do his WSM radio show live every day. Instead, he’d come into the studio and record a week’s worth of shows in a morning’s work, and the station would broadcast them when Hank wasn’t around.

The tapes of those old shows, sponsored by Mother’s Best Flour, were discarded by WSM but finally recovered and restored, after much litigation, by Hank’s estate (Hank Jr. and Hank’s daughter Jett), and the first installment has just been issued by Time-Life Records as Hank Williams: The Unreleased Recordings.

The only downside of the Time-Life package is that they’re making us wait for most of the music – two more sets are scheduled for release in the next three years. But let’s be thankful for what we have: this is undoubtedly the very best of Hank Williams.

The sound is beautifully restored: Joe Palmaccio, who is credited with the restoration and remastering, deserves not only a Grammy, but a MacArthur Grant. We can hear Hank’s voice as if for the first time, warmer and fuller than on the MGM recordings. The shows were originally recorded not on tape, but on acetates, and Colin Escott’s accompanying essay tells us that this method is responsible for the superior sound quality.

But it’s not just the sound that makes this a revelatory set: Hank is friendly and folksy and the Drifting Cowboys are better than ever. The fifty-four songs include many of Hank’s hits, but so much more – more than a dozen gospel numbers, covers of other artists’ hits, a couple of sentimental numbers – not a dud in the bunch.

The package has been beautifully assembled by Time-Life, and includes an introductory note from Jett Williams, an insightful essay and song notes by Colin Escott and pictures that are by themselves almost worth the price of the package.

If you haven’t heard a whole lot of Hank’s music, there’s no better place to start. If you think you’ve heard all of Hank’s music, this is the place to find out you’re mistaken. Either way, you need to hear this.

Here’s a 10-minute clip from a BBC documentary on Hank’s life. It’s kind of chopped up, but stick with it, and whatever you do, don’t miss Hank’s duet with Anita Carter – it’s priceless. Please enjoy.

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3 Responses to “New Music From Ol’ Hank”

  1. Duncan Walls Says:

    I’ve heard the first batch of these ‘new’ releases and they are a treasure hearing Hank cover what was current b ack then. I shared them with a new internet music buddy of mine who’s 75 years young and he was thrilled to hear something new after all these years. As someone described it somewhere ojn the web, it’s truly an eye opening experience to discover almost 100 ‘new’ Hank Williams performances. I’ll be looking forward to hearing them all.

    Hank played up our way in the Finger Lakes area in the last year he was alive in a field outside of Bllomfield, NY underneath a tent with hay bale benches. From what I can gather he probably had one of the Drifting Cowboys along as a band leader and used a pickup band like most everyone else did back then. I first became aware of the show reading about it in the prologue/introduction to a Hank Williams songbook someone gave me. It turns out i have THREE connections to the promoter…1) a friend of mine bought all the posters and paraphenalia he and his wife had accumulated from their years as club owners and promoters about fifteen years ago 2) I actually played once with a friend of mine [a true honky-tonker himself named Dave Donnelly] at the promoters club ‘Boots & Saddles’ in Hemlock, NY before it burned down in the 1970s and 3) I now live 1000 feet from the promoter’s [Max Raney] nephew, Hank Raney who is also a picker who still honks around in the area from time to time. I feel a part of it all in some small way.
    I’ve got another 75+ year old music buddy who backed up Webb Pierce on his ‘There Stands The Glass’ and ‘Slowly’ tour back in 1952 or so up here in Rochester. He’s got one of the first Gretsch White Falcon elctric guitars ever made, in fact a prototype that was sent to him ‘by mistake’ from Gretsch because they had so few made at the time he ordered his so long ago. It soungs FANTASTIC and plays like butter. Sure hope I have some bucks to be able to be in the bidding when THAT one goes up for sale someday!

  2. Don Bashline Says:

    Hey, Duncan, thanks for the comments and for sharing your stories. For those of us (namely me) who are not musicians, what’s a double drop D tuning?

  3. Week 6 Playlist Notes « The Southern Diaspora Says:

    […] is from The Unreleased Recordings, a 3-CD set that belongs in every home. I wrote more about it here. The video accompanying the post has been tragically wiped from YouTube, but the post is still a […]

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