Real Country Music
The Legend Begins: Rare and Unreleased Recordings
Disc One: Happy Rovin’ Cowboy (Theme)/Wedding Bells/Lovesick Blues/ Old Joe Clark (ft. Jerry Rivers)/Where the Soul Never Dies (ft. Audrey Williams)/ Sally Goodin (ft. Jerry Rivers)/ Happy Rovin’ Cowboy (Theme)/ You’re Gonna Change/ There’s A Bluebird On Your Windowsill (ft. Audrey Williams)/ Fire On The Mountain (ft. Jerry Rivers)/ Tramp On the Street/ Sally Goodin (ft. Jerry Rivers) Happy Rovin’ Cowboy (Theme)/ I’m A Long Gone Daddy/ I’m Telling You (ft. Audrey Williams)/ Bill Cheatham (ft. Jerry Rivers)/ When God Comes To Gather His Jewels/ Sally Goodin (ft. Jerry Rivers)/ Happy Rovin’ Cowboy (Theme)/ Lost Highway/ I Want to Live And Love (Hank and Audrey)/ Bile Dem Cabbage Down (ft. Jerry Rivers)/ I’ll Have A New Life/ Fingers On Fire (ft. Bob McNett)/ Sally Goodin (ft. Jerry Rivers)
Disc Two: Happy Rovin’ Cowboy (Theme)/ A Mansion On The Hill/ There’ll Be No Teardrops Tonight/ Tennessee Wagner (ft. Jerry Rivers)/ The Prodigal Son/ Sally Goodin (ft. Jerry Rivers)/ Happy Rovin’ Cowboy (Theme)/ Pan American/ Lovesick Blues/ Arkansas Traveler (ft. Jerry Rivers)/ I Saw the Light/ Sally Goodin (ft. Jerry Rivers)/ Happy Rovin’ Cowboy (Theme)/ Mind Your Own Business/ Wedding Bells/ Cotton Eyed Joe (ft. Jerry Rivers)/ I’ve Just Told Mama Goodbye/ Sally Goodin (ft. Jerry Rivers/ Happy Rovin’ Cowboy (Theme)/ I Can’t Get You Off My Mind/ I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry/ Fisherman' Hornpipe (ft. Jerry Rivers)/ Thy Burdens Are Greater Than Mine/ Sally Goodin (ft. Jerry Rivers)
Disc Three: Hank’s First Recordings From 1938; Fan It/ Alexander’s Ragtime Band (ft. Hank Williams and Pee Wee Moultrie)/Rare And Unreleased Recordings From 1940; Freight Train Blues/ New San Antonio Rose/ St. Louis Blues/ Greenback Dollar/The March Of Dimes Show For Broadcast January 15-31, 1951; Lovesick Blues/ Moanin’ The Blues/There’s A Bluebird On Your Windowsill (ft. Audrey Williams)/ Hank talks about infantile paralysis/ Help Me Understand (Hank And Audrey Williams)/ When God Dips His Love In My Heart
Audio Transfers: Alan Stoker
Audio Restoration and Mastering: Joe Palmaccio
Approximate Run Time: 1:59:41
The people of Time Life have been busy as of late. After last year’s Mother’s Best 16 disc set of “new” Hank, they have managed to find material enough for three more discs. Thanks to the very determined Jett Williams, who has managed to collect all the material and coordinate both releases, we have been brought more material in the past two years than was released during Hank’s short life.
Regardless of whether you have had the pleasure of hearing the Mother’s Best recordings, this set too provides insight like no other. Hank will forever be known for his influence on music, but these collections let you in on the man as well. They are nothing short of priceless.
Which, to be honest, is why these releases, are so important. The music, not to mention the myths surrounding the man himself, at the time so powerful, has continued to capture attention unlike anything before or since. And due to his early death, the world was left wanting more.
This collection, again similar to the Mother’s Best collection, offers glimpses of Hank through the inclusion of sponsored performances. But this release offers something besides the insight found in live recordings. Not only does it give you Hank’s very first recordings, it also stands to be much more comfortable on your pocketbook than the exhaustive Mother’s Best collection.
Disc One and Disc Two include several “Health and Happiness” shows Hank recorded in 1949. These shows were funded by Hadacol, a patent medicine, described in the notes as being “foul-tasting” and comprised of “laxative, herbs, and 12% alcohol.” Interestingly, Hank never mentions Hadacol in any of the shows, presumably so WSM could re-sell the show to other sponsors.
Radio history facts aside…, each of the shows begin with “Happy Rovin’ Cowboy”, a Sons of the Pioneers tune from 1935, and then an introduction of Hank by WSM announcer Grant Turner. The sets then move into showcasing Hank, with selections featuring Miss Audrey and some of the Drifting Cowboys, especially Jerry Rivers. As expected for the day and time, a hymn is included in each of the shows. Jerry Rivers closes each of the shows with the old fiddle tune, ‘Sally Goodin”. Eight shows fill the first two discs of this three disc collection.
The live shows were recorded over two Sundays in October 1949. From the sound, I had assumed the shows on disc one were done on one day and disc two on the other. My hunch is confirmed in the notes.
The first disc sets the pace for both discs. Hank is backed by Jerry Rivers, Bob McNett, Hillous Burton, and Don Helms. Audrey Williams makes a contribution to several of the tracks on disc one. According to the notes, it was at the sponsor’s request that Audrey not be included on the second day’s recordings.
Hank, at the time of the recordings, had already scored hits with “Wedding Bells” and “Lovesick Blues” and his versions here add a sense of intimacy not heard on the original records. Other familiar songs, take on more life as well. Particularly, “You’re Gonna Change” seems downright vital..... (You have to wonder the thoughts of Hank and Audrey as Hank nails it with Audrey being an arm’s length away).
Often performers, of any era, benefit from the studio with their live shows only showing how well they record. Hank, again, offers something others don’t. Standards like “I’m a Long Gone Daddy” and “Lost Highway” benefit from the live versions. The expressiveness of his vocal serves to assure us that he means every word he sings.
The same can be said of “A Mansion on the Hill”, “There’ll Be No Teardrops Tonight”, “Mind Your Own Business”, and “I Can’t Get You Off Of My Mind”.
His takes on the hymns-“Tramp on the Street”, the self penned “When God Comes to Gather His Jewels”, and “I’ll Have a New Life” show a man who deeply believes there is something waiting. Disc two hymns “The Prodigal Son” and “Thy Burdens Are Greater Than Mine” again show a passion capable of converting more folks than the average Sunday speaker. Of course, included as well, is my personal favorite, “I Saw The Light”.
Besides the poetry and passion that comes with Hank’s performances, the set offers several band members the chance to show-off. Although, each show gives us “Sally Goodin”, Jerry Rivers is let loose on other fiddle standards as well, such as “Arkansas Traveler”, “Old Joe Clark”, “Bile Em Cabbage Down”. Knowing his sound suited Hank, I am now more aware of his skill. Guitar player Bob McNett contributes a nice enough version of “Fingers On Fire” to make me wonder how many current Nashville players could do as well.
Now…it is true that these shows have appeared before, most notably in 1993 when the complete Heath and Happiness Shows were issued. However, this time, thanks to current technology, we are given a chance to hear and experience the shows as they first sounded. What a treat to be able to close your eyes and imagine yourself hearing some of this as if it was the first time.
Disc Three offers the truly rare and unreleased. Hank’s first recordings from 1938 show a level of confidence not shared by many fifteen year olds. The liner notes point to the two selections of “Fan It” and “Alexander’s Ragtime Band” as both being pretty popular at the time, and thus, no surprise that Hank had learned them. Hank’s longtime pal and accordionist Pee Wee Moultrie appears on both of the tracks. To hear Hank, at fifteen no less, tackle a couple of hits of the day, is certainly a treat, but truthfully it is more so because of what he would soon become rather than what appears here.
The same could be said of the next section of the disc. These home recordings were recorded two years later and do show a tremendous amount of maturation. But as I’m glad to hear “Freight Train Blues”, “New San Antonio Rose”, “St. Louis Blues”, and “Greenback Dollar” done by Hank, I find myself, during the listen, wondering what exactly led him, in less than a decade, from here to becoming such a singular force in music.
Perhaps most interesting, insightful, and enjoyable is the last section of disc three. Labeled as the March of Dimes Show for Broadcast January 15-31, 1951, Hank and the Drifting Cowboys with Miss Audrey lend their talent to support the March Of Dimes effort to address infantile paralysis. After a shortened version of “Lovesick Blues”, Hank states how he and “the boys” are so proud “of the chance to do something to help youngsters with polio to get better.”
Things are kicked off with another great rendition of a hit. “Moanin The Blues”, however, is then followed by Audrey doing “There’s A Bluebird on Your Windowsill”. There’s not much to say about Audrey’s performances that haven’t been said before, but, to say the least, their inclusions definitely add something to the myths and the overall legend of Hank.
Audrey’s track is followed by Hank asking Audrey back to the mike and asking her to tell the “folks about Randall”. She does and says that, “He’s about a year and a half now, and I think he’s about the most wonderful thing that has ever happened”. “Sure you do”, Hank answers, “and so do I”.
Hank continues by stating that every since “Little Hank” was born, they worry, and discusses how he found out that the previous year was the second worst year for new cases of infantile paralysis. He goes on to ask the listener to consider helping since “fifty million dollars” will be needed to treat children in the next year alone. He pleads for listeners to join the March of Dimes and “give what you can.”
You often hear about the stories and the music, but hearing Hank express his feelings, and commit his time to a cause, gives an impression of the man probably more truthful than any time enhanced myth.
The next track is one taken from Hank’s Luke the Drifter recordings. About Hank and Audrey’s version of “Help Me Understand”, Colin Escott, the writer of the included notes, states that “when Audrey takes the child’s part, her tuneless voice finally sounds appropriate.”
Another hymn, “When God Dips His Love in My Heart”, ends the March of Dimes set and brings The Legend Begins to a close. Hank again breathes his soul into the performance. A fitting end…….to a beginning that would, all too soon, come to an end.