I have a bit of a fascination with Hank Williams. Granted, itâ€™s a morbid fascination, but itâ€™s real nonetheless.
This fascination stems from a local legend told in Bristol, Virginia, a city very much near and dear to my heart. Legend has it that, on the night he died, Williams and his driver stopped at a local Bristol hamburger joint on their way to West Virginia. Depending on who tells the story, Williams either got a hamburger or declined the offer to eat. Either way, later on that fateful night, Hank was found dead in the back of the car.
A good friend of mine recently wrote a story on this legend and, in effect, debunked it, but itâ€™s still a heck of a tale.
For those interested in Williams, The Legend Begins is a must-have addition to the musical library. Three discs with 60 plus tracks chronicle two phases of Williamsâ€™ life that, to this point, have gone fairly unnoticed â€“ his mid -1930s radio shows with The Health & Happiness Band on WSRA in Montgomery, Alabama, and some of his first recordings from the late 1930s and early 1940s.
The first two discs of the collection listen like a â€œbest ofâ€ series from The Health & Happiness Show, a fifteen minute radio show Williams recorded through the late 1940s. While the repetition of the showâ€™s title track grows a bit tedious â€“ it shows up eight times on the two discs to signal the beginning of a new episode â€“ the music is a fascinating glimpse into the roots of early country music. Captured on these two discs are renditions of some of Williamsâ€™ most famous tunes, including â€œWedding Bells,â€ â€œLovesick Blues,â€ and â€œIâ€™m So Lonesome I Could Cry.â€
Also interesting to musicologists will be the connection between Hankâ€™s sound, gospel, and old Appalachian folk music.Â Present on the album are renditions old time staples â€œBile Dem Cabbage Down,â€ â€œCotton Eyed Joe,â€ â€œBill Cheathem,â€ and â€œSally Goodin,â€ along with hymns like â€œWhere The Soul Never Diesâ€ and â€œI Saw The Light.â€
This collection is an audio snapshot of the early years of Williamsâ€™ career, when he was â€œThe Singing Kidâ€ on the Montgomery, Alabama, air waves, to his prominence as the greatest star on the country music landscape. I firmly believe country music has strayed so very far from what Williams began, but this collection is refreshing, much like a trip to the well spring, Itâ€™s nice to remember from whence it all came.
Hank Williams: The Legend Begins is out now on TimeLife.