Hank Williams : The Legend Begins

I have a bit of a fascination with Hank Williams. Granted, it’s a morbid fascination, but it’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 it’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 Williams’ life that, to this point, have gone fairly unnoticed – 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 “best of” series from The Health & Happiness Show, a fifteen minute radio show Williams recorded through the late 1940s. While the repetition of the show’s title track grows a bit tedious – it shows up eight times on the two discs to signal the beginning of a new episode – the music is a fascinating glimpse into the roots of early country music. Captured on these two discs are renditions of some of Williams’ most famous tunes, including “Wedding Bells,” “Lovesick Blues,” and “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry.”

Also interesting to musicologists will be the connection between Hank’s sound, gospel, and old Appalachian folk music.  Present on the album are renditions old time staples “Bile Dem Cabbage Down,” “Cotton Eyed Joe,” “Bill Cheathem,” and “Sally Goodin,” along with hymns like “Where The Soul Never Dies” and “I Saw The Light.”

This collection is an audio snapshot of the early years of Williams’ career, when he was “The Singing Kid” 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, It’s nice to remember from whence it all came.

Hank Williams: The Legend Begins is out now on TimeLife.