Hank used ‘Happy Rovin Cowboy’ as his theme song on the ‘Health and Happiness Shows’. This reflects Hank’s love of cowboy imagery in the name of his band, and his stage costumes. Bob Nolan of the Sons of the Pioneers was the writer. The song also reflects Hank’s near obsession with the afterlife. Hank sings the opening of this song eight times, and each time grabs a hold on the last line, ” I’ll sing this song, till they call me home to the land beyond the blue”.
This is Part II of what will be a three-part discussion of these live to disk radio program recordings which were made in the fall of 1949 when Hank had just turned 26.
Hank’s voice is rich but restrained on the first song ‘Wedding Bells’. As with all of the recordings on ‘Health and Happiness’ Hank gives it everything he has in the knowledge that these shows will likely be played many times at radio stations across the south.
The versions of ‘Lovesick Blues’ on these programs are probably the definitive take on Hank’s biggest hit during his lifetime. This is a better recording than the original hit version he recorded in Cincinnati. I think one of the two versions of ‘Lovesick Blues’ we find on ‘Health and Happiness’ is the one used over and over again on later compilations where you hear the band applause at the end.
On Show 2 Hank renders one of his deepest most profound singing performances on a hymn he calls “one of the best that anyone ever wrote”, ‘The Tramp on the Street’ written by Grady and Hazel Cole.
I’ve always thought Hank Williams had a profound sympathy for the poor, the destitute, the downtrodden. Had he lived he might have developed a political edge like a Johnny Cash, or Bob Dylan, or Bruce Springsteen. In our times this old time Christianity that preaches that the lowest among us will be rewarded in heaven and be united with Jesus is out of fashion. But when you hear Hank Williams sing ‘The Tramp on the Street’ you can believe that if Jesus came to your door he would come dressed as a tramp on the street. And that Jesus when crucified was left to die like a tramp in the street a homeless person we might see today. And that if you turn away a beggar at your door you have turned away Jesus himself. The writer draws direct parallels between the lowest level of humanity and Jesus. And if you turn away the tramp you have turned away Jesus and will be denied a place in heaven. Hank sings every word of this with a forcefulness and sincerity that says “I believe this is the absolute truth”.
Show 3 features ‘I’m a Long Gone Daddy’ and ‘When God Comes and Gathers his Jewel’ two familiar Hank Williams’ compositions, as well as ‘I’m Telling You’ by Audrey.
The first song after the theme on Show 4 is a definitive performance of one of Hank’s most enduring signature songs. It’s the Leon Payne composition ‘Lost Highway”.Of course this title has been used as a TV documentary title, and is the name of the current Hank Williams record label which ironically has dropped ‘The Health and Happiness Shows’ from his catalogue.
The sound quality on this classic cut is superb. Hank’s voice is rich and deep. ‘Lost Highway’ is a song that requires a huge range as a singer and an ability to grab and hit the notes right out of thin air so to speak. You have to be right on with no chance to wander around the melody and fake it. You can’t cheat when you sing ‘Lost Highway’.
Hank was rarely if ever insincere in his delivery, but in this performance you can hear immediately that Hank understands this song, although he didn’t write it, encapsulates the life story of Hank Williams. On some of the phrases his voice is sharp and aching at the same time, delivering a picture of his own reality as I am sure he understood it: ”Just a deck of cards and jug of wine, and a woman’s lies make a life like mine”, “Now I’m lost, too late to pray”, “Don’t ramble on this road of sin, or you’re sorrow bound”, “Alone and a lost, For a life of sin I’ve paid the cost”. The depth of his understanding is palpable, as he hits those perfect tragic notes clear as a bell every time.
This bring to an end my second article on “The Health and Happiness Shows”. Show 4 ends Disc 1. And that completes my look at the work Hank did on a Sunday afternoon in October 1949. In my final article I will take a look at some of the performances on Disc 2, the four 15 minute shows recorded on the next Sunday afternoon.