Both as a musician and through his memories, steel guitar player Don Helms served Hank Williams with distinction. The legendary voice of the Hank Williams sound died last August. On Sunday March 8, a tribute to Helms starring Ray Price will be held in Nashville.
One of the cuts on the new ‘Hank Williams The Unreleased Recordings’ three CD set really shows, in my mind anyway, the importance of Don Helms to Hank Williams. In these radio shows, done off the cuff I think listeners will find the Helms contribution enhanced on some cuts, It certainly is on Hank’s cover of the famous country, pop and later rock classic ‘Have I told You Lately That I love You’.
His solo on that cut is haunting, and the whole recording is really a duet between Hank and Don Helms. Listen to it again; it’s beautiful.
The story is told that the high steel sound was designed by Fred Rose, not only to give Hank a distinctive sound, as if he didn’t have that already! but also to make Hank’s records cut through the noise and stand out when played on jukeboxes in noisy bars, roadhouses, and restaurants.
Don Helms’ musicianship took it well beyond that strategy.
Don Helms seemed from a distance anyway to have had a great sense of humor. At least it seems so from a quote I remember reading when he toured with Jett Williams. Having earlier toured with Hank Jr, Helms said, “I really like playing with these Williams, I know all the songs!” Or something like that.
I also thought Helms tried to give a sense of reality to life with Hank Williams. I know he said the Hank Williams he read about in biographies didn’t resemble the Hank Williams he knew from his days as a Drifting Cowboy. They used to go bowling for God’s sake! He said, “My one wish in life is that everybody who had written a book about Hank Williams had met him.”
In both the music and the memories Don Helms served Hank Williams honestly and well.
The link to info about the Sunday Tribute is here.
Note: This link is no longer active.