Archive for December, 2010

Hank Williams recorded ‘Lovesick Blues’ his breakout hit on December 22, 1948 at the Herzog Studios in Cincinnati Ohio. On the 62nd anniversary of that historic day the Cincinnati Music Heritage Foundation is holding a celebration at the Herzog Studio on Race Street.

This became somewhat more notable this month when it was announced that the Grammy Awards was putting the song in its recording Hall of Fame. The historical box set ‘The Complete Mother’s Best Recordings Plus’ is also nominated for a Grammy this year as Best Historical Album.

The Heritage Foundation has acquired the Herzog Studio and erected a plaque which commemorates all the famous artists who recorded there on one side and takes particular note of Hank Williams and ‘Lovesick Blues’ on the other side. This is the last surviving studio where Hank Williams recorded.

This Wednesday December 22, 2010 the Foundation is holding a Hank Williams Christmas Party at Herzog to commemorate the historic ‘Lovesick Blues’ recording day in 1948. Hank Williams historian and author Brian Turpen will be on hand to speak about the significance of Herzog and discuss and sign  his two books,  ‘Hank Williams and Billy Jean Jones’ and ‘Ramblin Man’. The celebration gets underway at 6:30 and will include a preview of a live record that was made back on the plaque unveiling day.

Here are the Hank  Williams recordings at Herzog from December 22, 1948:
Lost on the River
There’ll be no Teardrops Tonight
I Heard My Mother Praying For Me
Lovesick Blues

From August 30, 1949
I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry
A House Without Love is Not a Home
I Just Don’t Like This Kind of Living
My Buckets Got a Hole in It

Here’s a partial list of Country Music artists who recorded at Herzog.

Delmore Brothers, Patti Page, Homer and Jethro, Rex Allen, Flatt and Scruggs, Cowboy Copas, Bill Carlisle, Moon Mullican, Hawkshaw Hawkins.

I’ve been writing about the Heritage Foundation’s efforts to preserve the city’s music heritage since I started the blog a couple of years ago. Click Herzog to get a review.

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It was a couple of years ago we first heard of various movie projects on the life of Hank Williams. At least 2 of those were to deal with the final days of Hank Williams life as he was driven from Montgomery to Ohio for a New Years Day show in 1953.

Then early in 2010 things started to get serious as I was lucky enough to some great reports from the Benton Courier newspaper and various people in Benton Arkansas on the shooting of the new movie under the direction of Harry Thomason of Mozark Productions. They sent me some great pictures of the filming.

In the past few days there was a rather bizarre turn of events when the Arkansas Times newspaper reported that the trailer for the movie had been released. Trailers are live action advertisements for a movie showing highlights. They are used in theaters to promote upcoming attractions.

In this case just as I was getting ready to write a little story on it and provide a link to the video, it was taken down from the internet. The Arkansas Times had to take it off their site and it was also removed from the source site called Trailer Addict.

The Arkansas Times says the trailer was released by mistake and some of the songs still need to be cleared from copyright. But the paper has been told the movie is 95 per cent finished.

I watched the trailer before it was pulled. The production values are of course very good and professional. It doesn’t look like some cheap home movie or documentary; it looks Hollywood. But from the trailer you can’t get much of an idea of the story line. There will be a lot of emphasis on the driver played by Jesse James.

But as I think I said earlier when we saw still pictures of the shoot, Henry Thomas looks far stronger and healthier than we imagine Hank Williams was at the time. We know from other sources that Hank was horribly thin and gaunt and not well as he made his way north. Whether Henry Thomas can capture the sadness and despair which gripped Hank Williams life in the last few months remains to be seen.

Here is a link which will bring up a convenient list of articles I have posted on the subject of recent movies about Hank Williams.

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In his new book, ‘A Biographical Guide to the Great Jazz and Pop Singers’ Will Friedwald says ” He (Hank Williams) is one of the most expressive of all vocalists in any genre of music.” In the opening paragraphs of his 4 page essay on Williams, Friedwald sets the stage of Hank Williams greatness, making the point that I have tried to highlight often in this blog over the past two years, that Hank Williams stature  as an artist does not depend only on his songwriting, but also on his singing:

We would be celebrating Hank Williams even if he had never written a single word or a single note of a song for the same reason we celebrate Sinatra or Bennett. Williams was a brilliant interpreter no matter who the original author was, on a level of the great singers of the show music oriented American songbook.

Just to prove he is serious in his contention Friedwald steps right up to the plate and directly compares Hank to the acknowledged all time great of American pop music singing, Frank Sinatra himself:

Like Sinatra, Williams knew everything that there was and is to know about bringing out the inner meaning of a song: using the right inflections to get every thing that can be gotten out of a lyric using  dynamics  and emphasis and a colorful range of inflections.

He states what Hank Williams’ fans have known since the first time they heard his voice: “Williams is a master of extracting the meaning behind the words”.

Friedwald refers directly  to 4 of Hank Williams’ performances in his more detailed discussion, and not too many fans would likely guess what they are. However he has picked two songs that I have highlighted with specific analysis in this blog, ‘On Top Of Old Smokey’ and ‘Cool Water’ both highlights of the Mother’s Best programs. The other two are ‘You’re Gonna Change (Or I’m Gonna Leave)’ and ‘I Heard That Lonesome Whistle’.

In talking about ‘You’re Gonna Leave’ he zeroes right in on just one word. This is a word Hank fans will remember well, and will want to go back to and listen to again. That word is “peeved”. Here’s what he has to say about what happens when Hank hits that word:

Williams hits a wild blue note right on that word, he actually stretches it into two notes. It’s so extreme it’s hard to make out what he’s saying- but he sure does get the message across. There’s no doubt what he means or the feeling behind it.

And then there is this comment on ‘Lonesome Whistle’:

When Hank Williams sings about trains and prison, you can’t possible think about anything but trains and prisons. The whistle isn’t just lonesome it’s violent and ugly;  he’s making you confront whatever feelings you have about trains and prisons. He’s one of the most expressive of all vocalists in any genre of music.

On Hank’s cover of Bob Nolans ‘Cool Water’ Friedwald takes the same interpretation I did in my earlier  piece on the song in this blog. Hank Williams makes ‘Cool Water’ about much more important things than a western story about a man and his mule:

When Hank Williams sings ‘Cool Water’ its immediatley about something darker and more profound than a thirsty cowboy. . . ‘Cool Water’ becomes an epic saga of redemption and retribution, of life and death, of heaven and hell, of Mother and Jesus, even of prisons and trains.

Finally, there is  quite a long discussion of how Hank Williams  stripped away The Weavers/Mitch Miller influences on the folk classic ‘On Top Of Old Smokey’, which was a hit record in 1951. It made its first appearance by Hank Williams on the Mother’s Best recordings. Friedwald uses it as an example of Hank’s love of simplicity which he sees as a major influerce on later generations. Concerning ‘On Top Of Old Smokey’ he says:

Williams keeps it plaintively simple and absolutely breaks your heart with it.

Readers of this blog may recall that I wrote a lengthy essay on Hank Williams as a founder of rock and roll. Friedwald agrees and makes a very interesting point. He thinks it was Hank’s refusal to modernize or jazz up his music and to keep it simple that provided the coming founders of rock with their template.

Williams innovations anticipated those of the better early rock and rollers (like Fats Domino) who a few years after his death made their breakthroughs by paring down extraneous matter and and bringing out the basic truths of the blues.Williams insisted on returning country music to its purest fundamentals. By getting down to brass tacks he raised the bar for virtually all country music that came after him.

Friedwald also understands how important the blues were to Hank Williams although he doesn’t mention Tee Tot specifically. But he sees that Hank’s Alabama roots and time spent in Mississippi and Louisiana had a tremendous influence:

His mature music was equal parts Leadbelly and Gene Autry. The blues were not only a fundamental part of what he sang, they represented who he was.

Will Friedland ends his essay Hank in ‘A Biographical Guide to the Great Jazz and Pop Singers’ with this paragraph

What Bing Crosby once said about Louis Armstrong applies equally to Hank Williams. “When he sings a happy song you feel happy, when he sings a sad song you want to cry. And when you think of it what else is there to pop singing.”

Here is my essay on ‘Cool Water’

My comment on  ‘On Top Of Old Smokey’ is here.

This is one of my essays on Hank and rock and roll.

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The stature of Hank Williams in the arts in America and around the world  continues to grow.

Last fall, Hank Williams as a writer was included in ‘A New Literary History of America’ published by the Harvard University Press.

And now, as a singer only, not as a songwriter, Hank Williams is featured in a new comprehensive review of American pop and jazz singers. The new publication which was reviewed this week in the New York Times is called ‘A Biographical Guide to the Great Jazz and Pop Singers’ by Will Friedwald.

Friedwald is an important American musical critic, who has published several books on pop and jazz music, and is the music critic at the Wall Street Journal. The title of this post is a direct quote from his 4 page essay on Hank Williams in the new book.

Stay tuned. I will have more in the next day or two.

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The name Hank Williams will once again be part of the Grammy Awards as the Time Life production of the The Complete Mother’s Best Flour 1951 radio programs is nominated for Best Historical Album.

The actual nominees are: the producers Colin Escott, Mike Jason & Jett Williams, compilation producers; Joseph M.Palmaccio, mastering engineer.

The competition looks a little tough. The re-release of The Beatles (The Original Studio Recordings), Not Fade Away: The Complete Studio Recordings and More (Buddy Holly), and a compilation of  the best recordings being made in Los Angeles in the mid 60’s.

The Grammy Award show will be held February 13th.

The Complete  Mother’s Best is a 15 CD Box Set, with a bonus DVD, all packaged in a simulated vintage radio format. The Box  Set contains all of the 15 minute radio shows which Hank Williams recorded live to disk on acetates to be played on the air when he was on the road and couldn’t do the show live. They contain some of Hank Williams  most dramatic and memorable singing performances. The Mother’s Best shows reveal a more  informal relaxed radio personality which Hank fans haven’t heard before. The sound quality is better than the original MGM recordings, showcasing  a richer deeper more expressive Hank Williams’ singing style. Finally, the radio programs reveal a wide range of musical interests as Hank searched through his wide knowledge of folk and gospel music to find material to fill the requirements of a daily radio show.

Time Life was chosen by the Hank Williams estate to handle the Mother’s Best programs once it achieved ownership after a lengthy legal battle.  Two 3 CD highlight compilations were released in 2008 and 2009. Then this year  it was decided to release the entire Mother’s Best  catalogue in one big package. The Box Set at $199.00 US has received excellent reviews from major newspapers and music journals. The decision to release the entire historical record of Mother’s Best Shows has now been rewarded with a nomination by the biggest musical award show there is, The Grammy Awards.

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