Posts Tagged ‘Don Helms’

Very informative lengthy taped interview with the author of the distinctive Hank Williams’ guitar sound, Don Helms.

This interview was done at the Hank Williams’ Festival in June 1997 by Tom Casesa. He is a New York based musician and visual artist.

Casera asks a lot of good questions and drills down a bit into some interesting topics. When you hear these interviews you often say why didn’t he ask this? That didn’t happen too much in this interview. Tom seems to have gained Don Helms’ trust so he’s very honest. The interview is on You Tube with still pictures.

Thanks to Robert Ackerman for sending it along and Tom Casesa for sharing it with Hank Williams fans through Robert.

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Dale Vinicur, who co-wrote a memoir by Hank Williams’ step daughter Lycrecia, and an autobiography of Don Helms as well as other books, contributions to country music history journals, and articles about the Williams’ family died last week.

She died on Tuesday, Oct 26, 2009 in Miami.  Dale was diagnosed with cancer only 2 months ago. She was 64. Her book on Lycrecia’s memories of the Hank Williams’ household is called ‘Still In Love With You’. ‘Settin’ the Woods on Fire’ presented Don Helms’ memories of his life as Hank Williams’ steel guitar player and friend. ‘Dear Mama Williams’ was a book about the letters and cards received by the Williams’ family following his death.
Vinicur was a stout defender of Audrey Williams who she thought had been misrepresented in many biographies and articles about Hank. Beginning in 2006 she wrote a blog. Her ideas about how she felt modern biographers had twisted the true story of Hank and Audrey’s relations can be found in these two blog entries.
Dale Vinicur also had a page on MySpace.
Vinicur was associated with Audrey’s  Dream a charitable organization in Nashville dedicated to Hank and Audrey Williams  which has the following mission statement on its website:
“‘To be Nashville’s central information and support hub for people with substance abuse problems and their families”.
I have a lot of sympathy with Dale Vincur’s views. Earlier I expressed concern about the upcoming movie  on Hank Williams being influenced by the anti Audrey sentiment and over emphasis on Hank’s personal life over his artistic accomplishments. Finally, I was disappointed to read pointless, useless cheap shots toward Audrey Williams in the liner notes to the recent ‘Unreleased’ and ‘Revealed’ recordings. What’s the point? It’s 2009.
I probably don’t agree with all or even most of Dale Vinicur’s points. Maybe the truth is about half way between Dale and Colin Escott. The fact is nobody knows the real truth in somebody else’s marriage and never will.
 But I sure think Dale Vinicur said  some things that needed to be said.

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You can’t be anything but excited to hear that a major motion picture on Hank Williams  with significant funding and the involvement of Universal Studios is in the works.

Two companies, 821 Entertainment Group and Striker Entertainment will produce the biopic which will be offered to Universal for actual production.

This sounds like the kind of financial heft and depth which could see Hank Williams get the same treatment recently offered to Ray Charles and Johnny Cash.

The key to putting the deal together appears to be the support of the Hank Williams’ estate represented by Hank Williams Jr and Jett Williams. Of course the two came together to bring the ‘Unreleased Recordings’ based on the Mother’s Best radio shows to the public for the first time last fall, and that was a respectful, classy, impressive 3 CD release.

Personally, I’m disappointed that the intellectual and artistic control of the picture will be under handed over to  Colin Escott. Escott is doubtless the number one scholar and author  on the life and works of Hank Williams.  He’s written the most comprehensive biography: ‘Hank Williams: The Biography’ on which the movie will be based. Escott has also written liner notes for numerous Hank Albums includingt the recent ‘Unreleased’ and other articles, books, and TV shows including the PBS special.  Escott will be associate producer of the new film.

My problem is that, in my opinion, Escott has greatly overplayed the negative aspects of Hank Williams’ life. Everybody and their uncle was apparently more than willing to tell an unsavory, salacious story about Hank. Every single one seems to have made it into Escott’s books. I prefer the statement from Don Helms who said he did not recognize the Hank Williams he knew for so many years, in any of the Hank Williams biographies he read.

Hank Jr has also stated that he doesn’t believe it was all gloom and doom portrayed in the Hank Biographies. I like this quote from, ironically, Colin Escott’s book ‘Snapshots from the Lost Highway’:

Some people had the misconception that Daddy was rolling and lolling in sorrow, or lived with the whiskey bottle in his hand 24 hours a day, and that’s not the way it was. . . . You can hear anything, you can read anything, but if you sit down and listen to his albums, you will know him and you can make own analysis. Just listen, you don’t need anyone to explain anything to you.

To me the tide is starting to turn: The debauchery trumps artistry portrayal is diminishing. I hope Hank’s status as an artist will triumph over  the endless stories in this new movie.

I am hopeful that the involvement  and cooperaton of the Hank Williams’ estate willl bring to the project the professionalism and style and class we saw in the ‘The Unreleased Recordings’. The involvement of the Hank Williams’ estate also means the original Hank Williams recordings can be used in the production.

That being said, I like the quotes from one of the producers, Marc Abraham:

“It is hard to measure the excitement I feel and. . . the sense of responsibility,” he said. He added, “I have loved Hank Williams’ music from the time I was a small kid growing up in Kentucky. I truly believe that a story based on the pain and glory of Hank Williams’ life – one of America’s greatest artists – can be a thrilling motion picture and at the same time, it can examine the power and influence of art and music in our lives.

The offical press release quotes Colin Escott but it’s hard to make much from his quote:

Hank Williams’ life and career almost demand to be made into a movie, and I feel that the team associated with this production can deliver the Hank Williams movie we’ve always wanted to see.”

As I reported earlier a film maker from Alabama is also planning Hank Williams movie.

And of course I recall watching a film called ‘Your Cheatin Heart’ way back in 1964 starring George Hamilton which soon disappeared from sight due to legal wrangling within the Hank Williams’ estate. I see the movie is apparently for sale on the internet in DVD format.

The tell the  truth  at the time I thought George did a pretty good job of portraying Hank. No accounting for taste I guess.

But seriously,  this is all good, and will do wonders for Hank Williams’ place in musical history if it is done well. But I  still wish they werre using the late Paul Hemphill biography ‘Lovesick Blues’ plus some of the memoirs left by Don Helms and others to portray the real Hank Williams.

Oh well, now we can settle back and speculate who among the current crop of Hollywood stars would make the best Hank Williams. And how will Audrey, Billy Jean,  and Hank’s mother be treated in the latest version of Hank’s life, and the one that will, for better or worse, become the official version of Hank’s life for millions of people  and will endure for years  into the future?

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Robert ‘Hank’ Ackerman likes Hank Williams Jr.’s new album. The album is getting a lot of positive reviews from the critics. Ackerman says the songs referring to Hank Sr. are particularly strong.

I think the latest Hank Jr CD, titled “127 Rose Avenue” is one I will listen to a lot…. it has a great selection and variety of songs and there is a whole lot of Hank (Sr) in this one.  This CD, for my taste and in my opinion, reminds me of some of the older Hank Jr music … of course the title song relates to his Daddy’s Boyhood Home in Georgiana, Alabama, and there is a track titled “Last Driftin’ Cowboy” that is a wonderful tribute to the late Don Helms.  (And if you like “country blues” you will love Hank Jr’s latest version of “Long Gone Lonesome Blues”).  This is a keeper for sure.

In the prestigious  New York Times,  Ben Ratliff writes a fairly long but somewhat mixed review. He thinks the recession based political songs on the album are a bit “heavy handed” and overdone. But, like Ackerman he likes the songs reflecting on the Hank Williams era. 

A pair of tracks in the middle of the record meditate on his father, and typically they represent the album’s conceptual high point. “Last Driftin’ Cowboy” is a two-parter: first the song talks in the posthumous voice of Don Helms, the steel-guitar player for Hank Williams Sr.’s band, who says that Hank Sr. was not a sad man; he knew how to have fun. Then it slows down to lament Helms’s death. And in the title song — the street address of Hank Sr.’s boyhood home in Georgiana, Ala. — a visitor conjures the spirit of his father. It’s hokey, but kind of real: there is a museum there, after all.

I was a really big Hank Jr fan in the early years and had a collection of 5 or 6 vinyl albums from the 70’s and 80’s. I may have one cassette but no CD’s, so I guess that tells you when I lost interest. The guns, survival, football, and political stuff sort of lost me. I’m looking forward to this album with  real working class and Hank Sr themes.

It is being reviewed all over, so a Goggle search will yield lots of information.

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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.


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