Posts Tagged ‘Luke the Drifter’

Hank Williams is not just an entertainer, a country music superstar, a pop song writer, a radio personality a million seller recording star, country hall of fame member, rock hall member. Hank Williams transcends these popular designations, honors,  and labels that change with the weeks and months and years.

Hank Williams is a world artist of the highest order whose work rises above region, place or time.  Hank Williams stared fearlessly into the depths of anguish, despair and death. Hank Williams exalts in  the triumphs of human nature, the  raucous sensual joys, and hopes and optimism in life and love. In his short life, he tasted the triumphs of commercial success, sold out concerts,  punishing national tours, million selling records, the top of the hit parade.  

Now 60 years later we are moving into uncharted territory as just recently seen by his inclusion in the New Literary  History of America. The release of the ‘The Unreleased Recordings’ last year was reviewed by newspapers, radio and television, magazines and other journals around the world. This modest little blog receives visitors from Europe and elsewhere around the world. I support the petition to have Hank reinstated to the Grand Old Opry, but find it rather amusing. Friends, in the Hank Williams’ universe of 2009, the Grand Old Opry is peanuts!

If  ‘Revealed’ the second 3 volume Box Set of Hank Williams’ Mother’s Best Recordings had been released first it probably would have had the same dramatic impact as the first set of ‘The Unreleased Recordings’ had a year ago. But now, I suppose, the exciting and wonderful new insights into Hank Williams talent and personality we experienced a year ago were taken for granted as we waited for this the second of three Mother’s Best Box Sets expected from Time Life. And so far the new set has not received the wide-ranging publicity avalanche that occurred when ‘The Unreleased’ was dropped into the music world.

There is nothing disappointing about this collection. As I wrote in an earlier post, the new format of dividing the discs by theme and presenting one complete show on each disk is a success. The first disc of hits contains some really rocking versions of Hank’s early rockabilly recordings such as ‘Move It On Over’, ‘Hey Good Lookin’ ,’Why Don’t You Love Me’, Moanin The Blues and ‘Mind Your Own Business’. Disc 2 presents the usual solid and moving renditions of sacred songs many  we may have never heard him sing before. Disc 3 will be a disappointment to some and will not get as much playing time as the first two. It’s called ‘Luke the Drifter’ although that’s a bit misleading. From my memory, and the discographers will know of course, but many of these songs did not appear as original Luke the Drifter recordings. Most of the songs here are familiar to fans  and a new cover of ‘Deck of Cards’ a late 40s narration hit  really doesn’t add much to the Hank Williams’ story.

But overall the new set continues the sense of  excitement that  the first Mother’s Best recordings  brought to the average Hank Williams fan for the first time. There is the clarity and broadcast quality of the sound which surpasses the original MGM studio recordings. There is the richness in his voice and subtlety of expression we never heard before, not  until these old acetate radio program recordings were remastered and restored.

We learn more about Hank. And this is where the new set even surpasses the first release. A lot more studio banter and Hank’s relaxed easy going kibitzing with his band and host Louis Buck is included.  It’s a relaxed presentation that doesn’t sound like Hank’s session recordings that he knew were carved in stone so to speak and would last forever. These are just more of the of thousands of radio programs in Montgomery, Shreveport and Nashville that he did through the years and for all he knew were going out across the airwaves to disappear forever.

But on the other hand, the recordings have an immediacy in his knowledge that they were going out live to thousands of people and this brings out a relaxed intimacy with the microphone and audience only ‘live’ radio creates. Another revelation from the first Box Set  was the breadth of  Hank Williams’ musical interests and knowledge. Once again the gospel songs are standouts, along with hits made famous by other singers, and  fascinating if obscure songs Hank Williams picked to fill out these radio programs, .

These recordings are an artistic treasure, because they shows us more. They unveil the Hank Williams as an artist for the ages.  An artist with a short life and limited output. But an artist whose breadth of knowledge of human emotions  expressed both a writer and a performer, who  explores  the deepest issues of human existence is unsurpassed  in popular music.

As I discussed in first Mother’s Best release, powerful performances of songs Hank did not write added so much to his stature.  I discussed ‘Cool Water’ On Top of old Smokey’  ‘Searching for a Soldier’s Grave’ and ‘Have I Told You Lately That I Love You?’ among others. The same is true this time.

There are some equally moving and forceful efforts on this new set. I’m just letting them sink in a bit, and as I did last time, will go over the new recordings disc by disc.

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Fans will thrilled by the new format for the second Box Set from the Mother’s Best Flour shows to be released by Time Life on November 3rd.

The 3 CD package  has a similar appearance to the first ‘Unreleased Recordings’ 3CD set released  last year at this time.

The new release has more structure than last year. Instead of the songs being organized on the CDs more or less at random, the ‘Revealed’ set groups the songs according to themes. The first is called ‘The Hits Like Never Before’, the second ‘At the Cross’, and the third ‘Luke the Drifter’, not all originally Luke the Drifter releases I don’t think, but songs of a more philosophical bent.

In addition, at the end of each CD there is a complete show from the Mother’s Best radio series. This is a big improvement for the average listener,who will now get to hear the real Hank Williams live, revealed as a professional entertainer with a great personality, showing both his humorous and serious sides, and talking about his favorite songs.

Last year several complete shows were released on a separate album with the awkward title  ‘The Legendary Hank Williams Rare and on the Radio’ which was only available on line from Reader’s Digest.  I think for many fans it was likely very confusng, and I don’t imagine, although I stand to be corrected, that the Reader’s Digest effort really sold very many copies or did much to get the Hank Williams’ story out there.

Jett Williams, who is deeply involved in the production of these Mother’s Best Box Sets, says the ‘Revealed’ package offers something new:

To me, this is even more exciting than the first set because you get to hear my daddy talk and you get a sense of him, not just as an entertainer, but as a person. That’s why we called it REVEALED. The song selection is as strong as the first volume, but this time we’ve done three thematic CD’s.

Of course, as we all know from the first ‘Unreleased’ set the great thing is not only the Hank Williams personality revealed, and the new songs never commercialy available before, but even more important, the georgeous clarity and depth of the sound  which as many have said surpasses the immediacy and presence of the original MGM recordings.

One of the highlisghts of the new set is the first performance of ‘Cold Cold Heart’. This opens the first CD. In addition, the hits on  Disc 1 include upbeat classics such as ‘Move it on Over’, ‘Hey Good Lookin’ and ‘Mind Your own Business’. Some ballads on the hits disc are ‘Lonesome Whistle’, ‘They’ll Never Take Her Love From Me’ and ‘Mansion on the Hill’.

On Disc 2, called ‘At The Cross’,  there are several songs that the average fans may not have had access to before. These include, ‘That Beautiful Home’, ‘Lord Build me a Cabin in the Corner of Gloryland’, ‘Thirty Pieces of Silver’, ‘At The Cross’, and ‘Farther Along’.

Finally on Disc 3, ‘Luke the Drifter’, there are some classics such as ‘Everything’s OK’, ‘Just Waitin’ , ‘I’ve Just Told Mama Goodbye’, and ‘Faded Love and Winter Roses’. A country standard in spoken word, ‘Deck of Cards’ is also on this disc.

As I said, each CD ends with a complete Mother’s Best Flour Show. ‘Nobody’s  Lonesome For Me’, and ‘I Can’t Help It’ are included on these programs. The opening  theme is ‘Lovesick Blues’.

Time Life will also package single CD versions for release at WalMart and Barjan.

The release date at major  internet outlets for ‘Hank Williams Revealed (The Unreleased Recordings)’ is November 3rd. Of Course you can order now for November 3rd shipping.

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What to do about that  insipid, heartless, watered down version of rock and roll that has taken over country music?

Not much I fear.

Marty Martel has written an essay on the survival of traditional country especially as it relates to the Grand Ole Opry and country radio. I guess a popular DJ at WSM has been sacked and the Opry itself has created ‘one hit wonder’ members who are part of the Nashville soft rock version of country. Martel’s essay was released through the Doug Davis’ County Music Classics email.

Hard to find any acts with a country music sensibility among today’s so called country music stars. Maybe an Emmy Lou Harris, Patty Loveless, and Alan Jackson sometimes have something going, but lets face it George Jones, Willie Nelson  and Merle Haggard are the last of the late golden age  of country music which could broadly be defined from 1945 to sometime in the mid to late 50’s.

And really Little Jimmy Dickens is the only surviving star that I know of from the real heart of that golden age when Hank Williams, Hank Snow, Roy Acuff, Ernest Tubb, and Lefty Frizzel,  ruled the charts and concert stages. I know I have left out some names, but I’m just mentioning favorites and the first ones that come to mind.

 A real good definition of traditional country music or what is a traditional performer is hard to nail down. George Jones, for example, did quite a few pop sounding records in his career. Johnny Cash was pretty traditional but flirted with rock and pop in his early days. Not many remember, ‘Ballad of a Teenage Queen’.

Amplification was certainly part of traditional country, as were drums.

Finding a pure traditional country performer who is not bluegrass or a tribute artist is is pretty tough. You have to stretch the definition of traditional pretty thin to include even the alt country and so called purists who generally use a lot of amplification, drums and heavy rock beats.

I suppose traditional country could be defined as a form of folk music employing string instruments in simple musical forms which often feature a solo composer  singer who expresses heartfelt and sincere descriptions in love, religion, life and death,  and other philosophic concerns  and real life issues.

One of the difficulties I have in the attempting  to defend and protect traditional country is that in the case of this blogs subject, Hank Williams, a great deal of his influence on subsequent music history can be found, not in Nashville style country or so called traditional country, but in rock and roll.

Take the style, attitude, rhythms, and words of  Hank Williams’ songs such as ‘Mind Your own Business’, ‘Move it on Over’, ‘Honky Tonk Blues’, ‘Baby We’re Really In Love’,  and of course ‘Hey Good Lookin’  and trace their influence. Who would you find? Well, for starters, Chuck Berry, Buddy Holly and a host of other early rock stars.

Take Hank Williams solo ballads by the author or his alter ego Luke the Drifter, trace their influence and who would you find? James Taylor? John Denver? Leonard Cohen, Willie Nelson, a musician who refuses labels? Oh yea! Billy Joe Shaver too.

Sure Hank had a tremendous influence on more traditional country stars such as Marty Robbins, Johnny Cash, Webb Pierce, Stonewall Jackson, but if you want to look where Hank really lives, he lives in rock and roll.

The solitary lonely figure at the centre of a stage, projecting a soliloquy like singing recitation of the deepest feelings and thoughts of a character outside of himself was the creation of Hank Williams and survives today in all musical genres.   

The current project to record some Hank Williams’ lyrics is under the direction of Bob Dylan and Jack White. And fittingly so.

So as much as I sympathize with  those who bemoan the loss of traditional country music in the modern country music industry, I don’t see it accomplishing much. What we have to do is make people aware of great legacy of not only Hank Williams but a host of other country greats who have passed:Roy Acuff, Jimmie Rodgers, the Carters,  Hank Snow, Lefty Frizzel, Marty Robbins, Johnny Horton, Webb Pierce, Ernest Tubb, Stonewall Jackson, Faron Young (a bit of a rocker in the Hank tradition) Patsy Cline, and we could go on and on.

Worrying about who’s on the Opry is a lost cause, and the Hall of Fame pretty much the same, and country radio.. If you wish to direct your attention in a worthwhile direction I would say the museums devoted to country and various artists which seem to do do a pretty good job.

Pop fans aren’t hearing too much Al Jolson, Rudy Vallee,  Bing Crosby and the Andrew Sisters either, so I guess it’s a universal problem.

I’m not expecting a new Hank or Lefty, Bing or Frank on the scene anytime soon.

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Hank Williams was very knowledgeable about the Bible and meaning of Bible stories,  and certainly had a near obsession with death and the afterlife.

‘The Unreleased Recordings’ from Mother Best Flour Shows reflect this with a large number of hymns and sacred or morality based songs many written by other people and given a whole hearted, committed, Hank Williams rendition.

There is an excellent discussion of Hank Williams work from a Christian perspective on a Canadian Christian website. Writer John Cody explores the tragic health and family problems Hank faced from early life. He looks at many of his works with an emphasis on the Luke the Drifter persona.

He sees a deep spiritual source for Hank’s writing:

His sister once commented, “If you want to know Hank, check Luke.”

Williams’ charismatic stage persona was invariably good-natured; but many of the performances on The Unreleased Recordings hint at a profound sadness under the happy veneer.

Ongoing marital woes certainly took a toll, but there’s more – a yearning that transcends the temporal. An added sense of foreboding is never more apparent than on the macabre final track, ‘The Pale Horse and His Rider,’ during which he explains “the Bible speaks of a pale horse, and his rider is death.” At the time, Williams was less than two years from his own death.

John Cody mentions Hanks’ relationship with Father Harold Purcell, and at the end of the article comments on Hank’s spirituality:

It would be a stretch to suggest those songs are revelations from God; but they could certainly be considered revelation from man. Hank told interviewers that, for inspiration, he would simply close his mind and let God write the songs.

Awareness of right and wrong is present throughout his work. When he was bad, he knew he was bad, and never made excuses. By all accounts he was a mess of contradictions; but one cannot discount his upbringing. Out of a pained life, Williams’ story is remarkable – and would have been that much sadder without music.

More than half a century after his passing, his music continues to bring joy to listeners everywhere.

It’s amazing as we read these many articles about Hank Williams  to feel the profound effect his words and performances have had  on  the individuals who have written  about ‘The Unreleased Recordings’. Many have focused on the power he possessed to take both his words and voice into some higher level of awareness and humanity.

Here’s the link for the article in canadianchristianity.

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