At this point in time – 61 years since they hauled his lifeless body out of the back seat of that powder blue Cadillac on New Year’s Day of 1953 – Hank Williams Sr. has been dead over twice as long as he was alive.
I’ll give you a moment to mull that over, take it in, and shake your head.
Regardless of the math, however, Williams remains the go-to name for both musicians and those who write about music whenever it comes to anything – anything – that combines twang with a driving beat; savage heartache with a shrug of the shoulders and a gentle waltz; gospel soul with a three-day drunk.
At this point, any previously-unreleased Hank Williams Sr. music is big, big news – and that is just exactly what the 24 tracks on the newly-released The Garden Spot Programs, 1950 are. Ironically enough, their discovery wasn’t the result of years of labor-of-love research by some fanatical Hankologist: record collector George Gimarc picked up some old records with Hank’s name on them years ago and had stashed them away, thinking that if he ever came across a turntable that would handle 16” discs, he’d give them a listen.
Thank Christ he finally did.
What Gimarc had stumbled onto were the only known recordings in existence of a series of live radio shows Williams performed for sponsor Naughton Farms (thus the “Garden Spot” moniker) during the winter of 1950. Hank has a steel guitar and fiddle behind him for the four “Garden Spot” episodes featured here, but they’re not his usual Drifting Cowboys. Williams’ backing players’ names are lost to history (historian Colin Escott takes a guess at things in his well-written liner notes), but – with respect to all – the true treasure here is ol’ Hank hisself.
The chug and sway of “Lovesick Blues” (offered up twice here), “I Can’t Get You Off Of My Mind” and “Mind Your Own Business” are examples of Williams’ beat and attitude that were destined to evolve into rockabilly – and, eventually, birth the punks. It’s hard to believe that’s the voice of a 26-year-old delivering the wring-your-soul-dry pain of “Farther Along”, “At The First Fall Of Snow” and “Wedding Bells” – but it’s the truth. (“Ol’ Hank” … man, I have kids older than “ol’ Hank.”)
There are original tunes – “I Don’t Care (If Tomorrow Never Comes)”, “I’ll Be A Bachelor ‘Til I Die” and “Jesus Remembered Me” – and there are covers, including “A Mansion On The Hill” and raucous rips through “Oh! Susanna” to close each episode. There are bits of between-song patter (although, unlike the Mother’s Best Flour recordings that exist, Hank leaves the product pitching to someone else), enough to capture the essence of Hank in a good place: confident, but humble and real.
The sound quality of The Garden Spot Programs, 1950 is unbelievable, considering the 60-year-old-plus source recordings have spent their life in less-than-laboratory conditions. Any imperfections are perfect in their way – just enough to remind you that these are sounds from a long time ago; the sound of a soul that will never die as long as there’s a foot to be stomped or a tear to be shed.
If Brian Robbins had a powder blue ’52 Cadillac, he’d park it over at www.brian-robbins.com