It’s been more than 60 years since Country music star Hank Williams died. But his songs -- including “Cold Cold Heart,” “Hey Good Lookin’” and “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry” -- are still influencing songwriters in Nashville and beyond. Some of Williams’ 1950 radio performances have just been unearthed, giving fans something new to enjoy.
Back in the 1950s in the United States, it wasn’t uncommon for a company to buy a block of 15 minutes or more on regional radio stations for their own entertainment show, putting the name of their product in the title. That’s what Naughton Farms of Waxahachie, Texas did in 1950, when they produced the “Garden Spot Programs."
Country music artist Hank Williams in an undated photo released by the Country Music Hall of Fame.
Each 15-minute show started with Williams singing a jingle advertising the company, followed by a bit of chat with the program’s host. Hearing her father laughing and talking has excited the late singer’s daughter Jett Williams almost more than hearing him sing.
“My dad died five days before I was born," she said. "To actually hear your parent’s voice and hear them laugh and talk and tell a joke, it just gives you that closeness that’s a gift.”
Those radio programs have been gathered together into a new CD collection co-produced by Williams biographer Colin Escott, who won two Grammys for "The Complete Hank Williams" boxed set in 1999.
Escott didn’t go looking for the Garden Spot sessions, he just happened upon them.
“It was sitting in a radio station in Creston, Iowa. That kind of is like sitting under a bed somewhere…These shows were sent out to, I don’t know, probably hundreds of stations, but it seems that just the copies that went out to KSIB in Creston, Iowa survived," he said. "Sixty years later, they still sounded pretty good. We got the engineer to take out pops and ticks and crackles and it sounds like they were recorded yesterday.”
The well-known recording of Williams singing ‘Lovesick Blues,’ is one song featured on the new collection of long-lost live broadcasts.
“I’ve heard that song so many times and here Hank is playing with a different band. It just sounds so different," Escott said. "It’s kind of like I get to hear it for the first time again.
Williams had a short, but brilliant career: he died 61 years ago at the age of 29. He only recorded 66 songs under his own name…and an incredible 37 of them became hits. Escott says the songs aren’t the only reason there’s still so much interest in the Country music star.
“In part because he didn’t live long enough to make any bad records, that’s certainly part of it," he said. "He was like the first ‘live fast, love hard, die young’ rock and roller. And he just wrote so, so many great songs in such a short period of time. And he sang them with this riveting intensity, you know? You listen to these shows and they’re trapped in 1950. But the way Hank sings, it’s just timeless.”
The set captures Williams at the top of his game. In 1950, he was a huge star, in good health, headlining the Grand Ole Opry and freshly back from a tour in Europe, playing for troops serving overseas. "The Garden Spot Programs" bring him to life in a way that studio recordings never could.