My Kind of Country

Country music from a fan's point of view since 2008

Tag Archives: Audrey Williams

Spotlight Artist: Hank Williams Jr.

hqdefault-3The life story of Hank Williams Jr. is a familiar one. Hank was born on May 26, 1949 in Shreveport, the son of the legendary Hank Williams. Although referred to as ‘Hank Williams, Jr.’, Hank was born as Randall Hank Williams and his father was born as Hiram King (Hank) Williams. After his father’s untimely death on January 1, 1953, he was raised by his mother, Audrey Williams, who essentially forced Hank into the life of a singer, attempting to mold him into a clone of his father. Williams made his stage debut singing his father’s songs when he was eight years old. In 1964, he made his recording debut with “Long Gone Lonesome Blues”, one of his father’s classic songs.

The idea of Hank as a clone of his father became a more awkward fit as Hank grew older. Physically much sturdier that his father, Hank also did not have his father’s thin reedy voice. Hank could yodel but it was an effort. He also had a broader musical education since his mother Audrey could count various musical titans as friends and acquaintances. Hank himself has mentioned Fats Domino and Johnny Cash as strong musical influences.

At some point Hank rebelled against his mother’s efforts to turn him into a clone of his father. While Hank has always sung his father’s songs, he started to develop into a major mainstream country artist and remained there for over a decade.

His initial record label, MGM, had been his father’s label, so for much of Hank’s tenure with MGM the label would push for Hank Sr./Hank Jr. projects. Some of them, like Father & Son and Hank Williams/Hank Williams Jr. Again are gimmicky projects with Hank Jr. grafted onto his father’s recordings (if the masters still exist for these recordings, modern recording technology could make these sound far better than they do). Others like Songs My Father Left Me (unfinished songs completed and set to music by Hank Jr.) are first class efforts. There are two soundtracks, three duet albums (Connie Francis, Lois Johnson), two Luke The Drifter Jr. albums, a live album plus hit collections. Along the way there are at least fourteen albums of Hank Williams Jr. developing into a first rate mainstream country artist.

If you are fifty years old or younger, Hank Williams Jr. probably came onto your radar in 1979 with the release of “Family Tradition”. At the time was thirty years old, emerging from a transitional period in which he had not had a top ten single in over five years. From this point forward Hank would have a dozen year run of gold and platinum albums, with his 1982 Greatest Hits reaching quintuple platinum status. During that same stretch Hank would have an endless string of top ten singles with eight Billboard #1s. After a near fatal accident in 1975, Hank set out find his own muse and get his producers off his records, finally developing his own country/rock R&B hybrid.

The January Spotlight will focus on the early efforts of Hank Williams Jr., a period which saw Hank emerge from his father’s shadow and develop into a very successful artist in his own right. It was a period in which the ‘Nashville Sound’ dominated country production so there will be records with strings and choral accompaniments, but Hank’s voice is strong enough and distinctive enough to cut through the clutter. Many of my favorite Hank Williams Jr. singles come from this period, so kick back and enjoy.

Album Review: Aaron Watson – ‘The Road & The Rodeo’

Texas-based Aaron Watson is one of the best kept secrets of Texas country music, less Red Dirt and more what used to be mainstream country. His voice has a cracked warmth and character, and he is a talented songwriter to boot, writing most of the songs without outside assistance. Although I don’t feel the material here quite matches up to the best of his songs from previous efforts, it is generally very good. This album, Aaron’s tenth overall, was recorded mainly in Austin. I can’t see any producer credits, so assume Aaron filled that role himself.

The title track (written by Aaron with Mark Sissel) is just a minute-long introduction setting the scene and bringing in the themes of a life making music with a cowboy twist, all for love of music – “I don’t do it for the money, I can’t blame the fame”. This is the motif of the record. It segues straight into ‘The Road’, written by Elliot Park, a midtempo fiddle led warning not to mistake the route for the destination, voiced by a personification of the metaphorical road itself:

I’m a million miles before you
I’m a million miles behind
I’ll take you straight and narrow
I’ll ramble and I’ll wind
So curse my broken brimstone or kiss my bricks of gold
I’m not the reason
I’m just the road

The awkward phrase “knees and hands” (inserted thus to allow for a rhyme) jars a little, but this is a memorable song based on an arresting image.

The excellent closing track ‘After The Rodeo’ (the highlight of the album), written by Don Rollins and new Capitol/EMI artist Troy Olsen, tells the story of an over-the-hill cowboy contemplating retirement:

Does a shooting star miss the sky when it hits the ground?
And how long can a woman go on lovin’ you if you’re not around?
The years are flying faster now
So tell me how eight seconds feels so slow
And I wonder where old cowboys go after the rodeo

It is the road, though, that forms the principal focus. ‘The Things You’ll Do’ opens as an ebullient up-tempo look at life as at touring musician on the road, rough bars and bar fights, sleeping in vans and not getting paid are quenching his love for making music. The second verse translates the message to sacrifices made for love of a woman.

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Album Review: ‘Hank Williams Revealed: The Unreleased Recordings’

Hank Williams RevealedA year after the arrival of the Time-Life first box set of previously unreleased Hank Williams performances comes a second set. Like the first set, all the material comes from a series of pre-recorded performances Hank did for sponsor Mother’s Best in 1951, which were then broadcast ‘as live’. This edition, however, is different from its predecessor in several ways.

What isn’t different are the production values, which are outstanding. The remastered sound is amazing. The liner notes by Colin Escott are remarkably detailed, providing information about every song, and trying to untangle some of the more dubious copyright attributions. The booklet is ilustrated with some archive photographs of Hank and others associated with him. I particularly like a picture taken for Mother’s Best which has Hank and the Drifting Cowboys wielding a range of sacks of the company’s produce (flour and animal feed)alongside their instruments. There are also some reproductions of printed memorabilia, sheet music etc.

The first set included three CDs worth of material, but the contents were fairly cohesive, with the song selection concentrating on songs Hank never recorded commercially, including many covers of contemporary hits by other artists and some of the hymns and traditional songs he would have grown up listening to, interspersed with some of Hank’s own songs. It made for a great record to listen to on its own terms. This one is perhaps of more historical interest, and gives each of its three discs a specific and distinct identity.

The first disc, sub-titled ‘The Hits… Like Never Before’, has excellent live versions of a dozen of Hank’s big hits. The fact that several of these songs had been written and first recorded within a year or so of these performances reminds us just what an astonishing talent he was. All-time classics like ‘Cold Cold Heart’, ‘Lonesome Whistle’ (possibly better known as ‘I Heard That Lonesome Whistle Blow’, and ‘I Can’t Help It (If I’m Still In Love With You)’ were all brand new songs in 1951, and others were not much older. The songs chosen here range from the intensely personal songs apparently inspired by his troubled relationship with wife Audrey like the aforementioned ‘Cold Cold Heart’ to more light hearted numbers on the same theme like ‘Move It On Over’ and ‘I Just Don’t Like This Kind of Living’ and less personal material like ‘Mansion On The Hill’. Most of the songs on this disc are Hank’s own compositions, with the exception of Leon Payne’s lovely ‘They’ll Never Take Her Love From Me’. The tracks in this part of the box set are outstanding, and I will be returning to this disc repeatedly over the next few months.

Every Mother’s Best show closed with a sincerely delivered religious number, and Disc Two, entitled ‘Southern Harmony’, which takes its name from a 19th century hymnal, displays a selection of these. Most of these were hymns or Southern gospel songs, although one or two are Hank originals. The famously dissonant Audrey was present for one session, and duets with Hank on ‘Something Got A Hold Of Me’. It actually isn’t that bad, even though Audrey’s voice is higher than Hank’s in the mix, but on a box of this kind, it feels right that their work together should be acknowledged. Nevertheless, I’m relieved it was restricted to one song. She wasn’t around for the version included here of ‘Dear Brother’, which they had recorded togther in 1949, and the result is better for it. These songs were clearly very important to Hank, but they don’t stand out as much as the best of his secular material. I like ‘I Am Bound For The Promised Land’ the best of the hymns here, and ‘Jesus Died For Me is my favorite of Hank’s gospel songs. I also like the slow emotional story song of Judas and his ‘Thirty Pieces Of Silver’, which is set to the tune of teh ld folk song ‘On Top Of Old Smoky’, Hank’s version of which appeared on the first box set.

Disc Three is subtitled ‘Luke The Drifter’, and looks at Hank in his ‘Luke The Drifter’ persona, in which he delivered sentimental, religious and sometimes comic narrations and talking blues. Only a handful of the tracks here are actually Luke songs, of which my favorite is the wryly optimistic take on life’s disasters in ‘Everything’s Okay’. Hank covers T Texas Tyler’s hit narration ‘Deck Of Cards’, which is along much the same lines, but notwithstanding the title, this disc also includes a handful of more conventional songs which would not have fitted into either of the other two, but none of these is particularly memorable. A very playful version by the Drifting Cowboys of ‘Orange Blossom Special’ does stand out.

Each of the three discs also features one entire ‘Mother’s Best’ show, which really give a picture of what they were like. They were all fairly short, and followed the same formula. Every single show opened with ‘Lovesick Blues’, which during his lifetime was Hank’s monster hit, which everyone wanted to hear at every show. Then there was another secular song, an instrumental interlude or two from the Drifting Cowboys (all well-known tunes), and the spiritual number. The songs on these particular shows include ”Nobody’s Lonesome For Me’, ‘My Sweet Love Ain’t Around’, ‘I Dreamed About Mom Last Night’, and Hank’s best gospel song, ‘I I Saw The Light’. In between the songs there is some agreeable banter and (naturally) unashamed advertising of Mother’s Best products. The set actually ends with Hank singing the Mother’s Best theme tune and another commercial.

Although this set has been given the title ‘Revealed’, in some respects I feel that first volume was more revelatory because of the range of material covered. In addition, beacuse the shows were pre-recorded for subsequent broadcast, they don’t really give us a glimpse into Hank off duty. That said, the music is great, and this is a must-have for anyone really interested in the history of country music.

Grade: A-

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