Hank Williams: The Complete Health & Happiness Recordings (BMG)

 

Although he’s known for his sorrowful songs and for a hard-living lifestyle that left him looking four times his age when he died at the young age of 29, it’s often forgotten that Hank Williams was also an astute businessman in terms of radio and product endorsements. The Complete Health & Happiness Recordings compiles eight fifteen minute recordings that were made by the Hadacol company and distributed to radio stations and networks for a morning broadcast, reissued for their 70thanniversary.

The eight programs followed a distinctive and strict formula. Williams would open with the theme song, “Happy Rovin’ Cowboy” and an introduction; he would then play one of his popular hits, and then would offer up another song; for half of these, that was often a performance by his then-wife Audrey. The band would then offer up a fast-paced instrumental bluegrass/country number, with Williams then ending the set with a Gospel number and the closing “Sally Goodin’.” Compact and to the point, a savvy deejay could make it seem like Williams and his Drifting Cowboys were in the studio that morning.  As for the hits, it’s fascinating to hear such classic Country & Western standards such as “I’m A Long Gone Daddy,” “Wedding Bells,” “Lovesick Blues” and “Lost Highway” performed by a young, bright-eyed Williams in his prime. Furthermore, Audrey’s songs are particularly nice to hear; though their relationship was tumultuous (to put it mildly), they did have a chemistry that worked.

The Complete Health & Happiness Recordings might not be the best place for the first time traveler on the lost highway to start their journey into the world of Hank Williams. What it does offer, though, is a fine example of Luke The Drifter in (fake) live form, capturing (white) lightning in a jar, a young man in his prime who would be lost a mere three years later.

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