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Six Decades Later, A Long-Lost Hank Williams Recording Resurfaces

May 18, 2014
Originally published on May 19, 2014 11:35 am



All right. If you're just joining us, it's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR West. I'm Tess Vigeland.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN: It's "The Garden Spot" Program presenting the songs of Hank Williams.

VIGELAND: Let's travel back for a few minutes to the year 1950.


HANK WILLIAMS: (Singing) Hello, everybody, Garden Spot is on the air. So just relax and listen in your easy rocking chair.

VIGELAND: That voice and that guitar belong, of course, to Hank Williams. The legend of country music recorded this when he was just 26 years old.


WILLIAMS: Welcome friends and neighbors. We're going to start off here with a little tune and we me made every word of it, "I Just Can't Get You Off My Mind."


WILLIAMS: (Playing)

VIGELAND: For six decades, this recording, "The Garden Spot Programs" went missing. But one resourceful collector got his hands on it at a radio station in Iowa. And he got it to the right people. Colin Escott who wrote a biography on Williams and Jett Williams who was Hank's daughter. They are now helping to re-release "The Garden Spot Programs." I spoke with both of them recently and I started by asking Colin to bring us back to those early days in Hank's all too brief career.

COLIN ESCOTT: He'd been kicking around Montgomery, Alabama and Shreveport, Louisiana and he'd made a few records. And nothing was really, really kicking in for him. And then the tail end of '48 he made a recording called "Lovesick Blues" and it just - it was just one of those uncontainable phenomena that the record business delivers every now and again. It got him out of Shreveport, Louisiana and got him to Nashville, got him on the Grand Ole Opry. And things were really looking up for him really for the first time in his life.

VIGELAND: Well, you mentioned "Lovesick Blues" and that is one of the first songs on this album. Let's take a listen to a little bit of it.


WILLIAMS: (Singing) I got a feeling called the blues, oh, Lord, since my baby said goodbye. Lord, I don't know what I'll doooo. All I do is testify, oh, Lord...

VIGELAND: Jett, you know, I think nobody ever really knows what's going to be a hit with an audience. What do you think it is about this song that resonated with his fans?

JETT WILLIAMS: Well, to me I think the musical style of it where he hits those yodel notes so effortlessly.


WILLIAMS: (Singing) Daddy, such a beautiful dream. I hate to think it over. I lost my heart it seems. I've grown so used to you somehow...

WILLIAMS: When he took the stage he had a magnetism. And I think when he delivered that song so easily and everything the audience just - they went wild and the song just absolutely sent him into the stratosphere and took him to the national recognition that allowed him to become the superstar that he is still today.

VIGELAND: Now the reason this performance is called "The Garden Spot Programs" is because it was literally sponsored by a plant nursery called Naughton Farms.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Friends it's unbelievable, 20 rose bushes and other plants all hearty, healthy, heavy-rooted plants that are ready to jump in and bloom for you. A very special offer.


VIGELAND: I love this. I would like to hear maybe Katy Perry have something similar to this. Colin, these recordings are made and at some point they are forgotten, they're lost. How were they found?

ESCOTT: Well, you know, they were probably sent out to hundreds and hundreds of small stations all across the country. And the idea was that the local announcer would cut in like he does there and sell these rosebushes. And Hank must've sold, you know, thousands and thousands of rosebushes all across the United States.

But somehow the shows that went out, one set of transcription survived and they survived at a little station called KSIB in Creston, Iowa. And a collector called George Jimark found them there. I thought, my Lord, I've never heard this before. And now everyone can get to hear what they heard on KSIB in Creston, Iowa in February, 1950.


WILLIAMS: (Singing) Tempted and tried, we're often made to wander. And why it should be thus all the day long...

VIGELAND: Jett, I know you were never able to spend any time with your dad growing up. So what's it like for you finding a new recording like this?

WILLIAMS: Well, you know, the thing about it is I was born five days after his death, so everything that I have the privilege of hearing or being a part of is extra special. So for me to be able to work with Colin and have these recordings re-mastered and shared with the world, I feel like I'm giving back to my dad for the love that he gave his unborn child.


WILLIAMS: All right, sir. Right now, friends, we got a tune here, one of mine. You can find this one on wax if you care to sometime when you're in town shopping around your record store. A little tune that I wrote and recorded called "I Don't Care if Tomorrow Don't Never Get Here".


WILLIAMS: (Singing) I don't care if tomorrow never comes...

VIGELAND: You know, I have to say, I was shocked to realize just how short Hank's recording career was, just six years long. You know, I tend to think of him as this legend of country music who was with us for decades but, you know, as Jett has noted, he died when he was 29 years old. I wonder when you find a recording like this that is more than twice as old as his life was long, does it make him feel closer or farther away?

WILLIAMS: Well, I think it makes him feel closer. The thing that it is, is even 64 years after his death and you listen to these recordings, you do realize even though he threaded the eye of the needle to get to where he was at and he was a shooting star that blazed through, his legacy, his music and his talent is still here today. And the evidence is in these recordings.

ESCOTT: You know, the patter is so trapped in 1950 but you listen to that voice and it's so present and real, it just completely transcends time.


WILLIAMS: (Singing) Well, the woman on our party line's a nosey thing. She picks up her receiver when she knows it's my ring. Why don't she mind her own business, mind your own business. But if you mind your business then you won't be minding mine.

VIGELAND: Colin Escott is the author of "Hang Williams: The Biography" and Jett Williams is a musician and Hank's daughter. They both joined us from member station WPLN in Nashville. Thank you so much to both of you.

ESCOTT: Tess, thank you so much.

WILLIAMS: Thank you.

VIGELAND: And that recording is called Hank Williams: "The Garden Spot Programs." It's out on Tuesday, 64 years in making.


WILLIAMS: (Singing) If I want to stay out till 2 or 3, now brother, that's my headache, don't you worry about me. You just mind your own business, mind your own business....

VIGELAND: And for Sunday, that's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR West. Check out our weekly podcast. Look for Weekends on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED on iTunes or on the NPR app. And you can follow us on Twitter @nprwatc. Arun Rath is back next weekend. Until then, I'm Tess Vigeland. Thanks for listening and have a terrific week.


WILLIAMS: (Singing) Mind your own business. For if you mind your business, you'll be busy all the time. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.