Hank Williams was only 29 years old when he was declared dead on arrival at a hospital in Oak Hill, West Virginia. The previous night he had been loaded barely conscious into the back seat of a Cadillac. His body wracked with agony from back surgery that had never been allowed to heal properly, emotionally and physically exhausted from the break up of his first marriage and a killer touring schedule, he had passed out in the back seat of the car, never to wake up again. He had a history of battles with the bottle and by 1952 promoters were leery of booking him, as there was no guarantee that even if he showed up he'd be sober enough to go on stage. However, for two years, from 1949 to 1951, he had dominated the Billboard charts with a series of #1 hits and was one of the most popular performers in America.
In 1951 alone he performed 130 shows across Canada and the United States. While that may not seem like a lot to some people, you have to remember this was in the days before bands had tour buses or you could hop a plane to take you across the country in a few hours.
Hank and his band, The Drifting Cowboys, did all their travel by car, which was exhausting enough on its own. However, most weeks, no matter where they were, they also had to make sure they were back in Nashville for Saturdays in order to perform at the Grand Ole Opry. Aside from touring and recording, in 1951, Williams was also featured on a 15-minute radio spot every morning that was broadcast across the Midwest and the South. From 7:15 am to 7:30 am, kitchens in thousands of homes would have the pleasure of Williams' company brought to them by the good people of Mother's Best Flour.
As there was no way he could record the shows on a daily basis, each time he and the band came back in Nashville they would lay down a number of shows that could then be broadcast over the airwaves at some time in the future. Remarkably, the original acetate recordings of all those old radio shows somehow survived the years. While a couple of box sets have been released in the past couple of years with highlights from those shows, for the first time ever, Time Life has gathered them all together in one package, Hank Williams: The Complete Mother's Best Recordings.