Hank Williams, 1923-1953, remains one of the most respected and influential artists in American music history. During his short career he released a series of songs that helped to define country music and contributed to the foundation of early rock ‘n’ roll.
His music has been reissued multiple times and in many formats down through the years. Time-Life has now released The Legend Begins: Rare & Unreleased Recordings. It is a sprawling three disc and 61 song set. It includes eight 15 minute Health & Happiness Programs, which was his first syndicated radio show, several unreleased songs from 1940, and an acetate from 1938, which purports to be his first recorded song.
Whether this is an album for you or not depends on your definition of rare. The two discs worth of the Health & Happiness Programs have been released a number of times through the years and, while they have been out of print for long periods of time, they have been available for fans who wanted to spend the time searching them out.
The good news is that the programs have been cleaned up about as well as modern technology will allow. The informal nature of the shows can now be heard with a clarity that has been missing in the past. If you are a fan of Williams or the history of country music and do not own this material, then this would be an essential purchase. The live nature of the songs and the conversation that connects many of them is priceless. Also playing prominent parts in these shows were his wife Audrey and fiddler Jerry Rivers.
The third disc in the set is where the true unreleased material resides. He recorded an acetate of “Fan It” during 1938 when he was 15 years old and to date it remains his earliest surviving vocal. The song is a history lesson of an American icon at the beginning of his career. The traditional “Alexander’s Rag Time Band” demonstrated his early style. On the other side of the coin, the unreleased “Greenback Dollar” and “St. Louis Blues” are both short instrumentals and add little to his legacy.
The Legend Begins: Rare & Unreleased Recordings presents a far different Hank Williams as it is not just a regurgitation of his well-known studio material. While the title may be a little misleading, the material is an interesting and essential part of the Williams legacy.