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Country Music Hall of Fame,
Class of 1961

About the record: B-side of MGM K10932, recorded Dec. 21, 1950, at Castle Studio in downtown Nashville. Released March 16, 1951, under artist name Luke The Drifter.

I’m of the opinion that death was a great career move for Hank Williams. He was a super peformer, for sure, and a top-notch songwriter. But with a personal life in shambles and some rough hillbilly edges that were certain to resist smoothing, it’s not clear he’d have fared well in the coming Nashville Sound and countrypolitan eras.

In that vein, here’s one of a series of performances that were so preachy and un-commercial that he and his mentor Fred Rose developed a separate personna and nom de sermon under which to market them: Luke The Drifter. I suppose you could say ol’ Hank was a charter Hall of Famer despite works like this. But they do point to his ability to paint a picture with his lyrics, and it’s hard to get long-gone-lonesomer than this recitation.

Longtime followers here know that a song can’t be too treacly for me; “Men With Broken Hearts” is proof. After all, as Luke himself says, it’s written that the greatest men never get too big to cry.

Hank Williams’ Hall of Fame profile.

Next up: Roy Acuff

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June 4-6

Why this weekend? Exactly three years after D-Day, MGM Records marked its own d-day – “d” for “debut,” the debut of Hank Williams on the label.

About the record: MGM 10033, recorded on April 21, 1947, at the Castle Studio in downtown Nashville’s Tulane Hotel. Released June 6 of that year, eventually reaching No. 4 on Billboard’s country chart. First LP appearance was on Memorial Album, MGM E-3272, released January 1956.

On his first big hit, Hank Williams plowed some of the same ground that Tennessee Ernie Ford, Bill Monroe, Cowboy Copas and other country artists did in the late 1940s, scoring with a 12-bar blues number that suggested the coming rock ‘n’ roll onslaught. Williams the songwriter devised a memorably clever tale of the wayward husband relegated to the doghouse, and the call-and-response motif was a nice touch.

And what about that band! These aren’t the Drifting Cowboys we know so well and who added so much to the Hank Williams sound. But thanks to Zeke Turner on lead guitar, Smokey Lohman on steel, our friend Tommy Jackson on fiddle and Brownie Reynolds on bass, this song rocks.

My first exposure to “Move It On Over” was MGM’s horrid update from the mid-‘60s, with strings and without the hot lead guitar break. Fortunately, I got hold of the restored original, and it’s now one of my favorite Hank Williams songs. Enjoy, and see you Monday.

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June 1

Why today? Sixteen stars are mentioned in this 1961 hit; 15 of them have ascended to Hill-Billy Heaven. The one who’s still with us is celebrating a birthday. Happy 84th, Andy Griffith.

About the record: Capitol 4567, recorded Jan. Feb. 3, 1961, at the label’s studios in Hollywood. Released that spring, eventually reaching No. 5 on Billboard‘s country chart. First LP appearance was on 1961’s Hillbilly Heaven, Capitol ST-1623.

At the time this song was recorded, six of those 16 luminaries were already dead: Will Rogers, Carson Robison, Jimmie Rodgers, Wiley Post, Hank Williams and Johnny Horton. The rest, the song says, were listed in “the big tally book” of the heaven-bound over the next hundred years: Red Foley, Ernest Tubb, Gene Autry, Roy Acuff, Eddy Arnold, Tennessee Ernie Ford, Eddie Dean (who cut “I Dreamed Of A Hill-Billy Heaven” in the mid-’50s), Griffith, Roy Rogers and Ritter himself.

If you Google those folks, you’ll find that not all were hillbilly singers — Post, for instance, was a noted pilot who was flying the plane that crashed and killed him and humorist Rogers. And Griffith, of course, was comedian and actor who at the time was in the second season of his eponymous hit TV show. It, and he, had not become cultural icons yet, so I’ve always thought it interesting that he’d show up in this updated version of the song. Somebody had taken some prescient pills, I guess.

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Jan. 9: This is my favorite Hank Williams number, his first cut to feature the band that would become known as “The Original Drifting Cowboys”: Don Helms on steel, Jerry Rivers on fiddle, Bob McNett on electric guitar and Ernie Newton on bass. Joined on the session by prolific rhythm guitarist Jack Shook, these guys provided ol’ Hank’s tightest backing yet – and with him were entering two years of making one hit after another.

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Recorded from the Columbia LP "Love Life" in my collection

Click player at left to listen. Recorded from Columbia LP in my collection.

Nov. 23: The history books tell us that Hank Williams wrote “Cold, Cold Heart” 59 years ago today. It was a huge hit for him, and dozens of others have recorded it, from Tony Bennett to Louis Armstrong to Norah Jones. But this is my all-time favorite version, a Ray Price album cut from 1964 that exemplifies for me the pinnacle of Nashville’s days as a recording center.

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Nov. 3: The Country Music Hall of Fame was born 48 years ago today, with the induction of its first three members. One was Jimmie Rodgers, the first big star of commercial country music. The other two are represented here, in a song written by Fred Rose and recorded by his superstar protege, Hank Williams, in 1951.

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Sept. 17: To celebrate what would have been his 86th birthday, here’s Hank Williams as he sounded on the Grand Ole Opry. It’s a glimpse of the “hillbilly Shakespeare” as a performer and a man, before his untimely death made him larger than life.

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August 2020