Almost six decades after his death, the music of Hank Williams continues to touch lives. One of those people is the daughter he never knew, Jett. Over the past few years, the entertainer (along with older brother Hank Williams, Jr.) has been very involved in bringing Hank's unreleased works to the masses.
This month, the Williams Estate, along with Time-Life, releases the three-disc set "Hank Williams: The Legend Begins." A compilation of recordings that includes his 1949 "Health and Happiness" syndicated radio shows and a 1951 performance for the March of Dimes, the jewel of the set are a group of home recordings when the legend was just a teenager.
"Fan It" ( listen at right) and "Alexander's Ragtime Band" were taken from 1938, and four 1940 recordings are featured as well. The releases are the latest in a line of unreleased recordings that the Williams Estate has paired up with the company for.
For Jett, born five days after Hank's death, being able to showcase these pieces of musical history is a labor of love. "Being the lost daughter, and being able to go through the courts and get the record straight, and then, to be able to be a part of my Dad's music and his career so many years after his death has been an absolute honor for me," she told Billboard.com. "To be able to be in possession of these rare recordings, to take them and put them together that the Hank fans of today and in the future can now take that musical journey with them from the beginning to his death in his musical career, as opposed to just having the MGM masters."
She added, "Now, I think we've really been able to complete Hank Williams with the music because you're able to hear him in the beginning when he was just starting out all the way through his musical journey, which is absolutely amazing."
Jett said that you can hear the genius of Hank Williams even from the start. "To have the very first known recording -- you can hear that even then, 'This guy has got it.' To be able to share that moment in Country Music where he's starting to take those steps into greatness, that's so special."
The process of restoring these seventy-year recordings was something of a crapshoot from a technical level, Williams said. "The fact that these acetates were given to me thirty years ago, and were it not for today's technology -- the engineers told me there's probably a 90% chance this thing is going to be destroyed as soon as we drop the needle on it. They're old, and in poor condition. They asked 'What do you want to do, because we don't want to be responsible?' I said 'Well, we can look at them for another sixty years, or we can just do it. Everybody literally held their breath, and when the needle dropped, it played. It was unbelievable. Everybody had goose bumps. We said a prayer before we did it, because there was a great chance it would be lost forever."
After all the legal battles regarding many of these (and similar) recordings and who actually owned them, Williams said Time Life seemed like the perfect vehicle to release them from. "So, we selected Time Life because that's what they do. When you see their packaging, there's love in it. It's not just something that is thrown together and put out there. If he was alive today, he'd say he's proud of what he did, and how it's being presented."
What else is out there? Given the circumstances of such previous Williams finds, (including some recordings being saved from the trash heap at WSM Radio) she says you might be surprised. "I'm just hoping that anyone out there that has anything in the attic, in a box, or in a basement, if it has anything to do with my father, they would contact us. But, you never know until you turn a rock over."