You really don't expect to see much about Hank Williams at Grammy time. He died, after all, 18 years before the first Grammy telecast.
Still, Williams has won one Grammy -- in 1986, for a duet Hank Jr. did with his dad's voice. And now a project, based on a radio show he did 60 years ago, is up for another. Here's a story I sent to papers:
By MIKE HUGHES
Some surprising names are scattered
through this year's Grammy nominations.
Woody Allen and Dweezil Zappa are
there. So are the Gyuto Monks of Tibet, the Estonian Philharmonic
Chamber Choir and Chanrika Krishnamurthy Tanden.
Still, the biggest surprise may be an
album focusing on Hank Williams. “This absolutely blows the
myth-spinners away,” Jett Williams, his daughter and one of the
album's producers, said by phone.
The myths involve a hard-drinking
pill-popper who died at 29. “You hear all these stories about Hank
Williams as a poor, forlorn figure,” Hank Jr. writes in the liner
notes, “but I'm here to tell you that's a bunch of crap. Believe
me, Hank Williams and the Drifting Cowboys knew how to have fun.”
That's evident in the album, Jett said.
“You hear how quick-witted he was, how relaxed he was.”
At 7:15 a.m. each weekday, he did “The
Mother's Best Flour Show” on WSM in Nashville. Most shows were
live; when he had a road trip coming, he would record some in
There are 72 recorded shows that
lingered almost 60 years, before getting new attention. “Hank
Williams: The Complete Mother's Best Recordings … Plus” is
nominated for Best Historical Album; it faces albums focusing on the
Beatles, Buddy Holly, Los Angeles in the 1960s and Haiti in the '30s.
The Williams project had to wait for a
ruling on who owned the tapes. “It was an eight-year court battle,”
Jett said. “I think this (nomination) vindicates us.”
She's used to legal battles. That's how
she became a part of the estate in the first place.
Jett said she always knew she was
adopted, but didn't learn until the 1980s who her father was. Her
lawyer dug out the documents: Hank Williams had signed an agreement
with singer Bobbie Jett, verifying that this was his daughter. She
was born five days after his death, then was raised by his mother,
who died two years later. Then came foster homes and adoption.
She won court rulings in 1985, '87 and
'90, getting half the Williams estate. After all those battles, she
and her half-brother had a common enemy. “Hank Jr. and I had to
find a way to work together.”
The question involved who owned those
“Mother's Best” shows. In 2006, they won and she took control of
the tapes. “When I first heard (them), my mouth fell open.”
Country-music historians have always
described immense talent and pain. “Williams lived a life as
troubled and reckless as that depicted in his songs,” Stephen
Erlewine wrote in “All Music Guide to Country” (Backbeat Books,
In “Legends of Country” (2007,
Dalmatian Press), Liz Mechem and Chris Carroll said in “six brief
years, Williams produced a body of work that defined country music
and set the stage for nearly all popular music to come …. His
brilliance and his self-destructive tendencies would fight within
The “Mother's Best” recordings,
however, show a calmer image – a man who could sing a raw and
lonesome song one moment, then joke casually the next.
After winning the rights, Jett and Hank
Jr. made a deal with Time-Life. She stayed on as producer.
In 2008, some of the songs were
released on three CD's. Then came the bigger project – a boxed set,
in the shape of an old-time radio. The 15 tapes include all 72
recorded shows, plus a book and an interview with people who had
worked on the original sessions.
Officially, the Grammy nomination lists
Jett Williams, two other producers and a mastering engineer;
unofficially, it's for Hank Williams. “He's already got a
Pulitzer,” Jett said.
That was 10 months ago, when the
Pulitzer Prize Board gave him a special, posthumous citation. Some 58
years after his death, this has been a good year for Hank Williams.