BMG celebrates 70th anniversary of the legendary project
Hank Williams began 1949 with his career at a crossroads. Although he was headlining the Louisiana Hayride radio show and achieved a few hits, big-time success had eluded him and questions remained on whether he had what it took to be a star. By the year’s end, however, Williams held a handful of Top Five hits, had a spectacular Grand Ole Opry debut, and staked his claim as a singular musical talent. Key to his rapid rise to success in 1949 was his popular, although short-lived, radio program, The Health & Happiness Show.
On June 14th, BMG will release The Complete Health & Happiness Shows for the first time on vinyl. The 49-track, 3 LP set or 2 CD contains the eight Health & Happiness episodes in their entirety. Included are performances of his breakout 1949 hits “Lovesick Blues,” “Wedding Blues,” “Mind Your Own Business,” and “You’re Gonna Change (Or I’m Gonna Leave),” along with such other iconic Williams tunes as “I Saw the Light,” “I’m a Long Gone Daddy,” and “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry.” (The last song actually came out after the program was recorded in the fall of 1949 but before the show was broadcast in the spring of 1950.)
The set was produced by Cheryl Pawelski, Colin Escott and Michael Graves have produced, written notes and mastered the new set respectively, alongside the rest of the team that was responsible for the Best Historical Album for 2014, The Garden Spot Programs, 1950.
In addition to the amazing performances, this archival collection contains the earliest recorded evidence of the Nashville-era incarnation of Williams’ backing band, the Drifting Cowboys. Sessions for the Health & Happiness Show were done at Nashville’s WSM studios on two successive Sundays in October 1949. They were recorded directly to acetate, which were then duplicated onto 16-inch vinyl discs for distribution to radio stations. For The Complete Health & Happiness Shows, this material has been freshly transferred, restored and mastered from these original 16″ transcription discs.
As typical of transcription radio programs, The Health & Happiness Show follows a basic format. Each 12 minute episode began a rendition of “Happy Rovin’ Cowboy” and the well-known WSM DJ Grant Turner introducing Williams, who would play an original tune. After a break for local stations to do an ad, Williams would do a second song, followed by the second commercial break. The program’s closing section included a solo turn by Drifting Cowboy fiddler Jerry Rivers, Williams performing a sacred song, and Rivers playing “Sally Goodin’” as the outro.
Noteworthy among the sacred (or “heart”) songs is the only known recording of Williams doing “The Tramp on the Street,” which he had included several years earlier in a self-published songbook. Other rarities in this collection are the performances by Williams’ wife Audrey, either solo or dueting with Hank (as on “I Want to Live and Love”). Audrey, however, only appears on the first four programs, and, as the eminent Hank Williams expert Colin Escott writes in his liner notes, “there’s really nothing redeeming about Audrey’s singing: you either hate it or you loathe it.”
Escott’s extensive and informative liner notes not only offer illuminating insights on Williams’ music and Health & Happiness Show performances, but he also provides a quite fascinating story about the program itself. The show’s sponsor was Hadocol, an elixir created by a Louisiana state senator named Dylan LeBlanc who aggressively touted for its curative power. While the tonic had some vitamins and minerals, its main ingredient was alcohol. To increase his product’s popularity, LeBlanc staged massive publicity campaigns. These stunts included the Hadocol Caravan, a traveling roadshow whose wildly eccentric bills included Bob Hope, Milton Berle, Jimmy Durante, and Hank Williams. The Hadacol craze imploded spectacularly in 1951 due to huge debts and federal investigations.
Thankfully one positive byproduct of Hadacol PR blitz was The Health & Happiness Show. As Escott states in his liner notes, “the audio quality of his transcriptions equaled, if not surpassed, his commercial recordings.” Williams would go on to do the transcription radio show The Garden Spot in 1950 for sponsor Naughton Farms (these were issued by Omnivore Recordings in 2014), and the Mother’s Best show for WSM in 1951.
The Hadacol scandal did little to damage Hank Williams’ career. Between 1950-52, he continually topped the charts with such now-iconic tunes as “Why Don’t You Love Me,” “Cold, Cold Heart,” “Jambalaya (On the Bayou),” and “I’ll Never Get Out of This World Alive.” Released in November 1952, “World Alive,” proved to be all-too prophetic as he passed away on New Year’s Day 1953 from heart failure brought on by alcohol and drugs. He was just 29 years old. The Health & Happiness Show sessions capture Williams at a unique moment of time, when he was a rising star still hungry for success and performing at the top of his game.
1. Happy Rovin’ Cowboy (Theme) [Version 1]
2. Wedding Bells (Version 1)
3. Lovesick Blues (Version 1)
4. Old Joe Clark – By Jerry Rivers
5. Where the Soul Never Dies – By Hank & Audrey Williams
6. Sally Goodin (Version 1) – By Jerry Rivers
7. Happy Rovin’ Cowboy (Theme) [Version 2]
8. You’re Gonna Change
9. There’s a Bluebird on Your Windowsill (Version 1) – By Audrey Williams
10. Fire on the Mountain – By Jerry Rivers
11. Tramp on the Street
12. Sally Goodin (Version 2) – By Jerry Rivers
13. Happy Rovin’ Cowboy (Theme) [Version 3]
14. I’m a Long Gone Daddy
15. I’m Telling You – By Audrey Williams
16. Bill Cheatham – By Jerry Rivers
17. When God Comes and Gathers His Jewels
18. Sally Goodin (Version 3) – By Jerry Rivers
19. Happy Rovin’ Cowboy (Theme) [Version 4]
20. Lost Highway
21. I Want to Live and Love – By Hank & Audrey Williams
22. Bile Dem Cabbage Down – By Jerry Rivers
23. I’ll Have a New Life
24. Fingers on Fire – By Bob McNett
25. Sally Goodin (Version 4) – By Jerry Rivers
1. Happy Rovin’ Cowboy (Theme) [Version 5]
2. A Mansion on the Hill
3. There’ll Be No Teardrops Tonight
4. Tennessee Wagner – By Jerry Rivers
5. The Prodigal Son
6. Sally Goodin (Version 5) – By Jerry Rivers
7. Happy Rovin’ Cowboy (Theme) [Version 6]
8. Pan American
9. Lovesick Blues (Version 2)
10. Arkansas Traveler – By Jerry Rivers
11. I Saw the Light
12. Sally Goodin (Version 6) – By Jerry Rivers
13. Happy Rovin’ Cowboy (Theme) [Version 7]
14. Mind Your Own Business
15. Wedding Bells (Version 2)
16. Cotton Eyed Joe – By Jerry Rivers
17. I’ve Just Told Mama Goodbye
18. Sally Goodin (Version 7) – By Jerry Rivers
19. Happy Rovin’ Cowboy (Theme) [Version 8]
20. I Can’t Get You off My Mind
21. I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry
22. Fisherman’s Hornpipe – By Jerry Rivers
23. Thy Burdens Are Greater Than Mine
24. Sally Goodin (Version 8) – By Jerry Rivers
Author: Buddy Iahn
Buddy Iahn founded The Music Universe when he decided to juxtapose his love of web design and music. As a lifelong drummer, he decided to take a hiatus from playing music to report it. The website began as a fun project in 2013 to one of the top independent news sites.