Res­ur­rect­ing Hank’s ghosts

Note­books. Lost

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - MUSIC - By Randy Lewis

Mu­si­cians tap into hank Wil­liams’ heart with

Singer and song­writer Holly Wil­liams, the grand­daugh­ter of coun­try mu­sic gi­ant Hank Wil­liams, knew some­thing big was up when Bob Dy­lan ap­proached her at a gig sev­eral years ago and handed her a hand­ful of song lyrics he wanted her to pe­ruse.

“He didn’t say any­thing,” Wil­liams re­called re­cently, “but i could im­me­di­ately tell from the sim­ple english and the cut-to-your-heart, lone­some lyrics. He said, ‘ These are some (Hank Wil­liams) lyrics that were found, and they’ve asked me maybe to do a whole al­bum, or i may have other artistes do them’.”

That was the be­gin­ning of her in­volve­ment in The Lost Note­books of Hank Wil­liams, a longges­tat­ing project that’s fi­nally see­ing the light of day (re­leased by Sony Mu­sic here).

Dy­lan, Holly Wil­liams, Merle Hag­gard, no­rah Jones, Jack White, Alan Jack­son and half a dozen other mu­si­cians have taken part in a mu­si­cal ar­chae­ol­ogy dig to com­plete and record songs left un­fin­ished by Wil­liams when he died at age 29 in the back seat of his Cadil­lac on new Year’s Day in 1953, on his way to shows in north Carolina and Ohio.

The ti­tles alone are enough to start Wil­liams’ afi­ciona­dos sali­vat­ing: I Hope You Shed A Mil­lion Tears, How Many Times Have You Bro­ken My Heart, The Love That Faded and The Ser­mon On The Mount, to cite just four.

Wil­liams car­ried note­books with him in a brown leather brief­case dur­ing his time on the road, jot­ting down thoughts, lines and verses of lyrics on their pages, as well as on the backs of en­velopes, nap­kins or what­ever else was avail­able.

Af­ter he died, the stock­pile of un­pub­lished ma­te­rial – 66 songs among four note­books – was kept in a fire­proof vault at his nashville pub­lish­ing com­pany, Acuff-rose Pub­li­ca­tions. When Acuff-rose was ac­quired by Sony ATV Mu­sic in 2002, the vault was trans­ferred to the new own­ers’ of­fices, kept un­der the watch­ful eye of long­time Acuff-rose staffer Peggy Lamb, who still holds the ti­tle of “Hank Wil­liams Cat­a­logue Spe­cial­ist”.

Hank Wil­liams Jr. culled sev­eral songs from the note­books and recorded them on his 1969 al­bum Songs My Fa­ther Left Me, which reached no. 1 on Bill­board’s Coun­try Al­bums chart, and song­writer Mickey new­bury also tack­led a few dur­ing his life­time. But other than that, the lyrics largely lay dor­mant for decades.

“They weren’t hid­den or kept from peo­ple, but they just be­came for­got­ten over time,” said Michael Mc­Call, writer and editor for the Coun­try Mu­sic Hall of Fame and Mu­seum, which throws a spot­light on the note­books in its “Fam­ily Tra­di­tion” ex­hibit.

“Once you see them, and see how strong the lyrics are, you’re amazed that Hank hadn’t recorded them, and sad that he didn’t have the chance to.”

With Dy­lan lead­ing the way, there have been few as­per­sions cast over the artis­tic in­tent be­hind this project, for which there are scat­tered prece­dents, such as Brian Wilson’s re­cent al­bum Brian Wilson Reimag­ines Ge­orge Gersh­win in which the ex-Beach Boy was al­lowed by the gersh­win es­tate to fin­ish and record two un­com­pleted songs.

in ear­lier gen­er­a­tions, com­posers at­tempted from time to time to craft a fit­ting fi­nal move­ment for Schu­bert’s fa­mously “Un­fin­ished” Sym­phony No. 8. And some dar­ing writ­ers have tried to fin­ish books such as F. Scott Fitzger­ald’s The Love Of The Last Ty­coon.

Af­ter a 2001 all-star trib­ute al­bum, Hank Wil­liams: Time­less, won a grammy Award for coun­try al­bum of the year, in­ter­est in other projects ramped up. One of the pro­duc­ers of Time­less, vet­eran A&r ex­ec­u­tive Mary Martin, was asked about other ways to call at­ten­tion to ma­te­rial out of Wil­liams’ ar­chive.

“Bob Dy­lan was given the first whack at do­ing 12 songs for a CD,” said Martin, “and the es­tate was more than happy it should be a sin­gle artiste do­ing that.”

in­stead, Dy­lan opted for a multi-artiste line-up, at which point project or­gan­is­ers be­gan reach­ing out to singers who were also song­writ­ers who had demon­strated a strong affin­ity for Wil­liams and his mu­sic.

The pri­mary mis­sion: to come up with mu­sic that fit the lyrics, though par­tic­i­pants were al­lowed to add words, verses or bridges where Wil­liams had left only frag­ments. The re­stric­tion was they couldn’t al­ter the es­sen­tial char­ac­ter of what Wil­liams had jot­ted down.

A few de­clined, although Martin didn’t name names. “Per­haps some peo­ple were in­tim­i­dated,” she said, “per­haps some tried and per­haps they just couldn’t get there.”

Those who jumped at the op­por­tu­nity in­clude Alan Jack­son, who turned in what may be the al­bum’s most quin­tes­sen­tial Hank Wil­liams track, the al­bum-open­ing You’ve Been Lone­some, Too.

Jack White snarls a quiv­er­ing come­up­pance to one who has re­jected him in You Know That I Know, and Jakob Dy­lan brings out Wil­liams’ folk-blues side in Oh, Mama, Come Home. Dy­lan the pater grabbed The Love That Faded, cre­at­ing a floor-walk­ing honky-tonk waltz through heartache.

Lucinda Wil­liams chose I’m So Happy I Found You for her turn at bat. She com­posed an an­guished melody in the tra­di­tion of Buck Owens’ To­gether Again, mar­ry­ing a lyric de­scrib­ing joy born of de­spair to one of the sad­dest melodies imag­in­able.

“i just got lucky,” Wil­liams said. “i know some peo­ple only had six lines to work with. All i had to do was come up with a melody.”

Merle Hag­gard mat­ter-of-factly noted that he “had to fix a cou­ple of lines” in the song he se­lected, The Ser­mon On The Mount, which closes the al­bum on a note that’s by turns cau­tion­ary, com­fort­ing and in­spi­ra­tional.

“i knew the al­bum had to end with that one,” said Martin. “There’s enough ma­te­rial left to do an­other al­bum. We’ll see how this one does.” – © Los An­ge­les Times/Mc­ClatchyTri­bune in­for­ma­tion Ser­vices

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