Music Review: Hank Williams: The Complete Mother’s Best Recordings…plus!

George Gershwin, Scott Joplin, Duke Ellington, Miles Davis, Bob Dylan – these are all men who have left their imprint on American music in their time and all music that followed. Another member of this influential group would be Hank Williams Sr. for the what the Pulitzer Prize Board described as his “craftsmanship as a songwriter” and his ability to “express universal feelings with poignant simplicity and played a pivotal role in transforming country music into a major musical and cultural force in American life.” when he was awarded a special citation earlier this year.

Williams’ cannon is brief but significant cutting across genres and it is fitting that he is an inductee in both the Country Music and Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. It boggles the mind what he might have accomplished if hadn’t died in the back seat of that Cadillac convertible in the early hours off the morning on New Years Day, 1953 at the age of 29.

Time Life Records has increased that body of work by more than 50%. The much coveted, bootlegged and for the last 8 years litigated by the principles for the Hank Williams estate, Jett Williams and Hank  Jr. , Mother’s Best radio spots were made for Nashville station WSM (made famous by carrying the Grand ‘Ol Opry) when Hank and his band were on the road and not able to do their usual live performance.

If you lived within range of Nashville’s WSM radio station from late 1950 to late1951, and were an early riser, you could hear Hank and the a backing band  (early on the Drifting Cowboys later the Owen Bradley Quintet) live between 7:15 and 7:30 a.m. Hank and the boys (and sometimes his wife Audrie) would cut up with announcer Louie Buck, tell tales, pitch for the sponsor -Mother’s Best Flour, Cornmeal and animal feed and, yes, sing songs. Some of which were just a few days old and, with their seeming simplicity off-the-cuff style performance, belied their endurance as distinctive templates that guided many preceding songwriters in the craft of popular and country music.

Hank Williams: The Complete Mother’s Best Recordings….Plus! is fifteen audio discs containing seventy-two complete fifteen minute shows with over eighteen hours of great sounding songs from his childhood, such as “On Top of Old Smoky, and debuts of new recordings like Cold, Cold Heart and I Can’t Help It (If I’m Still In Love With You) and Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain (and here I thought Willie Nelson wrote that one.) The real treat here is the between the music banter showing the human side of Hank as he jokes and chews the fat with Louie and the boys.

The “plus” in The Complete Mother’s Best Recordings…plus! is a DVD featuring two of Hank’s original band members, Don Helms and Big Bill Lester, last interviews. there is also a 108 page book, written by respected music writer and Hank Williams historian, Colin Escott, along with an introduction by Hank Williams, Jr. and afterword by Jett Williams.  This deluxe, limited box set is packaged in an antique working radio where the listener presses the radio dial and selections of Williams will play.

The collection is available from Time Life and early pre-orders are being accepted at or by calling (212) 991-5195.