CD Review: Hank WIlliams - The Garden Spot Programs, 1950

Recently unearthed radio shows offer a treasure trove of live material for Hank Williams fans.
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In 1950, country radio was entering a transitional phase from live music to DJ shows. Stations looking to fill airtime would often do so by adding transcribed shows to the mix. These were 15-minute shows purchased by sponsors, pressed to disc and shipped off to radio stations. A good number of these recordings are sadly lost to the annals of radio history. These shows are also how Hank Williams made his way to KISB radio.

Williams recorded several shows for Naughton Farms, a large nursery at the time, based on Waxahachie, Texas. Williams made the recordings in Nashville, but the discs were shipped to numerous stations, including KISB. None of these discs survived except for KISB's, and those were only recently discovered in 2013 by collector George Gimarc. These shows make up the CD Hank Williams -- The Garden Spot Programs, 1950.

While some of this material was originally released as an EP on Record Store Day, this release features the four surviving shows in their entirety. The first thing one notices with this release is the sound quality. It is shockingly good, as audio engineer Michael Graves has done wonders with the source material. The main thing, of course, is the music and that is a revelation as well.

All four shows open with "The Garden Spot Jingle," an up-tempo country number with a barbershop quartet ending and close with an instrumental rendition of "Oh Susanna." The shows also include a "Fiddle Tune," showcasing the prowess of Williams' band as musicians.

Williams opens the first show with "Lovesick Blues," an old vaudeville tune with a country twist. Williams gives a strong vocal, doing some warbling vocal gymnastics on the song's breaks. His steel player (possibly Clell Summey, session records do not exist) follows Williams note-for-note in this breakout single. A poignant "Mansion On The Hill" follows. One can hear the lament in Williams' voice in this, one of many highlights on the disc.

A humorous, though very politically incorrect in today's day, "Mind Your Own Business" highlights the second session presented here. The song, about a nosey wife, has a melody that bears some similarity to Williams' own "Move It On Over" and shows Williams was at the forefront of not only country, but also rock and roll. Along those lines is the novelty song, "I'll Be A Bachelor 'Til I Die" from session four. These songs present a lighter side to Williams' music and provide an excellent contrast to his heavier material.

One such track is "I Can't Get You Off Of My Mind" from the third session. Here we find Williams hung up over someone, even though she is a two-timer. It is a song anyone who ever fell for the wrong person can relate to. The disc closes out with a religious song, "Jesus Remembered Me," one of several he wrote throughout his career.

Williams recorded more than four shows for the series, but these are all that survive today. In spite of his short career, he was a pioneering artist and adept at several genres of music. The fact these recordings exist in such high fidelity is a real treat and a treasure for Hank Williams fans.