Jett Williams Discusses Father Hank Williams’ Box Set of Unreleased Recordings
This month, Time Life and the Hank Williams estate released another batch of previously unheard recordings from the Godfather of country music. 'Hank Williams: The Legend Begins' is three CDs of rare and sometimes raw recordings from Williams' early days, from his time hosting the 'Health and Happiness' radio hour through the peak of his career.
Jett Williams was born just months after Williams died and didn't definitively know she was his daughter until her pre-teen years. These days, she's welcomed as a full-fledged member of the clan, and along with Hank Williams Jr. she's been instrumental in cleaning up and re-releasing lost Hank Williams sessions. She tells Taste of Country that going through these old tapes was a learning experience.
“You actually kind of get to meet the guy Hank Williams and get a feel for what kind of person he was, his personality, his humor and seeing that he’s an all around entertainer and not just a guy up there strumming the guitar,” Jett Williams says. "The thing of it is, it’s been wonderful as a daughter and a fan to hear him start to sing, and then listen to the next set and listen to the maturity in his voice and then going through the Health and Happiness shows on to playing [a remastered version of] ‘Your Cheating Heart’ and just to see the growth and maturity and the musical genius that's evolved.
During the interviews and footage from your father's stint hosting the ‘Health and Happiness’ hour, is there anything about his personality that really surprised you or would surprise his longtime fans?
I think while he’s emceeing and all that, you see just how great he was onstage. He’s got a great radio voice. It’s one thing to stand up there and sing onstage or sing for a record, it’s another thing to be able to have to stand there and talk into the mic in a speaking voice and have that voice come across the airwaves and actually capture people and make them sit there and lean toward that radio. And he had that magic.
There’s a CD of the recordings from when Hank Williams was 15. Can you hear the talent and confidence that early in his life?
Absolutely. If you talk about the X-factor or the “it” or the whatever, when you hear these rare recordings, and they’re raw, but you can hear that if this kid continues he is gonna make it. I mean you can hear the magic in his voice.
What did it mean in those days to “make it?” Was he known coast-to-coast in everybody’s home like say someone like Hank Williams Jr. or Kenny Chesney?
Actually, during my dad’s heyday, he would actually probably put Hank Jr. and Kenny Chesney to shame because there wasn’t one person -- not only in this country -- that didn’t know who he was, but around the world. And he is one of the moments in time where people say, “I remember exactly where I was and what I was doing when they announced his death.”
Is there more music out there that you’re holding onto and have yet to release?
[laughs] The thing about it is, is never say never, and the thing about it is is what we’re focusing on right now is being able to share this beautiful box set that we put out with Time Life.
What’s your favorite Hank Williams song to perform?
My favorite is ‘I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry.’ I think it’s one of the most beautiful songs that was ever written, and if you listen the melody and you actually listen to the words it is absolutely poetry. I don’t care how old you are or where you are in life, that song you can relate to.
What did you learn from talking to his former bandmates?
Well, actually, I had the very good fortune of playing for many years with Don Helms ... and also with Jerry Rivers. I toured with them for over 10 years and we were best friends not only on the stage but off the stage, so for me to be a part of the Helms and the Rivers family made it even more special because that way not only did I have my dad’s family, but also his friends were mine.
Did they tell you all the stories, or did they censor the stories knowing that you were Hank Williams’ little girl?
They told me some -- what we call family-heart stories ... things that people do that you know they did, [and] you’re not proud of but that’s life. If there’s anybody that’s perfect, then be sure to show me them because I’d like to meet ‘em.