When the song topped the charts on January 24, it had been just 23 days since Williams died of heart failure in the back of his Cadillac en route to a New Year's Day show, likely the result of an underlying medical issue, and no doubt exacerbated by years of abusing pills and booze. By the end of the month, fans couldn't get enough of his now ghostly voice singing these eery, even Zen-like words: I'm not gonna worry wrinkles in my brow/'Cause nothin's ever gonna be alright nohow/No matter how I struggle and strive/I'll never get out of this world alive. Seems appropriate timing, then, that just this week his daughter and son -- the daughter born posthumously and illegitimately -- have announced plans to begin licensing many of Hank's rare recordings.
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It was announced this week that after years of litigation, the Hank Williams estate will make over 200 radio and concert performances available for licensing to film, television and advertising.
While masters of his well-known Sterling and MGM studio recordings (Universal Music Group holdings) have recently been featured in films and TV shows ranging from Moonrise Kingdom and Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen to Cold Case and Six Feet Under, Variety reports that these other, rarer tracks will include engaging alternate versions of well-known hits like "Hey Good Lookin'," "Cold, Cold Heart," "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry," "I Can't Help It" and "I Saw the Light," as well as several songs Williams never recorded in-studio, including gospel tunes and his take on standards like "Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain" and "Cool Water." All the songs are owned by Williams' two heirs, country singers Hank Williams, Jr. and Hank's half-sister Jett Williams.
The two have historically battled, first over Jett's parentage and once that was proven, over the Williams estate, and thus another lyric in that posthumous song becomes appropriate for its irony: My distant uncle passed away and left me quite a batch/And I was livin' high until the fatal day/A lawyer proved I wasn't borned/I was only hatched. But in recent years, they have put aside their differences joining suit in a court case in which it was ruled that the Williamses have sole rights to sell their father's old recordings made for WSM in the early 1950s. Legacy Entertainment had acquired the WSM programs, and Polygram contended that because Williams's contract was with MGM Records (which Polygram now owns), it gave them the right to release the recordings. The rights were ultimately awarded to Hank Williams, Jr. and Jett Williams in 2006.
This collection of recordings also includes eight twelve-minute "Health & Happiness" shows recorded at WSM in 1949, concerts recorded at Niagara Falls and Sunset Park, PA in 1952, and 73 fifteen-minute shows recorded at WSM in 1951 for the Mother's Best Flour company, recently featured in the 2008 Time-Life release Hank Williams: The Unreleased Recordings, and in a more extensive box set released in 2010. The Mother's Best recordings have of late been featured on a radio program hosted by Jett Williams.
According to Williams' daughter, "The fidelity of the Mother's Best (recordings) has been rated as better than some of the masters," and include much of his radio banter.
"We've got him talking... If you're (making) a commercial, you can have Hank Williams saying, 'Hey, good lookin'.' It's not just the song," she adds.
"When he did these recordings he was at the top of his game," Williams says. "He was singing like his life depended on it."
May the discretion of Hank Williams' progeny prove that we won't be hearing these songs on Chevy and M&M ads for years to come.