Monday, November 24, 2008

Hank Williams Pittsburgh Hear and Now: Believe Your Ears

Podcast about The Unreleased Recordings from the Pittsburgh Post Gazette. Listen to get to the Hank piece.

The Post-Gazette podcast:

Pittsburgh Hear and Now: Believe Your Ears

Peter King talks with Marty Ashby about "An Evening of Pittsburgh-Inspired Brazilian Jazz" with Ivan Lins Friday night at Heinz Hall (0-12:17). Plus, Rich Kienzle reviews a new 3-CD set of Hank Williams Sr.'s unreleased radio shows (12:17-19:30). (Total time: 19:30)

Hank Williams BlogCritics Review

"For the longest time I could never understand how anybody could like country music. The problem was that it took me nearly forever to realize there was a huge difference between the music that's performed by people like Shania Twain, and country music. Growing up in urban centers, the only type of country music I heard for the longest time was the former. Someone must have decided that city audiences were too sophisticated to want to hear any of the old time, or more traditionally styled, examples of the genre.

Not having any incentive to search out country music, it took a series of accidents for me to stumble across the good stuff: walking into a record store and hearing my first Graham Parsons duet with Emmylou Harris, listening to my brother's Jerry Jeff Walker and Kris Kristofferson albums, and learning about Hank Williams by hearing a guy named Sneezy Waters singing his music."

Friday, November 21, 2008

Hank Advocate Review

Read it here

Creative Loafing Review

CL's holiday guide to the best box sets and free music downloads
Hank Williams
The Unreleased Recordings
Time Life
The Lonesome Highway just got a bit more populated. These 54 songs spread over three discs are one of the major finds in any style of music, but for country and western fans, they are essential. Hank Williams recorded these tunes in 1951 on cheap acetates to be played on his morning WSM radio slot while he was on the road. They sat collecting dust for decades and were nearly destroyed. An alert station employee retrieved them from a Dumpster, setting the stage for this and future boxes, which will be released next year. The sound has been restored and is now as vibrant as nearly anything in the existing Williams catalog. The set features a 40-page book with detailed track-by-track notes, explaining where and when Williams was first exposed to some of the gospel and folk covers he performs here for the only time on disc. Indispensable.
-- Hal Horowitz

Washington Square Review

“Mama taught me to boogie,” Hank Williams Jr., sang at John McCain’s private election party in Phoenix, Ariz., last Tuesday. He stumbled awkwardly around a stage that was far too big for him, with a guitar that was far too out of tune and a beard that desperately needed a trim. If Williams wanted to learn how to boogie, he should have been listening to the records of his father, Hank Williams Sr.

It is because of performers like Hank Williams Jr. that country music has become a cliché — overweight Southern Republicans singing about whiskey, shooting their women and loving their mamas. Funny that the progenitor of country music, Hank Williams Sr., never once gave into one of these clichés. “The Unreleased Recordings,” a new three-disc box set collection of his “Mother’s Best Flour” radio appearances sponsored from 1951, offer the best glimpse of his genius and contemporary country’s relative unimportance.

Read there rest at Washington Square

9513 Country Music Review

The fifteen-disc bootleg of the so-called “Mother’s Best Flour Show” recordings has been floating around the internet for nearly a decade now, while numerous lawsuits were duked out by Hank Jr. and his half-sister Jett (the daughter Hank Sr. never knew) as the Williams estate tried to establish sole ownership of the recordings. Although the bootleg collection has a far greater quantity—if not quality—of songs, it’s hard to go wrong with this three disc set, which contains 54 of the 143 songs that Time Life plans to release in the next three years.

The Mother’s Best recordings were a series of approximately seventy radio shows, prerecorded in 1951 for early morning radio play on WSM 650. According to Colin Escott, Williams’ most in-depth biographer, in addition to the intro singing of “Lovesick Blues,” each fifteen-minute show included a secular song, a gospel number, an instrumental, and two pitches for Mother’s Best flour done by WSM announcer Louie Buck. The shows themselves were recorded on notoriously fragile acetate discs, but most—if not all—of them survived after being rescued from the trash by a WSM employee in 1979.

Read the rest here

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Sonic Boomers Review

It should go without saying that Hank Williams was a genius. An absolute master. What Miles Davis is to jazz. What Bob Dylan is to songwriting. What Bruce Springsteen is to live performance. Hank Williams dominated country music in the late ‘40s and early ‘50s with songwriting and live performance that eclipsed everyone in his path. His voice is a marvel. He drew out notes until they broke. He never shied from the emotion of the moment and he milked every tear he could. And he did it without trivializing the content. Whether it was his publisher/editor Fred Rose -- the Maxwell Perkins to Williams’ Thomas Wolfe -- who helped distill his essence or not, Williams issued in six short years a catalog as dense and rich as any performer we’ve come to accept for their excellence. He never recorded a concept album, but his whole goddamn life was a concept, a massive collision course with alcoholism, drug abuse, chronic back pain and wild, wild women. When he sang “Your Cheatin’ Heart,” no one could question his authority.

The Unreleased Recordings is a welcome glimpse into the world that Hank Williams professionally occupied. These 54 performances over three CDs were recorded in 1951 for Nashville’s WSM-AM morning radio program. Fortunately, Williams was spared an early wake-up call and the 7:15 performances were pre-recorded to lacquered discs that were luckily preserved back in the 1980s, since someone had the common sense to realize that these might be of historical and musical interest someday. The music business doesn’t always get it wrong, but it did take, what, over two decades to get this material into our hands. But let us not complain about the slow cogs of industry. Let us praise what has now been given over to us for our reflection.

Read the rest at Sonic Boomers

Monday, November 17, 2008

A Hank Williams Journal

Hank blogger John Waugh has been running a Hank blog called A Hank Williams Journal.  

Very insightful, please check it out.   

Friday, November 14, 2008

Hank NJ Star-Ledger

Country's long-buried treasures
by Star-Ledger Staff
Friday October 31, 2008, 12:03 PM

A PIONEER'S LIVE LEGACY "The Unreleased Recordings" Hank Williams (Time Life)
The world's fund of miracles might seem to have been spent long ago, but the discovery of a cache of long-unheard recordings by Hank Williams constitutes a blessed event for fans of the King of Country Music. After years of legal wrangling, the Williams estate has made available a treasure trove -- a three-CD boxed set of clarion-clear live recordings he made for the Mother's Best flour company, originally broadcast across the South via Nashville's WSM in 1951, when he was at the peak of his career.

Williams' honky-tonk poetry ranks with the art of Louis Armstrong, Muddy Waters, Billie Holiday and Elvis Presley as definitive Americana, so this find carries serious cultural weight. This 54-song set of the "Mother's Best" performances -- ideally produced and annotated by Williams biographer Colin Escott -- features original tunes, white-gospel hymns, old-timey ballads and country covers not found among his MGM studio sessions. And unlike with his other live recordings, the sound here rivals that of his studio releases. Williams' pining voice rings out with spine-tingling fidelity over the steel guitar and fiddle of his Drifting Cowboys.

The highlights include a great version of Fred Rose's "Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain." Williams makes it a far sadder song than Willie Nelson would on his hit version decades later, with even the Hawaiian-sounding steel guitars unable to buoy the hard ache of Williams' vocal. He also takes pride in taking "On Top of Old Smoky" -- a bizarrely upbeat folk-pop hit at that time for the Weavers -- back to its lamenting roots.

"There's an old song going around here that's one of the top pop tunes in the nation that my grandmother taught me, one of the first songs I ever remember singing," Williams says. "They don't sing it now like the way she taught me, but I'm going to get the boys to see if we can sing it like the old-timers." Abetted by country-boy harmonies, he keeps "On Top of Old Smoky" more in line with the lonely-heart words -- "I lost my love by courting too slow."

The performances have hootenanny feel, with Williams assuming that most folks would be listening to the early-morning broadcasts while they were at work or doing chores. That helps lend a warmth and ease to such classics as "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry" and "Cold, Cold Heart," with the latter a hit in 1951 not only for Williams but in a cover by Tony Bennett (which thrilled the country singer).

Most songs include the priceless atmosphere down-home Alabama intros. Prefacing "If I Didn't Love You (I Wouldn't Be Lonesome)," he says, "I never have sung this song on the air, but I'm fixing to attempt it, or do something to it." He describes "Mind Your Own Business" (a variation of "Move It on Over") as "a masterpiece of nonsense," and most songs end with good-time shouts from the radio-studio collective. He dedicates "There's Nothing as Sweet as My Baby" to his 18-month-old son, Hank Jr., using the tyke's nickname when he says, "ain't nothing as sweet as Bocephus."

Williams, who would die of a drug overdose at age 29 in 1953, kept his honky-tonk side mostly in check for the sponsor, although there is an especially jaunty "Hey, Good Lookin'." He favors morbid Anglo-Appalachian folk ballads (including "Lonely Tombs") and such moody hymns as "Gathering Flowers for the Master's Bouquet." The set may have too much lachrymose Victorian religiosity for some tastes, but that was his Southern inheritance. He introduces "Pictures from Life's Other Side" by calling it "a song I've been hearing all my life."

Yet it's wonderful to hear Williams sing a rousing "When the Saints Come Marchin' In." And we get to hear such sublimely sad originals as "I Can't Help It (If I'm Still in Love With You)" fresh from his pen. He finishes that song by telling the radio host, "that's a brand-spanking new one ... ain't nobody heard that one but me, you and the folks that just listened."

Download this: "Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain"

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Nashville The City Paper

Numerous anthologies and boxed sets have spotlighted Hank Williams’ incomparable compositions and recordings. But an amazing new three-disc package The Unreleased Recordings (Time Life) unveils numbers even many hardcore country collectors never knew existed.

The set contains 54 previously unreleased songs made when Williams was at his peak as a performer. These were cut in 1951, the year he became one of America's greatest stars. Tony Bennett's cover of "Cold, Cold Heart" was a pop sensation and eventually became the number one song in the country. It was so appealing and popular many others wanted to put their stamp on it, and subsequently Louis Armstrong, Diana Washington and Perry Como covered the song.

Read the rest here

Philadelphia Inquirer Review


Hank Williams

The Unreleased Recordings

(Time Life ****)

To call this a major historical find is an understatement. Fifty-seven years after they were recorded, and nearly three after his estate was ruled the rightful owner, these astonishing Hank Williams recordings are hitting the market in their original form for the first time.

Williams and his Drifting Cowboys cut this music in 1951 for their morning radio show on Nashville's WSM. Usually they performed live, but they had to prerecord shows that could air while they were on the road.

Remarkably clear and with no overdubs, these tracks offer a complete picture of Williams as he ranges from stark, despairing ballads to uplifting gospel rave-ups, using his own hits, numbers by others, and - most interesting - songs he never formally recorded. He offers spoken introductions in several places, and vigorous harmonies by his band members add to the energy level and live, spontaneous feel. In at least one instance Williams adds different lyrics to one of his older hits, 1949's "Mind Your Own Business," providing another hint of his turbulent home life: "If I get my head beat black and blue / That's my wife and my stove wood, too."

- Nick Cristiano

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Hank Publicity Updates

-The online home for GQ magazine,, is going to include Hank’s project in their holiday gift guide that should be online soon.

-An interview is set with Jett Williams for Parade Magazine

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Hank Promotions Country Aircheck

"Hanks For The Swag: Time Life is offering a variety of promotions to Classic Country and Country stations in support of its Hank Williams: The Unreleased Recordings set. Available as a three-disc box, as well as a single 16-track disc, the collection can be at the center of promotions including a Hank Williams Weekend, an E-blast or contest promotion and a Happy Hanksgiving campaign." 

Friday, November 7, 2008

Hank AP Story

"It's very intimate," Jett Williams, a 55-year-old country singer, said recently. "It's like he came over to your house and he's saying, `Let me tell you about this song I just wrote.'

"It's interesting because it's live, and you hear him make a mistake or the band make a mistake and you get to hear how he handles it," she added. "You hear him tell jokes and how quick his wit is."

Read th rest  here on Yahoo

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Hank Clip on Youtube Front Page Today

If you were on today, you may have noticed the Hank clip featured.  See picture here.  

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

The Unreleased Recordings Digital EP

If you haven't heard The Unreleased Recordings, don't forget that you can get a taste of the 3 CD set by downloading the 5 tracks below for only $4.95.

Hank Charts

Great news!

Hank Williams The Unreleased Recordings debuted #42 on the Country Charts. The major publications are raving about this release. Please see the attachment for a full list of the latest press quotes.


Tuesday, November 4, 2008 Review

This three disc collection is a must-have item for any Hank Williams fan, or for any fan of Country Music. The quality of these recordings is outstanding and the included booklet of information is also worthy of praise. Not only do you get to hear the songs, but you can also read background information for each one of them. The songs in this collection were taken from previous unreleased performances on the "Mother's Best" program and are also part of a Time Life series with more to come.

Read the rest here

The Tennessean Feature

The Unreleased Recordings' offer glimpses of Hank Williams

By Peter Cooper • THE TENNESSEAN • October 26, 2008

In early 1981, 26-year-old Alan Stoker applied soap and water to some lacquer-coated, 16-inch aluminum discs.
And then three decades fell away, as Stoker transferred the material on the discs to reel-to-reel tape. Country music's most famous voice — a voice that had been silenced at age 29, somewhere on a dark road north of Knoxville and south of Oak Hill, W.Va. — burst through speakers and filled the room.
There, inside the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum on Music Row, Stoker raised the hillbilly Atlantis, in the form of Hank Williams' "Mother's Best" recordings.
"I had in my mind this image of Hank Williams as a great singer and songwriter, but also as a dark and morose person," said Stoker, now the recorded-sound and moving-image curator at the hall, which moved downtown in 2001. "But on these recordings, which I had never heard before, I was struck by the warmth of his voice and the apparent warmth of his personality. He had a great laugh."
More than a quarter-century later, and more than 50 years since Williams and his Drifting Cowboys recorded radio shows sponsored by Mother's Best Flour and aired on WSM-AM 650, listeners can hear what Stoker heard in 1981. Williams' 143 performances were recorded onto "acetates," which are discs meant to be played only a few times. After airing, the acetates were bound for the WSM Dumpster but were rescued by photographer Les Leverett. The shutterbug held on to the acetates for many years, though Hall of Fame acquisitions director Bob Pinson talked Leverett into bringing them in so that Stoker could do a transfer in 1981.
A record company attempted to release the recordings, complete with overdubbed instruments, but the Williams estate — daughter Jett Williams and son Hank Williams Jr. — fought an eight-year court battle to secure the rights. In 2006, Tennessee's Court of Appeals ruled that the estate owned the performances. Jett Williams and husband/lawyer F. Keith Adkinson negotiated a deal with Time Life, and soon Stoker was back at work. This time, he was "baking" the reels to remove moisture, then transferring the reels onto a computer hard drive.
"Some people assume that since these were recorded in 1951, that they'll sound grainy," Jett Williams said. "But the recordings are fabulous, and it actually sounds better than his master recordings for MGM. It's not some old, scratchy radio show. It sounds like he's in your living room, singing to you."
He was not, of course, in a living room. He was at WSM's Nashville studio, pre-recording shows with his Drifting Cowboys since their touring schedule in 1951 didn't allow them to be in Nashville enough to cut the daily live shows. The shows were cut live to acetate, though, without fixes or massaging.
"He's singing live, like his life depended on it," Jett Williams said. "You can hear people move, or clear their throats. And you also hear him talk and tell jokes. My father died very young, and I didn't know him. So here, I hear his wit and his personality. For me, I get a chance to meet my daddy, and to hear the real human being who was Hank Williams."
The first 54 Mother's Best performances will be released to retail stores on Tuesday, in a three-disc set called Hank Williams: The Unreleased Recordings. The other 89 songs will be released over the next three years. The initial set includes live versions of hits such as "I Can't Help It (If I'm Still in Love With You)" and "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry," and obscurities like "You Blotted My Happy Schooldays" and "When the Fire Comes Down."
To Rolling Stone's David Fricke, The Unreleased Recordings — Hank Williams at the peak of his powers, transported, soaped, baked, litigated and transformed into the new digital century — are "as electrifying as Johnny Cash's '60s prison shows or Bob Dylan's early acoustic concerts." For his children, for a Hall of Fame curator and for those who care about such things, it's a smile from the grave.
Peter Cooper

New York Daily News Review

New York Daily News, 10/28/2008


Once upon a time, artists the stature of Hank Williams sang live all the time on the radio.

Pop stars up to the level of Frank Sinatra and Bing Crosby did that, too. But it was particularly prevalent for blues, gospel and country singers, who used 15-minute live radio shows to keep their music in front of their fans.

The frustrating part 50-60 years later is that the live broadcast often was the only time it was heard.

Where transcriptions existed, sadly, almost all have been destroyed or lost.

That’s why a new Time-Life collection of live Hank Williams recordings is such a gift.

The three-CD set, available today, includes 54 performances by Williams on the Mother’s Best Flour show heard in 1951 over WSM in Nashville. Dozens of these songs he never recorded elsewhere, which is also true of the 89 additional songs coming over the next three years.

Bootlegs of Mother’s Best shows have circulated for years, as have some recordings of Hank’s earlier “Health & Happiness” radio shows. But a legal release is easier to find, with much better sound.

Most important, hearing “I’ll Fly Away” or “Have I Told You Lately That I Love You” or “Softly and Tenderly” is like Hank coming back and cutting whole new albums.

As was his habit, the live versions of hits like “I Can’t Help It” or “Wedding Bells” don’t sound radically different from the recordings. Still, they have different nuances and some great touches.

The general template for the radio show was a country song, an instrumental and a gospel song, so there’s a lot of gospel here. Standards like “From Jerusalem to Jericho,” “Dust on the Bible” and “When the Saints Go Marching In” are pure Williams, exuberant and all his own.

A couple of songs are oddities, like the obscure, dark “You Blotted My Happy Schooldays.” Hank loved dark and maudlin.

A particular gem for fans is “On Top of Old Smokey,” which he prefaces by saying he’ll do it in traditional mountain style – a reference to the string-drenched pop hit version then on the charts by the Weavers.

The one thing missing here is more of that banter – that is, the complete radio shows.

Time-Life figured, correctly, that most listeners would prefer getting more music. But Reader’s Digest is issuing a fourth CD that includes three complete radio shows, and who knows? Maybe someday more of them will come out (legally).

Meanwhile, there’s nothing here not to love.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Hank Quotes

Please click here to see what the press is saying about Hank!


Rolling Stone – “But the 54 performances in this three-CD set pack a magical, concentrated immediacy that is, in its time and way, as electrifying as Johnny Cash's Sixties prison shows or Bob Dylan's early acoustic concerts.” – David Fricke

Tennessean – “Hank Williams at the peak of his powers, transported, soaped, baked, litigated and transformed into the new digital century.” – Peter Cooper

Newsweek – “The recordings are so clear and intimate, you can hear Williams, then 27, chide his band members (known as the Drifting Cowboys) for hitting bum notes and joke about how he’s ‘wrote so many songs with the same tune,’ he forgot ‘which a one’ he’s signing.” – Lorraine Ali

Nashville Skyline Column

NASHVILLE SKYLINE: Hank Williams: Songs Are the Measure of a Man
New Boxed Set of Unreleased Recordings Is a Modern Landmark
October 30, 2008; Written by Chet Flippo

Nashville Skyline
(NASHVILLE SKYLINE is a column by CMT/ Editorial Director Chet Flippo.)

Songs are the measure of a man. And with the new Hank Williams CD set you can hear the man in the songs.

Williams was country's first superstar and deservedly so. His music lives on because it was what made him a superstar. It was not publicity's glare or intensive hype or celebrity friends or any other kind of flash that made you know who he was. He wrote and sang solid music that stopped you dead in your tracks when you heard it.

Hank Williams understood more than he knew. You can hear it in his songwriting and also in his song selection. He said things in his own songs that he could never say in real life. And he seemed to seek out larger truths in selecting compositions by other writers. As far as I can tell from researching and writing a biography of Williams, picking others' songs went against his grain because his ego called for him to record only his own songs insofar as far as he could. But, especially early on in his career he built up a repertoire of many and varied works.

You can hear many of those in the new boxed set, Hank: Unreleased Recordings (released Oct. 28), which I think is one of the most important recorded music projects in recent years. Why? Well, it can introduce a new generation to the architect of modern country music that Hank Williams was. It can display much of Hank's back-story, the music that got him to the point that he became country's first true superstar and legend-to-be. All by the time that he flamed out at age 29. And it can, through this glimpse of Hank, give us an accurate glimpse of what popular American country music really was in the 1940s and 1950s.

These recordings were made for an early-morning show on Nashville radio station WSM mainly in 1951. The sponsor was Mother's Best Flour. The shows were usually recorded because Williams was on the road throughout the week. That these shows were recorded on fragile acetate disks for later broadcast is the only reason they have been preserved at all. The acetates were later discarded by the radio station, which was pretty much standard practice in those days. Fortunately, someone rescued them from the trash bin and held onto them for years and they now can be heard by all of us.

Of the songs included in those radio shows, we will never fully know the extent to which Williams' alter ego, Fred Rose, figured in his selection process. Rose was Williams' song collaborator, de facto record producer, and father figure. He was a successful Tin Pan Alley songwriter long before he moved to Nashville and launched Acuff-Rose Music in 1942. It was country music's first song publishing house. It later took on other roles for its artists and songwriters. In Hank's case, Acuff-Rose filled the roles of publisher, manager, producer, co-writer, booking agent and accountant.

Unfortunately for history, Fred Rose left no journals or other written accounts of his work with Williams. Rose was much more sophisticated musically than was Williams, who also admittedly bought songs from writers he ran across -- standard practice in those days. But we can tell that Williams' song selection for his radio shows was much broader than his choices for his recordings.

Williams' listening habits were pretty wide for a country boy born in 1923 into poverty in Alabama. The songs he picked for his radio shows ranged far beyond what you might imagine he listened to. As a child in rural Alabama, his musical sources were limited to AM radio, old Southern folk songs sung locally, the rare phonograph recording, live church music, a street singer like Tee-Tot who taught him much and religious tent revivals. Songs that stayed with him ranged from the old folk standard "On Top of Old Smoky" to the gospel song "I'll Fly Away" to a weeper such as "The Blind Child's Lament" and even "When the Saints Go Marching In."

The 54 songs included here range widely across the spectrum, from traditional Southern gospel to Hank originals, from Appalachian ballads to a Western standard, from honky-tonk to cob-webby ancient tunes. They all share Hank Williams' formula for musical success: total emotional commitment to the song. If he couldn't identify with the song himself, Hank Williams could never sell it to anyone else and he well knew that.

I have enjoyed discussing these recordings with Hank's daughter Jett, who is very eloquent as a spokesperson for her father's legacy. Jett has spent much of her adult life in court, first establishing her identity as Hank Williams' daughter and then in recovering these lost recordings and making them available for the public to hear. She never got to meet her father, which makes these recordings especially poignant to her. "I finally heard my father laugh," she said. "I heard him as he was, as a man." On his radio shows, he discussed the songs and told corny jokes and displayed his human side.

For the greater listening audience, all of this means that you can hear one of America's most significant music figures at the height of his powers, playing and singing the music that he really liked and treasured personally. Not the music that he felt he should record professionally for Hank Williams, the big star. This is the music that Hank Williams, born Hiram King Williams in Mount Olive West, Ala., wanted to play and sing when he was just out there with his people.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Profiling a song from The Unreleased Recordings: California Zephyr

Profiling a song from The Unreleased Recordings: California Zephyr

By Hank researcher Brian Turpen


            A song that Hank wrote, but never recorded commercially, “California Zephyr” was first discovered among demo recordings that Hank left with his music publisher, Acuff-Rose. It was only a vocal-guitar demo, and Acuff-Rose registered the song with the Library of Congress on December 30, 1955, almost two years after Hank’s death. The demo was overdubbed and released as MGM 12185 in February of 1956. A legit full band recording had never been heard until now.

            It is believed that Hank wrote “California Zephyr” sometime around August or September 1951. His buddy, Hank Snow, was in the charts with train songs like “Golden Rocket,” and Hank himself had scored a hit with another train song, “Pan American,” earlier in his career, so he probably thought the moment was ripe for “California Zephyr.” On his Mother’s Best radio show (issued on The Unreleased Recordings), Hank introduced the song by saying, “wrote this here a few days ago, a new song called, ‘The California Zephyr.’ Let’s ride, all aboard …” He sings it with his full band, and it’s a truly fabulous performance. 

            What many may not know is that the song was written about an actual train. In fact, the song opens a window onto an era when cross-country travel was usually by train rather than by airplane, bus, or car. That said, Hank’s lyrics weren’t entirely accurate (the train was operated by Western Pacific not Union Pacific) and Hank got the itinerary wrong.  


            This is the story of the real train called the California Zephyr. In 1949, three train companies, Denver and Rio Grande Western (D&RGW), Western Pacific, and Chicago, Burlington & Quincy joined forces to operate perhaps the best-known passenger train of all time, the California Zephyr. They’d begun talking in the late years of the Depression, but times were hard, money was short, and the plans were postponed, only to be further interrupted by the World War II. When the war was over, restrictions were lifted on non-vital materials and services, and the door opened for the creation of the California Zephyr.

Partnership agreements were reached between WP, D&RGW, and the CB&Q railroads.  The initial orders for the cars were placed with Budd Manufacturing Company.  It was decided that each train would contain five dome cars. The dome cars were the brainchild of C. R. Osborn, General Manager of GM's Electro-Motive Division while riding west in 1944.  It was also agreed that every car would be abide by CB&Q's practice of including the word “Silver” in the names of its stainless steel cars. Seventy-seven "Silver" names would eventually be used in naming the Zephyr's cars. The actual train consisted of thirteen cars (five of them dome cars).

            On Saturday, March 19th, 1949 the California Zephyr made it's only appearance in San Francisco. Situated in front of the Pier 3 Ferry building on the Embarcadero, the Zephyr proudly stood waiting for its official inauguration ceremony. As sunlight gleamed off the stainless steel cars, the ceremony began. It wasn’t Hank Williams who sang that day, it was soprano Evelyn Corvello of the Pacific Opera Company. San Francisco Mayor Leland Cutler gave a welcome address. Western Pacific President Harry A. Mitchell presented the California Zephyr to California Lieutenant Governor Goodwin Knight who accepted it "on behalf of the People of California."  Christening ceremonies were then performed by Warner Brothers Studio actress Eleanor Parker. Breaking a champagne bottle over the nose of WP F3 number 802 she declared, "I christen thee the California Zephyr."

            The next day, the California Zephyr was officially inaugurated. Service was offered between San Francisco and Chicago. Through-car service from Chicago to New York City was provided via the Pennsylvania and New York Central railroads. West bound trains would be numbered 17, while the east bound trains would be numbered 18.  The first eastbound run would begin at 9:30 am PST on the 20th of March. Thus a legend in passenger train history was born.

The weather-proof route of the California Zephyr covered 2,525 miles and took an average of 2 ½ days to complete. Although it was not the fastest route, it had the best scenery and became known as the “most talked about train in America.” A trip on the California Zephyr was aptly called, a “Vista-Dome Adventure,” a name that would appear in many advertisements for years. The CB&Q handled the train from Chicago to Denver, Colorado where it was then handed over to the D&RGW. The D&RGW would then handle it until reaching Salt Lake City, Utah where it was received by the WP for its final leg into California. Scheduling intentionally allowed passengers the most breathtaking views during daytime.  Fantastic scenes of the Feather and Colorado River; South Boulder, Red Gore and Niles Canyon and the great Rocky Mountains were seen during daylight hours, while the Nevada deserts and plains states were crossed at night. In the mountains, the train passed through a series of 47 tunnels, including the great Moffitt tunnel at 9,239 feet above sea level.  As the train passed the Sierra-Nevada, there was only a 1-degree grade down the mountains, making it a smooth ride.  In each of the 5 dome cars were 24 unreserved seats (120 total) along with an observation lounge at the end of the train.  Under each dome was a lounge.  Passengers were free to move about the train to catch a view in one of the domes, relax in one of the lounges or retire to their cabin, which had complete facilities.

            Nearly as well known as the train, were the hostesses, the “Zephyrettes.”  They were the primary point-of-contact for the passengers, and became ambassadors for the train and all it represented.  Unlike the rest of the crews, who were divided among three railroads, the Zephyrettes were unique.  There were 10 to 11 Zephyrettes on staff at any one time, with 6 on the road, 3 in each direction.

       In 1962 the California Zephyr began to show signs of becoming a serious financial liability.  Travel by rail had slowly begun a downward spiral. Airlines and bus routes had begun to make serious cuts into rail travel by offering faster or cheaper methods of transportation, though neither offered the opulence or service afforded to the rail passenger.  From 1965 to 1969, three applications to the International Commerce Commission (ICC) to terminate service of the California Zephyr were denied.  On its fourth application, the ICC released an order on February 13, 1970 stating, "operation of the train was no longer required". The death warrant for the "Silver Lady" had been signed. Final operation of the train was made on March 22, 1970 with a westbound train terminating at Oakland, California. The California Zephyr had operated for 20 years and 2 days and had pampered nearly two million passengers.

       Although the WP and CB&Q no longer operated passenger service under the banner of the California Zephyr, a remnant of the once-proud train remained while maverick D&RGW operated its Rio Grande Zephyr service between Denver and Salt Lake City into the Amtrak era. This too terminated, when D&RGW passenger services were finally handed over to Amtrak in 1983. Amtrak currently offers passenger service under the name of the California Zephyr, although it follows a modified route from the original, and in the opinion of many a purist, Amtrak's version is hardly a fitting repository for such a rich name.

       Almost all of the California Zephyr's 77 cars remain in existence today, although most have been modified by their new owners.  Some of the California Zephyr cars found themselves in the employ of Amtrak, while others went into service on railroads in Mexico and Canada. A few found themselves in museum collections to be restored, or in private ownership.

Thanks to John Wilson and Alan Radecki for information provided.

The Unreleased Recordings User Amazon Review

Unbelievable! This is like finding the end of a rainbow for Hank's fans. Joe Palmaccio (credited with sound restoration and mastering) deserves to have his picture printed on folding money. I have over the years come into the possession of unreleased performances (like a different version of this collection's first mind-blowing cut "Blue Eyes Crying In the Rain," which even has another verse); but the sound quality is nothing as good as that of most all of the songs on here; some of it sounds just like a studio record from the period.

And like a studio record, Hank is singing each song 110%. The hair on the back of my neck was up from beginning to end. It's a great day for Hank's fans to be alive! I'm one of the devoted fan who would have walked across Texas in July just for the privilege of paying 10 times what these recordings cost, and still considered myself lucky; this has to be the best buy in music history. Thankfully "The Complete Hank Williams" (which is friggin excellent, by the way) was misnamed. If "On Top of Old Smoky" or "I'll Sail My Ship Alone" don't become current radio hits, then there's little hope for mankind left. The opener on Disc 2, "I Can't Help it if I'm Still in Love With You," again, is worth the cost of this whole collection, as would be just all the banter and talking on them. What a treasure trove.
A heartfelt 'thank you' to all who made this friggin incredible collection possible. It's the best thing to happen to Hank's fans in at least a decade; I feel sorry for all Hank's fans who never got to hear this collection; this must be how winning the lottery feels.

Rabid Shutterbug
Montgomery, Alabama

Link to review