Dreamtime Podcast: Episode 48 – That Fateful Day: The Lost Songs of Hank Williams

ENTIRE BLOG POST HERE: http://www.dreamtimepodcast.com/2008/01/episode-48-that-fateful-day-lost-songs.html
Direct link to mp3.

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Sometime in 2008, we should see a CD collection of new Hank Williams songs – or at least songs started by Williams before his death on that fateful New Years’ Day in 1953 – a compilation produced by Bob Dylan and possibly including at least one Dylan contribution. The still not officially announced project is using as its lodestone a portfolio of 35 unrecorded songs that were found in Williams’ briefcase after his death, many with complete lyrics, but all without music. According to reports, back in 2004 Sony/BMG and the administrators of the Hank Williams estate approved “the idea of Bob Dylan taking a run at putting music” to those lyrics, as one of the lawyers put it, and the songs were sent off to Dylan.

The project apparently went on a back-burner for the next few years, or Dylan was unhappy with whatever results came from his doing the work solo, because nothing more was heard about the Briefcase Songs* until 2007 when Paste Magazine published an interview with Dominic Suchyta, a bassist with the band Steppin’ In It a friend of Jack White. Suchyta noted that he had recently backed White, the man who seemed to be Dylan’s new best friend in 2007, on a Williams song called You Know That I Know for the Dylan project.

You know that I know that you ain’t no good
You wouldn’t tell the truth if you could

Lying is a habit you practice wherever you go
You may fool the rest of the world, but you know that I know

“… it was a Hank Williams lyric sheet that Jack put to music and edited a bit,” says Suchyta. “[Dylan] sent most of or all of the unfinished tunes and [Jack] picked this one to finish.”

According to Suchtya, other participants recording the Hank Williams songs include Willie Nelson and Norah Jones, and later reports have added Lucinda Williams and Alan Jackson to the group. Suchtya also speculated in the interview that Dylan himself had recorded at least one tune for the project during the 2006 Modern Times sessions, a guess that was later reported as fact in follow-up articles. But whether Dylan actually has recorded any of the Briefcase Songs – or will be recording any of them during the recording sessions he’s rumored to have planned for 2008 – still remains to be seen, or to be heard.

There’s a nice parallel between the Briefcase Songs and the two Mermaid Avenue collections, the 1998 and 2000 albums showcasing a group of till-then unheard lyrics of Woody Guthrie, with music provided by Billy Bragg and Wilco. As readers of Dylan’s Chronicles: Volume One remember him writing,

“On one of my visits, Woody had told me about some boxes of songs and poems that he had written that had never been seen or set to melodies – that they were stored in the basement of his house inConey Island and that I was welcome to them…I found the house…One of Woody’s kids, Arlo…told the babysitter to let me in. Arlo was probably about ten or twelve years old and didn’t know anything about any manuscripts locked in the basement….Forty years later, these lyrics would fall into the hands of Billy Bragg and the group Wilco and they would put melodies to them, bring them to full life and record them. It was all done under the direction of Woody’s daughter Nora. These performers probably weren’t even born when I had made that trip out to Brooklyn”.

Dylan – as well as Bruce Springsteen and even Guthrie’s son, Arlo – all reportedly later campaigned to get their hands on Woody’s lyrics. But Nora Guthrie ultimately made the decision to turn the songs over Bragg, who she contacted on her own. Although one published report has it that there was a falling out between Nora Guthrie and Dylan that influenced her decision, it’s more likely that her comment in the liner notes of Mermaid Avenue that she wanted to bring Woody’s music to a younger generation of listeners is closer to the truth. Certainly if Dylan, Springsteen, or even Arlo had taken on the job, it would have been a much different project, and would have had a vastly different audience.

When I first heard about the Dylan project in 2007, I thought the Hank Williams songs were from the rediscovered “Lost Songbook,” that came to light in 2006, after two collectors – and the proprietors of the Honky Tonk Hall of Fame – revealed in the Chicago Sun-Times that they had purchased it. But that tattered, brown notebook is something different – containing twenty handwritten, unpublished Hank Williams lyrics and song fragments from 1947 through 1949, seventeen of which were never recorded.

While nobody disputes its legitimacy, the provenance of that notebook is much murkier than the songs from Hank’s briefcase. A woman claiming to have “some Hank Williams things,” produced the notebook, even though she mistakenly thought it had belonged to Roy Orbison. However, the two collectors recognized the songbook as the same one photographed for the book Hank Williams: Snapshots From the Lost Highway, and purchased it for a reported $1500.

You can read the rest of the Dreamtime’s blog post by clicking here

4 Responses to “Dreamtime Podcast: Episode 48 – That Fateful Day: The Lost Songs of Hank Williams”

  1. Appreciate the link! Hope your readers enjoy the article.



  2. […] The Dreamtime blog did some research and pieced together different aspects of the unfinished Hank Williams’ songs project that’s being headed by Bob Dylan. Aside from a possible Dylan appearance and the Jack White tune that we talked about in a previous news roundup, other rumored participants in the project include: Willie Nelson, Norah Jones, Lucinda Williams, and Alan Jackson. There is a portfolio of 35 songs total. (via Take Country Back) […]

  3. Bruce Springsteen – Working On A Dream…

    …The newest Bruce Springsteen album, ‘Working On A Dream’, is released January 27th. I have had the pleasure of hearing it but I had to listen to it on headphones……

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