Clipped From The Tennessean
Hank: No original songs in material Smokey." The Tennessee Supreme Court last week let stand a January appeals court ruling that granted commercial rights to the recordings to the children of Hank Williams: singer Hank Williams Jr. and Jett Williams. That ended a complex, nearly nine-year nine-year nine-year court battle to prevent an altered, unauthorized release of the material in 1997. Many who have heard the recordings recordings say they portray Hank Williams in a casual, lighthearted way that helps dispel the lingering image of the country country great as a mysterious and lonesome lonesome backwoods genius. Williams' career was cut tragically short at age 29 some 53 years ago. Kira Florita, executive director of Leadership Music and co-producer co-producer co-producer of a 10-CD 10-CD 10-CD Hank Williams box set released in 1998 by MercuryPolygram, MercuryPolygram, said the Mother's Best material was originally slated to be included in the box set but was left out because of the lingering legal issues at the time. "These recordings are substantial. No matter how you look at it, it will increase the Hank Williams catalog by at least 20 percent," Florita said. "For there to be that much of an artist's repertoire out there, that's huge. There's nothing comparable." comparable." "This material is enormously revealing in several ways," said John Rumble, senior historian for the Country Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum. The recordings, Rumble said, show that Williams had a quick, sharp wit as well as a deep engagement with the WSM show's early-morning, early-morning, early-morning, mostly rural radio audience. "They put the focus back on radio which is how most people experienced experienced Hank when he was alive," he said. "He was really a master of the medium." For Jett Williams, whose identity as the singer's daughter was kept secret until a dramatic 1989 ruling by the Alabama Supreme Court set the facts straight, the recordings also have several several important meanings. First, they have given her an opportunity opportunity to better know a father who died six days before she was born. "It's basically like spending a year with my dad," Williams said of the LEVERETT JAE S. LEE THE TENNESSEAN Hank Williams' Mothers Best Flour recordings for WSM were the object of a lengthy lawsuit in which his children were awarded rights to the music. recordings. "Just to hear him laugh at himself, it really makes him more of a touchable Hank Williams." It also gives her and her husband, attorney Keith Adkinson, an opportunity opportunity to control the commercial release of the recordings in the aftermath of the lengthy court case. "Our mission is to get this out to the widest possible audience," Adkinson said. "We've already had a number of calls about it as this thing progressed through the courts." Adkinson estimates that there are four or five albums' worth of songs never previously released by Hank Williams and about three or four more albums of Williams' singing old-time old-time old-time gospel hymns. There are no original, undiscovered Hank Williams-written Williams-written Williams-written songs, however. All of the songs were written by other people. The recordings themselves almost never saw the light of day. Les Leverett, a retired staff photographer photographer for WSM, rescued a stack of the Mother's Best acetate recordings from being thrown away in the mid- mid- 1960s. He held on to them until the 1980s, when he shared them with Jerry Rivers, a member of the Drifting Cowboys, Cowboys, Hank Williams' band. Eventually, Hillous Butrum, also a member of the Drifting Cowboys (though he didn't play on the Mother's Best recordings), cut a deal with Leverett Leverett to get the material into commercial commercial release. In 1997, Brentwood-based Brentwood-based Brentwood-based Legacy Entertainment Group prepared prepared to release an "enhanced" version version of the recordings that it had acquired from Butrum, who is now dead. Polygram, along with the heirs of Hank Williams, sued to prevent that release. That was the genesis of the legal case that Hank Williams' family has won, giving the singer's heirs and not Legacy or Polygram intellectual intellectual property rights to the material. Despite that, Kenneth R Jones, attorney for Legacy Entertainment, said there still could be legal roadblocks roadblocks erected to prevent the Williams children from releasing the Mother's Best recordings to the public. "Legacy owns the physical property of the acetate recordings," Jones suggested suggested matter-of-factly matter-of-factly matter-of-factly matter-of-factly matter-of-factly in an interview, interview, saying the company bought the actual master recordings from Butrum, though Jett Williams has them in her possession. But Leverett, reached this week by The Tennessean, said the physical recordings were never Butrum's to sell. Instead, he said, the pair cut a deal to share in any proceeds made from the recordings, potentially undercutting undercutting any further claims on the material by Legacy. "I haven't seen one red cent from any of this. The only thing I've gotten out of this is heartache and grief," said Leverett, who rescued the recordings from atop one of his boss's trash cans one night around 1965. He figured they were fair game. He didn't anticipate all of the legal squabbles that resulted. "I wish I had never told anybody I had these," Leverett said this week. In a statement released after last week's Supreme Court action, Hank Williams Jr. said, "I can't think of a better better time for 'new' material by my dad to be released." But his publicist did not respond to requests for a follow-up follow-up follow-up interview for this story. Although he declined to discuss specifics, Adkinson said the Williams children had worked out an agreement agreement about the material. To eventually get the recordings out to a larger audience than just a hard-core hard-core hard-core group of Hank Williams fans, Florita said, the project would need the marketing and distribution muscle of a major record label. The Mercury box set, which won two Grammy Awards and retails for $170, has sold just 18,200 units to date. Florita said it was impossible to estimate estimate how much money the Mother's Best recordings might bring in, though Williams tends to sell between 400,000 and 600,000 albums per year overall. While that's a significant number, number, she said, it paled in comparison with an artist like Elvis Presley, whose records sell about 8 million a year. Colin Escott, a music historian who wrote an award-winning award-winning award-winning 1995 biography biography of Hank Williams, said it would be pointless to have gone through all of this legal wrangling and not have the recordings released. "Not a month goes by that somebody somebody doesn't ask me when we might hear them," he said. Maybe soon, he'll have a good answer.