Hank Williams, The Complete Health & Happiness Recordings (BMG)

In October, Hank Williams’ Health & Happiness radio program turns 70. Time and the decades of country music that trailed the hillbilly Shakespeare’s brief career haven’t dimmed his heartache. In the eight Health & Happiness shows, the unvarnished soul in Williams’ brilliant songwriting and poignant expression with which he delivers his material sound immediate enough to have been recorded this morning. 

Williams’ powerful, high and piercing voice is remarkably present in the 70-year-old recordings, re-released as a set of three vinyl LPs and two CDs. The audio quality of the recordings, too, matches Williams’ recording-studio produced MGM releases. 

All that said, The Complete Health & Happiness Recordings, recorded in October 1949 at WSM in Nashville, is a mixed blessing. Williams’ performances—including his early hits “Lovesick Blues” and “Mind Your Own Business”—are sandwiched into formulaic, 15-minute- long country music variety shows. 

Announcer Grant Turner introduces the star every week as the “ol’ ‘Lovesick Blues’ boy.” The opening selection is always “Happy Rovin’ Cowboy.” The first four programs include Williams’ first wife, Audrey, singing solos and duets with her husband. Audrey Williams fancied herself a singer. She sang in dry, grating tones and was prone to being off pitch. Fortunately, Mrs. Williams dropped out of the final four Health & Happiness shows, a blessing that gave ol’ Hank an additional song.

Every program also features two hot fiddle numbers from Drifting Cowboys band member Jerry Rivers. His flashy fiddling might have been crowd pleasers, but Don Helms’ crying steel guitar is the real star among Williams’ sidemen. 

On a side note, Hadacol, the elixir distilled by Louisiana state senator Dudley LeBlanc, sponsored the Health & Happiness shows. Hadacol supposedly cured epilepsy, heart trouble, stroke, weak spells and insomnia. Newspapers ads for the alcohol-heavy product including the line, “It used to be I couldn’t sleep with my wife because she tossed and turned all night. She started taking Hadacol and now anyone can sleep with her.” New Orleans’ Professor Longhair recorded “Hadacol Bounce,” one of LeBlanc’s many promotions for the elixir.