Liner Note Author: Colin Escott.
Photographer: Colin Escott.
Playing country music was not a glamorous way to make a living in the '40s and '50s, when even the biggest and most celebrated artists in the field were barnstorming at honky tonks and often taking whatever gigs they could get. In 1950, Hank Williams had already scored a handful of country hits and was riding the wave of another with "Lovesick Blues," which would become the success that launched him into major stardom. But when he was offered a fast-money job hosting a radio show sponsored by Garden Spot, a mail-order plant and garden supply company, he wasn't above taking the work. The short-lived Garden Spot series found Williams sitting in with a pickup band at a studio in Nashville, playing hits and C&W favorites in between pitches for Garden Spot and their products, and the 15-minute shows were shipped to radio stations around the country in the form of transcription discs. For years, it was believed that the Garden Spot transcriptions had been lost for good, but four discs were discovered in the library of a radio station in Creston, Iowa, and for the first time they've been given commercial release by Omnivore Recordings on The Garden Spot Programs, 1950. These recordings are not as revelatory as the Mother's Best Flour shows, another series of radio broadcasts that finally saw commercial release in 2008; Williams is not performing with his group the Drifting Cowboys, and while the sidemen here are more than competent, they don't mesh with him as well as his road band, and each episode includes a fiddle instrumental that doesn't make much room for Williams or his songs, not to mention the Garden Spot jingle. But despite the off the cuff nature of the recordings and the slightly padded pacing, Williams sounds strong and inspired here; along with several of his own classics, Williams covers a few country and gospel favorites, and his vocals are never less than committed whether he's singing "Bachelor 'Til I Die," "Farther Along," or "Oh! Susanna," and the cheers from the small studio audience never sound forced. (The audio is also surprisingly good for music rescued from discs over 60 years old.) When the Mother's Best shows finally surfaced, the effect was as if a whole new Hank Williams repertoire had been discovered; in comparison, The Garden Spot Programs, 1950 are like a snapshot, catching a great artist in an unexpected time and place. But this music also testifies to Williams' casual brilliance as a performer and as a songwriter, and for fans this is a small but very welcome addition to the man's recorded legacy. ~ Mark Deming