Release of Controversial Unfinished Hank Williams Songs

August 4, 2011 - By Trigger  //  News  //  59 Comments

The Rolling Stone has just reported that a long-rumored project pairing Bob Dylan and Jack White together to oversee the recording of an album of Hank Williams songs that were found without music in a briefcase in the back of his Blue Cadillac where he died in 1953, will be released on October 4th. The title is The Lost Notebook of Hank Williams, it is being released on Dylan’s Egyptian Records imprint, and can already be pre-ordered on Amazon.

Saving Country Music first reported on this project way back in October of 2008, after rumors of the project made some very speculative about the ethics, legitimacy, and viability of the artists chosen to flesh out these songs. There is also some question on how Bob Dylan actually obtained these unfinished songs.

Jack White first explained the idea and workings behind the project to MTV, on Nov. 26th, 2007:

Bob’s putting together an album. He came upon, somehow, 20-25 unfinished songs by Hank Williams: just the lyrics, no music, and he started to ask people if they would finish these songs. He did one, asked Willie Nelson to do one, asked me to do one, and I think Lucinda Williams and Alan Jackson are on it too. I think it might come out this year (2008). It’s a cool record.”

Dominic Suchyta, a bass player for Jack White, had also elaborated on the project ten days before:

“This project started when Bob Dylan acquired the ‘lost’ Hank Williams songs. Essentially, the lyric sheets Hank died with in his briefcase. Jack is my oldest friend, we talk on occasion and he asked me to come down and record. Dylan had contacted him to see if he’d like to finish some of these tunes.”

“No doubt Dylan recorded a tune for it with the Modern Times sessions. I’ve also heard through the grapevine that Willie Nelson and Norah Jones are involved, but like I said this is a shot in the dark. It’s been an interesting project in that sense. I’m a huge fan of Hank Williams and was moved to hear what Jack had to contribute.”

“We did the session in one long day, live in a circle with some mics around—much like Hank would have.”

Suchyta also said that the recording session was at Blackbird Studios in Nashville, and that Bob Dylan wasn’t involved

They recorded an unfinished Williams song called “You Know That I Know.” No one has heard it as it was a Hank Williams lyric sheet that Jack put to music and edited a bit. Jack was sent most of or all of the unfinished tunes and picked this one to finish. We listened to quite a bit of Hank while I was down there and sat around the two of us playing our favorite Hank tunes, but the song was done when I got there. I think Jack just ingested a bunch of Hank Williams and this is what came out of him.”

Though we now have a title, a release date, and a track list for this project, many questions still remain. How did Bob Dylan obtain these songs? Is the Hank Williams Estate involved in any way? Is it even ethical to take a dead man’s songs, all without music, some with unfinished lyrics, and attempt to flesh them out using a perspective 55 years in the future? Why can’t these lyric sheets live as poetry?

And I understand this is a commercial project, and using well-recognized names is essential to the commercial viability, but why not make an attempt to involve the Williams family more, or others who may be more qualified to interpret the original style of Hank Williams, especially because of the clearly controversial nature of the project? Were they asked and didn’t want to be involved? Why did Willie Nelson’s involvement in the project dissolve? Where are the rest of these 25 songs? Why release them now, when at least some were recorded nearly 5 years ago? Does the timing have anything to do with the release of Hank Williams: The Legend Begins this Sep. 13th?

Saving Country Music will be attempting to answer these questions before the release date, and beyond if necessary. I have nothing but respect for Bob Dylan, Jack White, and many of the other artists involved in this project, but the unusual nature of it begs for more transparency and information, so that fans and consumers can make an educated decision on if this project is a commercial cash grab, or if the legacy of Hank Williams is being respected and forwarded by this release.

Track List:

Alan Jackson “You’ve Been Lonesome, Too”
Bob Dylan “The Love That Faded”
Norah Jones “How Many Times Have You Broken My Heart?”
Jack White “You Know That I Know”
Lucinda Williams “I’m So Happy I Found You”
Vince Gill and Rodney Crowell “I Hope You Shed a Million Tears”
Patty Loveless “You’re Through Fooling Me”
Levon Helm “You’ll Never Again Be Mine”
Holly Williams “Blue Is My Heart”
Jakob Dylan “Oh, Mama, Come Home”
Sheryl Crow “Angel Mine”
Merle Haggard “The Sermon on the Mount”

59 Comments to “Release of Controversial Unfinished Hank Williams Songs”

  • I love Dylan, I respect White, but this project is an insult to a dead man’s legacy. I think the fact the only Williams descendant they could get on board was Holly, speaks volumes for how lame this probably will be.

  • when not let hank iii sing them it would be the closest thing to the real hank we could get

    • Hank3 might have been asked to be a part of this project, we really have no idea. Maybe he turned it down because he just didn’t want to do it, maybe because he thinks the project is unethical. Maybe the Williams estate and Dylan are at war behind the scenes. Or maybe Hank3 wasn’t asked at all. Questions abound, and that’s what creates controversy.

      • If they asked Holly Williams, I’m sure they probably asked Hank Jr and 3 too

        • yeah thats what i was thinking too

    • Didn’t Hank 3 once say he don’t like singing his grand dad’s songs? because they are his grand dad’s and not his? or something like that?

      • “I’ll Never Get Out of This World Alive” has been in a pretty heavy rotation in his live set, so I’m not sure that is true. You might be thinking about when Curb shipped him to Branson and then to Europe and marketed him pretty music as Hank Williams. I think that experience is one of the things that made Hank3 really want to stike out and be his own man.

      • He did “I’m a Long Gone Daddy” on the Timeless tribute album.

  • Personally I hate the fact that Jack White has his hands on this. The only people that should touch this material are the Williams family. I feel sure Hank Jr and Hank III could put this together, and do it justice. But noooooo because doing it this way will bring in more money, and we all know thats the most important thing when it comes to music.

    • I have always thought of Jack White as one who is able to balance commercial viability with creativity and ethics. I’ve never thought of him as a sellout, and his an Bob’s involvement is the only reason I hold out a little bit of a hope this isn’t a simple cash grab project. Maybe Jack was flattered being asked by the most legendary living songwriter to finish songs by one of the most legendary dead songwriters, and couldn’t turn it down. He’s also the only one whose given any sort of information about this project. I’m not saying he’s in the right here, I really have no idea, because we really don’t know Jack about this project. But traditionally I would be one to trust Jack White.

      I was unimpressed with his work with Wanda Jackson though.

      • I believe Jack will do everything in his power to be a respectful as possible. He’s never done anything to make me think otherwise.

        • But how about Sheryl Crow? She’s on tour right now with Kid Rock. Maybe she asked him for advice on her song. :)

          • While I’m not a Crow fan the song she did on Timeless was good.

          • Agreed, Ga Outlaw. She also did a pretty good job singing “Juanita” with Emmylu on the Gram Parsons tribute album that Emmylou produced and her her own OK with her contributions on Levon’s “Ramble at the Ryman.” I like her OK as a singer, less so as a recording artist.

      • His work with wanda wasn’t great, but what he did with loretta lynn was amazing. I don’t know how I feel about this whole thing. We’ll just have to wait and see.

  • i think that really sucks. and if someone has to bring these songs to life, it should be hank III or someone like jake penrod…

  • I’m looking forward to this, he would want his songs to be heard. More people will hear these songs since these artists are contributing. If 3 did these songs “we” would be the only people to hear them. I’m just glad Urban or Aldean arn’t on this CD.

    • now I’m off to google jake penrod

  • Didn’t Wilco and Billy Bragg do this twice with Woody Guthrie’s unfinished work?

    • Where did they get the songs? Did Arlo and the Woody Guthrie estate support the project?

      • It’s was a project brought to life by Nora Guthrie, Woody’s daughter. I don’t know how much Arlo was involved (I don’t like the records too much, but it’s solely a matter of taste. I DO think everybody was in there for the best intentions – I mean, it’s Billy fucking Bragg! He does care! I’m not too much a fan of his music, but he’s one of the good guys).

        I’m looking forward to hear Dylan’s, Levon’s and Merle’s contributions. The rest doesn’t interest me at all.

        I hate what Jack White has become (and that he’s courted by Dylan). The Wanda album sounds absolutely horrible to me, and Loretta’s was only slightly better.

        • Oh, I forgot to mention Rodney. Looking forward to his part, too.

        • Yeah, Dylan, Haggard, and Helm… That’s worth it for me. Levon Helm seems like he was born to sing Hank Williams.

  • My first thought is to get pissed and say that this is unethical. But before I go and get all my feathers bunched up, I think we all need answers. I think the biggest ones that need answers are, How did Dylan get these songs? Who did he get them from? Was there money involved? Were Hank Williams Jr. and Hank III asked to be part of the project as well as the Williams family. Where are the profits from the album going(Bob’s pocket, Williams family, or Reinstate Hank Williams)?
    I posted this after reading the article, I haven’t searched the internet for answers yet.

  • My first impression is that the artist list is pretty impressive, but I’ll wait until I’ve heard it before judging it. But the fact is that this type of thing is nothing new. Wilco and Billy Bragg collaborated on an album of unfinished Woody Guthrie tunes back in the late ’90s. I also think that Hank Jr. and Hank 3 should have been involved in some way, but the fact that Holly is on board tells me that at least some factions of the Williams family are supporting the project. I’m neither supporting or bashing it at this point, but I think that with people like Merle, Dylan, and Levon Helm on board it has a hell of a lot of potential.

  • As I remember, two of Bob Dylan’s biggest songwriting heros were Woody Guthrie and Hank Williams.

    This sounds similar to the Mermaid Avenue project, where Billy Bragg and Wilco wrote music to Woody Guthrie lyrics that had not yet been set to music. Of course, that project had the full blessing of the Guthrie family. I think Nora Guthrie actually sought Billy Bragg out, given his reputation as a champion of the working class. If I remember it right though, I think she thought Bob Dylan would have been the ideal first choice, but didn’t ask him because “he’d had already done enough” for Woody Guthrie’s legacy, or something like that.

    I’m speculating, but I wonder if Bob’s motivation is to get involved with a similar project, but with a hero of his that he is not so directly identified with. I hope Bob and company can shed some light on the questions being asked here, but sometimes Bob likes to court controversy. Merle’s on board, which is one positve sign, at least.

    • I think there is a wholesale difference between Billy Bragg & Wilco dedicating themselves to fleshing out unfinished songs in a cohesive manner with the blessing and direction of the deceased’s estate, and handing songs out to various artists to then recompile them into a compilation. I admittedly hate ALL “various artists” albums, compilations, tribute albums, they’re all garbage with very few exceptions. If it was just Bob and Jack working on these songs together, I would feel much more comfortable . . . if I had a explanation where the hell the songs came from. The blessing of the estate would make a big difference to me as well. Even still the idea of taking a dead man’s songs and trying to finish them, aside from maybe a one-off track “inspired” by the unfinished composition, seems a little like playing with fire.

      And yes, no doubt Bob Dylan is fucking with us, but a big question is, why did it take almost five years for this to see the light of day? It was supposed to be released early 2008. Courts? Lawyers? The Hank Williams estate?

      • Excellent point in your first sentence. Had a similar thought myself. Once difference, though, is that with Hank Williams, they’re not with not just a great songwriter, but also one of our greatest singers, of any genre.

        Another thought I’ve had is that Bob might eventually be more forthcoming on this. He is no stranger to controversy, but this isn’t like lifting lyrics from some obscure source. Can’t get much bigger than the legacy of Hank Williams in American roots music.

        • I don’t think Bob Dylan would risk his legacy engaging in nefarious activity, and I hope that nobody thinks that I am implying that. However I do think he may do something that is controversial. There is a reason this album took five years to go from idea to release date. Our answers lie there.

  • Hank Jr sings on the Three Hanks compilation that he has “songs that no one has heard” . . . “and momento’s that sure chill”. Is there truth in all songs? You’d have to ask the songwriter.

    Great blog Triggerman.

  • There are much worse people to be heading up this album than Bob Dylan and Jack White. Both good guys with reputations of caring about the music more than the money, and I think that will show through on this album. Jack White did a tremendous job on Van Lear Rose and Bob Dylan, well he’s Bob Fucking Dylan, ain’t much else to say about that. And it’s not like they picked the artists straight off the top 40, they got some good names on there, the only one that bothers me is Jakob Dylan, and that’s just because he might be on there just because his dad put him there. And if the album come out and it sucks, well it’s kinda like making a movie out of a book; the book’s still there. And I don’t think a bad renditions of his songs are going to bother Hank too much up there, anyways.

  • REALLY!?!?!?!
    The only people who should be touching this is the direct descendents of Mr. Hiram Hank. Hank III is the only one that can pull it off even close and well, lets face it Jr. is about himself and hangin with Kid Rock instead of his kid. Jett?
    This is such a load of crap, I wont buy into Mr. Zimmermann’s plot. Bullshit!

    • His estate has always been a mess. Ms. Audry was fired by her own son Hank Jr. Back in the day so who knows how much or even if they were sold off.

  • Sheryl Crow? Fucking really?

    • I don’t know about you, but I’m looking forward to her breezy, LA-style alt-rock take on a 60-year-old Hank Williams song.

      • haha great one Trigg !

      • Thought she did a surprisingly good job with Long Gone Lonesome Blues on the tribute album “Timeless” about a decade or so ago. She even yodelled. I’d say she’s a better country vocal choice than Norah Jones, Jakob Dylan, or, ahem, Holly Williams. Saw her open for John Hiatt once. Kind of a Shawn Colvin lite.

        • I actually REALLY enjoy the Norah Jones song on this. You can already hear her doing this song live if you go to youtube and type it in. She’s worked in the “Country” medium before with Willie Nelson, Dollie Parton, etc. and has her own country project called “The Little Willies” that’s actually really good.

          • Thanks. I’ll check it out.

      • Hank Williams is one of Bob Dylan’s heroes, and I think that if Sheryl Crow’s cover was disrespectful, that he would not put it on the album

  • Lucinda Williams singing her song “I’m So Happy I Found You”, added up top

    • Wow. By the awestruck silence of the audience and the tears rolling down my cheeks, I’m going to give this project the benefit of the doubt until we know more.

      The very best thing in this entire universe would be to hear Hank3 sing any of these songs live. I’m getting goosebumps just thinking of his voice to these lyrics.

    • Her voice and style work really well with Hank’s songs. I really enjoyed that performance as well as her version of “Cold, Cold, Heart” off the Timeless release.

      • Yes. And she absoluted killed on Return of the Grievous Angel of the Gram Parsons tribute album of the same name.

  • I really have no problem with this. Do I think Hank Jr and 3 should have been involved???? yes! but they are not for unknown reasons. As for the artists, I don’t mind the majority of them, better than having Rascal Flats or the like covering the songs……if you know what I mean.

  • Ugh, Jack White is a shameless nostalgia pimp. Get him away from anything involving Hank.

  • I will give this one a listen, but I doubt that I’m going to like it. First of all there are too many questions about these songs. Where have they been for the past 50 years? And how will they add to the greatness of Hank Williams as a songwriter?
    Maybe these songs are brilliant, but I can’t say I’m looking forward to interpretations by some artists who have, in my opinion, nothing to do with Hank. It would at least have to sound like Hank to really get the picture. III would be the best for the occasion, Hank Jr. has never done anything to enhance the heritage of his father, but I can imagine that Hank III doesn’t think he needs Jack White or Bob Dylan if he wanted to do this. Wayne Hancock would be my first alternative.
    I know the Timeless-tribute-cd. Don’t think it’s bad, but I don’t think there is even one song on that cd that comes even close to the intensity of Hank’s original version. On this new one we don’t know the Hank-version, we can only imagine.
    And no matter what.Anyone involved in any cd that includes any song written by Hank Williams should make a stand in the too long going campaign to reinstate one of the great American songwriters.

    • “And no matter what.Anyone involved in any cd that includes any song written by Hank Williams should make a stand in the too long going campaign to reinstate one of the great American songwriters.”

      A b s o l u t e l y.

  • I do believe the Williams family should have the rights to these lyrics and what happens with them, but you can’t really say that any of Williams descendants could develop these songs better than other musicians really. I mean Hank III, Holly, Jet, and any of the other descendants never met him since they weren’t even born yet and Hank Jr. was only 4. None of them really even knew Hank Williams as a person or knew how he would have developed these lyrics into a complete song with music. Any of these songs created will never be a real Hank Williams song but only versions of a Hank Williams song perceived by other musicians.

  • I’ve got mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, it’s seems weird and a little disrespectful to put out an album like this. These may have been better served just published as is. As people read them, they could add to them or cover them as they wanted. The whole putting together a project to do this seems contrived.

    On the other, there are some names attached to this whom I don’t generally associated with contrived crap, so who knows.

  • This is a great question for Hank III in a future interview….
    I’ve never heard any questions asked of him that he declined to answer. He’s a pretty ‘up front’ person, and if asked it might end a lot of speculation.

  • The lyrics to most of these songs were published in the back of the Lost Highway book released in 2001. It also included scans of the original hand written lyrics so yet again as with most Hank Williams stuff released and marketed as “new” or “unheard” or “never before seen” they have in fact been around for years if you just take the time to do the research and look for them.

  • Below is a link to an article that discusses in a little more detail than Rolling Stone how Bob got involved with this project. It does mention that the spark for this project was Mary Martin stumbling across the Snapshots from Lost Highway book and seeing the lyrics to some unfinished songs.

    • A few new bits of information have come to light, unfortunately some of them are conflicting. I will either update this article or post a new one once the origination of the songs is better sorted out.

  • I remember reading once that Bob Dylan most of all wanted to write and sing country music but he said himself he didn’t have the talent for it. I also get to think about the video I saw with Bob and Johnny Cash recording “Girl From Northern Country”. Mighty Bob was looking at Cash like he was in love and inspired by that, sang better then ever. I think that might be a lead to this project….


    The info about it is now on Hank Jr’s website

  • […] is why when the Lost Notebook of Hank Williams project was announced, many Hank 3 fans, and many others familiar with Hank3′s work were wondering […]

  • F’n DISGUSTING!!!! How dare anyone pollute these songs!!! The only people who should even be allowed possession of these songs are the Williams family and the only people suited to record should ONLY be the 2 living Hanks…APPALLING!!

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