“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in
possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.”
Stories of first love aren’t usually all that compelling, mine I’m sure is no different. How much or how little had to do with the fact she played guitar, and country songs at that, will not be speculated on, but she knew how to play “I Can’t Help It (If I’m Still In Love With You,) and maybe that was it.
On March 16th, 1951, Hank Williams and his Drifting Cowboys recorded four songs, “I Can’t Help It,” Hey Good Lookin’,” My Heart Would Know,” and “Howlin’ At The Moon,” in just over three hours. Folks, they don’t make ’em like the used to.
By 1951 the Drifting Cowboys were roadworn tight. Don Helms’s high pitched steel squeal laid perfectly over Hank’s voice and Jerry River’s bowing is a short course on how to do honkytonk fiddling.
Little Jimmy Dickens says Hank wrote both “Howlin’ At The Moon” and “Hey Good Lookin'” on the same plane ride to Texas. He also said he would give Dickens “Hey Good Lookin'” to record, but later quipped it was too good a song for him and took it himself – something Hank did more than once.
“My Heart Would Know” is the dark horse of the bunch. It was the flip side to “Hey Good Lookin'” and while it was eclipsed by the other songs of the session it had a second life during the early years of Hank covers by rockabilly Jack Scott, to bluegrassers The Osborne Brothers and Larry Sparks.The best version though, and this includes the original, is Charlie Rich’s rendition. Charlie recorded it on a 1967 cover album of ol’ Hank’s songs – including “Hey Good Lookin'” and “I Can’t Help It.” It gets routinely beat up in reviews and is largely considered a lesser edition in his canon, but I think it’s a missing link between the Sun and Epic years and kind of love it. Read this:
It`s a sin to make me cry
When you know I love you so
I could tell my heart that I don`t miss you
My lips could tell a lie,but My Heart Would Know.
Charlie Rich is the man for these words. Hank lived many of his songs, and surely this one was born from the tumultuous relationship he had with Audrey Williams, but Charlie had a way to get inside of these kind of songs, sitting hunched at his piano, letting his bruised heart spill out all over the keys. The weight of feeling he delivers is crushing.
This whole entry seems to be a digression, so in closing I should mention those fabulous howls in “Howlin’ At The Moon” are by Jerry Rivers. He could have done creature features.