Ol’ Hank stepped into a recording studio for the very last time today in 1952. With him came a bonafide Drifting Cowboy, Don Helms on steel guitar, and a mix of Nashville session players including Farris Coursey, Tommy Jackson, Eddie Hill, Floyd “Lighting” Chance and Chet Atkins. Hank was battered and tired by 1953. His back was a mess, he was perilously involved with three different women, one divorcing, one marrying, one knocked up, his band had broken apart, he’d been kicked off (or quit) the Opry and was heavily self medicating from the prescriptions of a quack doctor. No wonder he laid down one of the best sessions of his life.
Nashville studio work, driven by the unions, generally had the musician lay down four songs in about two hours. Today was no exception. Hank brought a song he’d written for the woman he was about to marry, Billie Jean, called I Could Never Be Ashamed of You. No doubt really a jab at his first wife Audrey. Next came Your Cheatin’ Heart which Colin Escott says virtually defines country music and calls it an admonishment to any songwriter that tries to get too poetic or obscure. Then came the strange tale of the cigar Indian Kaw-Liga. Band band drummer Farris Coursey was used on this one track to great effect and the song eventually climbed to number one and stayed there for thirteen weeks after Hank died a few months later. Finally came Take These Chains From Your Heart, a song written by vaudevillian Hy Heath and producer Fred Rose. Take These Chains From Your Heart was a wonderfully bluesy song and stands to my ears as one of the best records Hank Williams ever made. It showcased Hank’s vocal slur as well as anything he ever recorded before it and perhaps is a clue to the direction he would have gone had he lived longer than those next three months. Hank loved the crooners and would certainly have gone uptown with the rest of Nashville. In fact he may have been one of the first.
Take These Chains From My Heart, Hank Williams
The song has been blessed in a sense to not be a signature Hank Williams song. Try covering Your Cheatin’ Heart or Hey Good Lookin’ and listen to the immediate comparisons and dismissals. Take These Chains From Your Heart though has been given a life of its own and over the years has been covered by many artists including Dean Martin, John Doe, Charlie Rich, Jack Scott, Roseanne Cash, Anne Murray, Merle Haggard, Raul Malo and in perhaps the best performance of all Ray Charles.
Today also just happens to be Ray Charles’s birthday. He would have been 81 and that’s not a particularly note worthy age (unless it’s you turning 81) so no one has particularly taken note. I think though that you and I should pause for a moment and listen to Brother Ray lay down a hillbilly record in the only way he knew how, sweet and beautiful. Ray Charles first loved music and who can doubt his choice. Take These Chains From My Heart would become a top ten hit for him too.
Take These Chains From My Heart, Ray Charles