Jett Williams never met her father, Hank Williams Sr., who died in the back seat of a Cadillac five days before she was born in 1953.
But she’s come to learn more about him from 143 never-released recordings he did for a radio program in 1951.
The recordings were retrieved from a trash bin and ended up part of the Williams estate. They’re being released over the next three years (with the first batch hitting stores last week).
“It’s very intimate,” Jett Williams, a 55-year-old country singer, said recently. “It’s like he came over to your house and he’s saying, ‘Let me tell you about this song I just wrote.’
“It’s interesting because it’s live, and you hear him make a mistake or the band make a mistake and you get to hear how he handles it,” she added. “You hear him tell jokes and how quick his wit is.”
Born to singer Bobbie Jett, Williams’ girlfriend between his two marriages, Jett Williams didn’t have a clue her father was Hank Williams until her 21st birthday. It took her years of legal action to receive recognition and a share of his estate.
She says that, unlike Elvis Presley, there’s not much material out there that shows his personality.
The radio program recordings capture him joking and telling stories between songs, some Williams classics such as “Hey, Good Lookin”’ and other old standards like “On Top of Old Smoky” and “I’ll Fly Away.”
“This is a piece of American apple pie right here,” she said. “You’ve got my dad talking about current affairs, the president, things like that.”
Williams and his Drifting Cowboys Band made the recordings for the “Mother’s Best Flour” show on radio station WSM-AM in Nashville.
“These have never been heard unless you were listening to the radio that day,” she said.
They were recorded on acetate discs and pitched in the trash when the station moved in the 1960s. An employee salvaged them and later turned them over to Jett Williams.
PolyGram Records and Legacy Entertainment both claimed rights to the recordings, but the courts ultimately awarded them to the Williams estate, which Jett Williams shares with half brother Hank Williams Jr.
When all the songs are finally released, she said they’ll increase her father’s catalog by 50 percent and, perhaps just as important, provide a more complete picture of him as a man.
“A lot of people have heard Hank Williams, but not a lot of people have listened to him,” she said.