Hank Williams may well have been the first rock and roll star. Sure, he had neither movie star looks nor the veneer of pop respectability to be a true mass culture behemoth ala Elvis, but his brand of revved-up hillbilly blues, his mythic, reckless life and early death, and his undeniable influence on generations of musicians certainly means that he belongs in the pantheon. Nothing proves this point more than his live performances, where his showmanship and magnetism never fail to shine through on old crackly recordings.
The new two disc set Live at the Grand Ole Opry (Mercury) captures the king of honky tonk in some legendary performances at the old Ryman Auditorium. Of great historic interest is his debut performance at the Opry of the song most often associated with the Williams name, “Lovesick Blues.” Other highlights include a treasure trove of classics (“Cold, Cold Heart” and “Jambalaya” among them), plus a complete recording of a 1950 show, with all the hokey comedy and supporting acts thankfully preserved.