"Though the singing will be different," said Hillous Butrum, "we think you will recognize the sound." Butrum was one of the musicians who backed up Hank Williams before the legendary country singer's death in 1953. Butrum and three other Williams alumni, who regrouped three years ago as the Original Drifting Cowboys, came to the Museum of Natural History last night. The Cowboys' singing was far short of Williams' rich tenor, but they revived Williams' classic compositions with the original, vibrant sound.
Williams died of booze and pills at 29, only 3 1/2 years after his Grand Ole Opry debut. In that short span, he revolutionized country music with his confessional lyrics and honky-tonk sound. A large part of that sound came from pedal steel guitarist Don Helms, who helped pioneer the Hawaiian guitar sounds in country music. Helms hasn't lost his touch; he made his instrument weep and ring on "Cold Cold Heart" last night.
Jerry Rivers was just as impressive on fiddle. He mixed train mimicry and bluegrass breakdown on "Orange Blossom Special." The vocal limitations of guitarists Butrum and Bob McNett were compensated by the authenticity of Helms and Rivers' playing and by the great material: "Jambalaya," "You Win Again," "Love Sick Blues," and many others. The evening climaxed with a rare two-minute film clip of Williams performing "Hey, Good Lookin'."