When Hank Williams died on New Year’s Day in 1953, the country legend left behind lyrics for up to 50 songs, many of which were found in notebooks kept in a box under his bed. Now, on the new album The Lost Notebooks of Hank Williams (out October 4th), those lyrics have finally been turned into finished songs by an all-star lineup including Bob Dylan, Jack White, Merle Haggard and Sheryl Crow. “The one I picked had the classic bittersweet Hank Williams feeling in it,” says Lucinda Williams, who recorded the mournful ballad “I’m So Happy I Found You.”
Dylan, who is releasing the LP on his Egyptian Records label, originally considered recording a whole album of the songs. “He realized that was too mighty a task,” says Mary Martin, the disc’s producer. “So it evolved into a compilation.” Dylan reached out to some of the artists himself, including Hank’s granddaughter Holly. “I met him backstage after a show,” she says. “He told me it was too much pressure to do it all himself, so he asked me to do one. It’s a real honor.”
The songwriters – who also include country superstars Alan Jackson, Vince Gill and Patty Loveless – were each sent a series of lyrics to choose from, and given freedom to create bridges, choruses and anything else needed to flesh out the material. “We told them to do whatever suits your creative mood,” says Martin. “Because, are you going to tell Merle Haggard what to do?”
The project was especially meaningful for Lucinda Williams, whose father once had beers with Hank in Lake Charles, Louisiana, where Lucinda was born less than a month after Hank’s death. “It’s really wild,” she says. “That story made me feel connected to Hank in a big way.” Holly Williams was also overjoyed at the chance to connect with the grandfather she never met. “Growing up, my dad [Hank Williams Jr.] was so famous that I didn’t realize how big Hank Sr. was,” she says. “I’m really getting into my grandfather’s music. I hope it introduces his music to younger fans as well.”
This story is from the September 1, 2011 issue of Rolling Stone.