Note: Don Helms died Aug. 11, 2008. The Hank Williams
Tribute and the Class Country Shows performed later that fall were dedicated
to his memory.
The sixth annual Tribute to Hank Williams Sr. offered 34 songs by the greatest country musician in American history performed by Louisiana musicians as talented as any you'll find in Nashville. Once again, the Louisiana group was joined by one Nashville veteran who each year travels to the Liberty Theater in Eunice to take part in this very special program. Don Helms, the only surviving member of Hank Williams' Drifting Cowboys and a steel guitarist who played with many other legends of country music, returned, even though he is still recovering from a stroke he suffered a few days after taking part in the Old Tyme Country Show at the Liberty last January. At this year's tribute show, he recounted how Terry Huval, who organizes the shows, called him every week while he was recuperating and regaining he ability to play. At the tribute show, he played his 1949 Gibson Console Grande steel guitar with the same skill and authority that produced the unforgettable sounds on the Hank Williams recordings made more than 50 years ago. In addition to his CDs to offer for sale, Don Helms also brought copies of his new book of reminiscences about Hank, Settin' the Woods on Fire.
The biggest applause of the evening probably went to a new performer, Chris Malpass, a North Carolina native and member of the Malpass Family, with whom Helms has recorded. One day, after performing with Chris, Helms asked him if he would also serve as his driver, since the doctor told him he could not get behind the wheel after his stroke. Malpass drove Helms and his wife, Miss Hazel, from Nashville to the Liberty, where, after he belted out the first lines of "Hey Good Lookin'," the audience roared their approval, and Malpass, his hips swiveling, created the kind of excitement that crowds probably experienced the first time they saw Hank himself. Malpass also sang "Take These Chains from My Heart," "Half as Much," and "I Dreamed About Mama Last Night."
Terry Huval, who organized the event, and members of the Jambalaya Cajun Band performed along with other guest musicians.
This year, Terry sang "There'll Be No Teardrops Tonight," "I Can't Get You Off of My Mind," "Sing, Sing, Sing," "Dear John," and "A House of Gold."
Hugh Harris, whose performance amazingly manages to recreate rather than only impersonate Hank Williams Sr., sang "The Night Hank Williams Came to Town" (by Johnny Cash), "Crazy Heart," "Setting the Woods on Fire," "Mind Your Own Business," "Your Cheatin' Heart," 'Long Gone Lonesome Blues," "Men with Broken Hearts," "Baby We're Really in Love," "I Won't Be Home No More," and "Ramblin' Man." Terry and Hugh together sang "Hank Williams, You Wrote My Life" (by Moe Bandy), "I Can't Help It (If I'm Still in Love with You)," and "Honky Tonk Blues," the song that provided the basic melody and rhythm for D.L. Menard's "La Porte d'en Arrière."
D.L. Menard, the Cajun Hank Williams, sang "Mansion on the Hill," "Lonesome Whistle," "Wedding Bells," "Thy Burdens Are Greater Than Mine," "Why Should We Try Anymore," and "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry."
Pope Huval sang "I'm A Long Gone Daddy," "How Can You Refuse Him Now," "I Can't Get You Off of My Mind," "Please Don't Let Me Love You," "Old Country Church," and "Honky Tonkin'."
This year, the entire group gathered on stage, joined by Reggie Matte on accordion, for "Jambalaya" before the intermission and "I Saw the Light" as the finale.
Barry Ancelet again served as master of ceremonies.
In the right column, at the top is Terry Huval. Don Helms is shown playing steel guitar and, in a second photo, reminiscing about Hank Williams. Moving down the column, those pictured are Pope Huval with Gina Forsyth on fiddle, Hugh Harris, and three photos of Chris Malpass in his first appearance at the Liberty. The bottom photo shows host Barry Ancelet talking to Hugh Harris at the start of the intermission.
Shown in the left column, from the top, are D.L. Menard, Pope Huval, Terry Huval and Hugh Harris, and Hugh by himself. Gina Forsyth on fiddle is shown with Kenneth David on upright bass. D.L. Menard is shown telling a fishing story about being given an old catfish that had so many hooks in it from previous encounters with fishermen that D.L. decided not to clean the fish but instead sold it for scrap.
Other stage musicians, shown in a photo at the bottom of the web page, were Kyle Harris on lead guitar, Tony Huval on drums, and Randy Champagne on acoustic guitar.
Shown from left are Chris Malpass on guitar, Don Helms on steel guitar, Reggie Matte on accordion, Gina Forsyth on fiddle, Hugh Harris on guitar, Tony Huval on drums, Terry Huval, Pope Huval, Kenneth David on upright bass, and D.L. Menard on guitar. Not visible are Kyle Harris on lead guitar and Randy Champagne on acoustic guitar. They are shown behind Don Helms in the photo below.
All photographs and text by David Simpson.