THE DRIFTING COWBOYS

A 50 YEAR LEGACY - AS TOLD BY DON HELMS

Before Hank Williams, country music was a lot about "take me back somewhere" or things to eat. But along came Hank, and he started singing about a guy that worked at the mill from 8 to 5 and then stopped off at the bar on the way home and had a couple of cool ones and had a wife who chewed his ass out when he got home and made him sleep in the doghouse. People would say, "that's our champion" or "he's singing our song." He was giving them a voice. They loved it, and they still do.

I had no stars in my eyes for myself. I just wanted to play for somebody who was going to "set the woods on fire." Hank was getting bigger and bigger and our responsibilities were getting more and more and I was pleased with that role. We were all just satisfied to be playing our thing together with Hank Williams.

Hank Williams died on January first 1953. I continued to play for Ray Price for the next few years. I worked the road with Ferlin Huskey, the Wilburn Brothers, Loretta Lynn, Ernest Tubb, and others. I played six years with Hank Williams Jr. and currently I'm still playing for Jett Williams. I've been with Jett Williams for 9 years.

 
In addition to all of that, I was able to spend quite a bit of time in the studio back then, recording with people like Patsy Cline, Bobby Helms, Johnny Cash, Brenda Lee, The Wilburn Brothers, Ray Price, and so and so. BUT in 1977, the Drifting Cowboys and I decided to put our band back together after we had been apart 25 years. We felt like that there were some people who would like to hear us play some of the same music we played for Hank Williams.

But time had already started taking its toll on the cowboys. Cedric Rainwater had already passed away. But the rest of us decided to take what we could and do the best we could with it. In 1984 Hillous Butrum retired from the group, and again we took what we had left and continued to do the best we could. In 1988, Sammy Pruett passed away. So, we took what was left, and was going to do our very best with it. Then in 1995, Bob McNett passed away. Jerry Rivers at that time decided we'd take what we had left and continue to do the best we could; but in 1996, Jerry Rivers passed away.
 

So I guess I'm what's left; and this old Gibson double neck guitar is what I've got left. If I can play one or two notes that will make you think of Hank Williams, then that'll be the best that we can do.

 

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Photo by Marty Stuart

Above is the story in Dons words as told in the book "Settin' the Woods on Fire." Also in Dons CD remembering the last 50 years and the Drifting Cowboys. Both are available from Don and Hazel at his live performances, and from links on this website.