Smith’s prized possession is Hank Williams Sr.’s “Cold, Cold Heart”

Published 2:27 pm Tuesday, April 17, 2012

“I tried so hard my dear to show that you’re my every dream,

Yet you’re afraid each thing I do is just some evil scheme,

A mem’ry from your lonesome past keeps us so far apart,

Why can’t I free your doubtful mind and melt your Cold, Cold Heart.”

That is the first stanza of Hank Williams Sr.’s 75 rpm record “Cold, Cold Heart,” released in 1951 by MGM. It went straight to No. 1 on the country charts, but two years later Williams was dead from a combination overdose of alcohol and drugs. He was only 29 years old.

“Cold, Cold Heart” was just the back side of what Williams’ thought would be a hit, “Dear John.” But the opposite happened. “Dear John” hit No. 8, but “Cold, Cold Heart” catapulted into No. 1 because it was liked by disc jockeys and was the favorite on “juke boxes,” a favorite record venue at the time.

He died from a drug overdose on New Year’s Day 1953 in the back seat of a Cadillac. Like a meteor, the Mt. Olive, Ala., “Hillbilly Shakespeare” had burst upon the music scene in 1947, and in just six short years, he changed country music forever. In those few years, Williams had 11 No. 1 hits. He ushered in a new phase of country music. He was to country what Elvis Presley was to pop and rock and roll. He was a transition figure.

Of course, along the way, he fathered another country legend, Hank Williams, Jr.

David Fred Smith of Picayune was browsing through the old-time vinyl records in a charity thrift store one day, as he has done for the last 35 years, and he picked up an album with Williams’ picture on the front.

It wasn’t autographed (if it had been, it would have been worth over $2,000), but he noticed there was another record shoved down into the album cardboard sleeve containing the record, only visible when you looked into that album cover.

He pulled it out, and there it was, an original 75 rpm vinyl record of Williams’ “Cold, Cold Heart.” What makes that recording so significant is that Tony Bennett, a few years after Williams wrote and sang it, also recorded it, and his cover went to the top of the pop charts, too. Williams iconic song, actually one of several he wrote that could be called “iconic,” has probably been recorded by both country and pop artists more than any other cross-over record.

For that recording and others like it, Williams was inducted into both the County Music and Rock and Roll halls of fame after his tragic death.

It is Smith’s most prized record. That is saying a lot since the avid collector has been collecting such pressings for 35 years and has over 3,000 vinyl albums and more than fifty 45 rpm Elvis records.

Another of his prized possessions is a blue record, a 33 rpm, which was the last album Elvis released before his death.

“People just have no idea how valuable some of these old vinyl records are,” says Smith. “They’ll be cleaning out grandma or grandpa’s attic after they die and here they’ll find these old vinyl records, and they’ll just put them in a box and go and give them to Goodwill or some other charity. And they have no idea how valuable they are, but I am obsessed with old records.

“For instance, the record was probably bought brand new off the showroom floor, played a few times and then put away, and over 50 years later I have it,” Smith said.

Smith said he believes his obsession began when he was a child. “I loved music and I bought all the top albums and records. You didn’t have CDs back then, or tapes; it was all vinyl, and the music had a quality on these old vinyl records that it doesn’t have when recorded digitally.”

He said collectors and music enthusiasts are rediscovering the quality of vinyl records when the records are cleaned and the right needles used to play them.

“You can actually get a better quality of sound,” he said.

After Smith got home, he cleaned the Williams’ classic and played it. “It sounded just like it did when he cut it in 1951,” said Smith. “Remarkable. All it needed was cleaning.”

Smith also can demonstrate how to clean the old records and make them sound the way they did when brand new. “Mostly you just need to get the oil and dust off them and they are like new,” said Smith.

He demonstrates the cleaning process with alcohol and cotton swabs.

Smith framed “Cold, Cold Heart” and retired it. It hangs on his wall.

Smith listens to his old-time vinyls while quilting. His quilt creations have won prizes, especially his “Katrina Quilt” with scenes from the great storm, with which he won a blue ribbon at the state fair. Youngsters call him “The Quilt Man.”

Smith quilts, listens to his more than 3,000 records and takes care of his 80-year-old mother. “I am her caregiver,” he said. “With my records, I live in another era.”

So, how much is the Williams’ original 75 worth?

It’s certainly in the hundreds of dollars, perhaps thousands. Smith doesn’t know.

“I really don’t know how much it’s worth,” he says. “I really have never collected all these records for their monetary value. I don’t know what it is. They just take me back to another time, another era when things, and songs, were much more simpler than they are today.”

He said he sometimes does public demonstrations at clubs, but he’s cutting back on personal appearances. He has been featured a number of times at the Mississippi Welcome Center near Nicholson on Interstate 59.