Hank III still does it his way

Brian Baker, January 2002

There must be something inexplicably potent about the Williams music gene that compels its owners to excel in a variety of areas in an astonishingly brief period of time. Although Hank Sr. concentrated primarily on country music, he had a range that was impressive within the genre, and he revolutionized the way people considered country from that point on. There can be very little debate over the speed with which he accomplished that goal.

Hank Jr. followed his daddy's legacy relatively quickly, and he diversified decisively into country rock, a direction that a good many artists would subsequently choose once Bocephus helped blaze the trail.

Hank Williams III has taken up the family business with a twanging, hard rocking vengeance and thrown in more than a couple of contemporary twists of his own. On his sophomore album, "Lovesick, Broke & Driftin'," Hank III continues to successfully explore the edges of honky tonk Americana with little or no regard for its acceptance by country radio. The biggest difference between "Lovesick" and Hank III's debut, "Risin' Outlaw," is that he was able to call most of the shots in the studio, which was most certainly not the case the first time around.

"I finally got to do it predominantly my way," says Hank III from the road he calls home 180 days a year. "I got to produce it and record it myself, and Curb kept their nose out of it. Back then, it took them two years to do the album, and they hired their big producer. We did my album $100,000 cheaper,and it only took two weeks. I'm pretty stoked about it. At least I'm more proud of it. It makes you feel more like you're doing what you're supposed to do and not like a puppet. I'm here to be kind of creative and not to be told what to do."

One of the reasons that Hank III may have been given a freer hand to do "Lovesick, Broke & Driftin'" his own way was the manner in which he handled the promotion for "Risin' Outlaw" two years ago.

"I think mainly that every interview I did, I spoke the truth," says Hank with characteristic frankness. "They knew that on the next album it was going to be all-out war if I didn't get to kind of do it my way. That helped me out a lot. I told them before the first one came out, 'Well, if the album's gonna be this way, I'm not gonna talk good about it.' And I'm sure they didn't want that to happen again."

After the relative debacle of "Risin' Outlaw," from Hank's perspective, he has much different expectations for the new disc.

"I think I'll get a little bit more respect as a writer, since I wrote all the songs," says Hank. "They might get a little bit more away from the comparison as much. They might just look at Hank III as Hank III. I just wish I could have both albums out there so people could see both sides. I think Americana will jump on a couple of songs. I don't see country radio doing anything with it. No song on the album was written for the radio. They were all written for ourselves. I just don't hope for much. I always just look at it like whatever happens happens."

One thing that hasn't changed at all since Hank III leapt into the musical fray is his idea of what it takes to be a success. In that respect, his success has already been achieved.

"I've already made it in my eyes," he says with confidence. "Just being able to work with all the rock bands and country artists I've worked with. I think we'll be like the Rev. Horton Heat, where you don't any tour support and no radio and no MTV or whatever, but you can still show up and get anywhere from 200 to 600 people a night. It's all about the street team and doing it that way. I still don't think we're a household name, we're more of a bar band. We're not turning out arenas. If that ever happened, that would be cool, but it would be a little weird. We're pretty plain and simple. We're not expecting to be the new big country sensation. We're just looking to play our songs and leave something behind."

With "Lovesick, Broke & Driftin'" safely out of the way, Hank III can now turn his attention to a couple of other pressing issues. First and foremost, he hopes to gather support for the blazing rock and roll album he has in the can and finally get it released as well.

"It's recorded and done," says Hank III with equal measures of pride and disgust. "Curb sunk too much money into it, and now they're saying they won't release it because of lyrical content. Now I'm trying to find some cool rock label who can deal with Curb's bullshit that we can work together on. I just talked to Jello Biafra the other day, and the first thing he said was, 'Are they still sitting on your record?' He's a guy who could have helped, if the rest of the Dead Kennedys hadn't sued him for $140,000 and won. Alternative Tentacles (Biafra's label) is locked up now. The album's done, it's been done, and I've already moved on. That's why I let people tape all of the shows. We're starting to get a lot more black T-shirts than cowboy hats at our shows."

Hank III senses that he's finally on the proper path, but he feels slightly pressured as the odometer spins on his life and his career. "I just pissed because I'm already 29 now, and time is ticking away," he says impatiently. "I should have already had three rock albums and five country albums out by now."

If the timeline isn't quite moving at the right speed, Hank III can be happy with the scope of his accomplishments. He does have two stellar country albums to his credit, his current shows offer a 75-minute set of country music followed by an hour or so of rock, his rock album (credited as a band to Assjack and titled "This Ain't Country" to avoid any possible confusion by country fans who don't necessarily want to experience the many sides of Hank III's talents) quivers on the edge of release, and March will see Hank III's contribution to a country tribute to Z.Z. Top (he does "Fearless Boogie" at the request of Billy Gibbons, who supplied some flashy guitar work on "Lovesick, Broke & Driftin'") as well as the debut release from Superjoint Ritual, a metal band fronted by Pantera vocalist Phil Anselmo featuring Hank III on bass along with members of Eye Hate God and Crowbar.

"No one else can go from honky tonk to speed metal," says Hank III with a grin. "I just wish I could get it tapped into a little more."

Around the time of "Risin' Outlaw's" release, Hank III was branching off into another odd corner of his career with planned appearances in a couple of independent films. The first, originally titled "Recycler," has since undergone some alterations.

The second, an indie appropriately christened 'Honky Tonk' and directed by an unnamed former porn star trying to break into legitimate film, has been shelved indefinitely.

While Hank keeps the idea of a film career in his back pocket, he doesn't consider it too seriously as a definite option.

"'Recycler' got changed to 'Southlander,' but it's still in that same 'independent-film-not-too-big-not-too-small' thing and it's coming out," he says. "'Honky Tonk' ran into some budget problems, so they never got to do that. They tried, but they never officially got in there. The only other part that's come up...it would have been real cool. I was supposed to be a dealer selling to David Allan Coe and Billy Joe Shaver. But that was supposed to be two weeks ago, so I guess I didn't get the part. It takes a lot to act, man. It's just not me. I can be one of those guys that's in for a couple of minutes, and that's it."

With Hank III's musical versatility, he's also wide open to the prospect of soundtrack work. If 'Southlander' ever hits the screens, and warrants a soundtrack release, Hank's placed a couple of tracks there, and he's ready for anything else that comes along in that regard.

"We got on the 'Driven' soundtrack, and country-wise or rock-wise, we could do either," he says. "That's real easy to do. Sometimes they're pretty demanding on what they want, but I would love to try it. We've got to do it a couple times, and that's it. It's crazy. One of the songs from the rock album is on the 'Driven' soundtrack, and we can't get the rock album out."

With all of these irons in the fire, it's no wonder that Hank III feels the slightest bit antsy about the passage of time and has an innate need to accomplish more in his career.

Maybe it's a function of his incredible versatility as a musician, excelling in a number of disparate genres, and maybe it's the fact that he just turned 29 in December, the same age that his iconic grandfather was when he checked out of this life in the back seat of a Cadillac after having done nothing less than change the face of country music for all eternity.

That's a powerful example to live up to for a rising star who is inexplicably forced to fight the industry system just to get his albums made and released. It's enough to drive a lesser man to the drinking and drugging and despair that snuffed out the life of the father of country music. It's a cautionary tale that Hank III continues to heed as he begins in earnest to pursue his music career at the age that his grandfather's life ended.

Hank III ponders the fact that he's outlived his legendary grandfather and sighs with the realization that living longer doesn't necessarily mean that he will ever completely escape the long and dark shadow of Hank Williams Sr. He merely notes the most significant point of departure between himself and his impossibly lionized grandfather.

"I don't have a death wish, I'm just trying to have a good time," says Hank III with a weary finality. "I'm just trying to keep busy and leave my little mark."

© Country Standard Time • Jeffrey B. Remz, editor & publisher • countrystandardtime@gmail.com