Hank Williams III holds no love for Nashville. Granted, just because he sports the name of country royalty—and one look at his lanky frame, sunken eyes and gaunt face give away which side of the gene pool he dove into—Hank III doesn’t expect Nashville’s power brokers to bow down to him when he walks in the room.
He doesn’t want to cash in the family name; and he doesn’t want to spend the rest of his life singing grandpappy’s songs—though, with that haunting twang-tinged tenor he could (and did, for awhile). He wants to be his own Hank. He wants to wear beat-up cowboy boots and a Pantera shirt. He wants to be an outlaw and a punk rocker. He wants to kick the shit out of assholes in bars. He wants to do shots with the Melvins and then feel up Faith Hill. He wants to live his own life. He wants to write his own songs, succeed on his own merits. He wants some respect. And as far as Hank III’s concerned, he ain’t getting any of that from Nashville.
“[Nashville] makes me sick,” Williams says. “It’s all bullshit. … Yeah, I’m hard to swallow. I’m not Tim McGraw. But country radio doesn’t play country music anymore and the labels don’t want country singers anymore, and that’s bullshit.”
Williams is bracing for some more crap. He’s in the process of tracking a follow-up to his unbelievable debut, Risin’ Outlaw. When he recorded that album, his label, Curb Records, rejected all but three of his songs—instead, he recorded several Wayne “The Train” Hancock numbers and even the Johnny Cash standard “Cocaine Blues.” This time, though, things are gonna be different. Williams penned all the tracks himself. “And none of my songs are written for the radio,” Hank III says, full of pride and defiance. Especially a little number that basically spits on the Nashville establishment: “I Put the Dick in Dixie and the Cunt in Country.” If it makes it on the record—“We’ll see if it even gets on,” Williams says—Hank III could have the distinction of being the first country artist in well over a decade to get a parental advisory sticker. Would grandpa be proud? Hank III damn well would be.
“I’d love to have that sticker,” Williams says, before adding, “I just want to create music my way, do what I want to do. And as of right now this album is a real old school album, some real outlaw stuff.”
It was almost pre-ordained that Hank III would be a country outlaw. It’s just in his blood. The Williams family is legendary for its ability to ingest more drugs than a hippie caravan. And even tanked and tripping, they still pound out some of the sweetest, rebel-rousing songs around—especially Williams Version 1.0. Of course, it was Hank Sr.’s addiction to booze and morphine that claimed him, in the back of his Cadillac on the way to a show. And as for Bocephus, well, his hell-raisin’ days made him a Monday Night mainstay and southern-fried redneck legend—at least until Nashville put that family-friendly sign out at the city limits, basically sending him underground.
Hank III is no different. A sort of musical Jeckyl and Hyde, the youngest Williams spent most of his late teens and early twenties playing in punk bands. He went by his given name: Shelton Hank Williams. He had a ponytail down to his ass. He did drugs and groupies and drugs off groupies. His bands opened for the likes of Fugazi and other punk rock royalty. He got tattoos all over his body, including one that says “risin’ outlaw.”
But then came the cops and that court order to pay back child support—one of those groupies kept the bloodline flowing. Hank III was $24,000 in debt and needed out fast. He got a manager, a white suit and a white cowboy hat and opened up shop in Branson, Mo., playing granddaddy’s songs for blue hairs. Suddenly, Hank III was in the family business. And while most of Williams’ punk rock brethren shouted sell-out, Hank III found himself getting an education, connecting the dots between country and Corrosion of Conformity.
From then on Hank III was living a double life. He fronts two different bands: the countrified Damn Band and the punked-out Assjack. He’ll even split a show down the middle, the first half revving up the twang, the second cranking the distortion. “After the first hour I’ll tell all the older people that they might want to go home because we’re gonna get loud,” Williams says in the aw-shucks drawl. “But sometimes we’ll be playing a show to 800 old people and we’ll have 50 kids who want us to do the metal stuff and we’ll have to say, ‘Well, sorry, we’ll just have come back and play that some other time.’”
It’s Williams’ dueling musical personas that make him a little dangerous for Nashville, and what will probably keep him from ever reaching the same level of fame and reverence as his two predecessors. For Hank III, that’s fine. He doesn’t really want to be a star that flames out. He’s comfortable with his status: the grandson of a legend who looks like a ghost and rocks like a Ramone. Someone who can feel as comfortable in a crumbling juke joint as he can in CBGB’s.
“You don’t need a hit song to sell records,” Williams says. “If I have a career like the Reverend Horton Heat, I’ll be happy—someone who just tours and has his fans. I want respect from Texas, not Tennessee. If I get that, everything will be OK with me.”
Hank Williams III opens for the Melvins at Liquid Joe’s, 1249 E. 3300 South (467-JOES), Wednesday May 9, 9:30 p.m.