Hank 3: Carrying on a Hell-raising Tradition
We all know Hank Williams SR, the natural songwriter with his beautifully written songs that brought Country, Blues, Cajun, and Doom music together before anybody else even thought of such a thing. Hank Williams Jr brought Country, Southern Rock, and Rebellion to new heights during the Outlaw Movement in the 70’s and beyond. That tradition of crossing genres with a unique voice, true musicianship and a “spit in the face of authority” attitude (that this writer admires) has thankfully not been lost with Hank Williams III.
Hank 3 is an incredible artist with all of the Williams family talent and desire to be creative on his own terms. Hank 3 has worked with incredible artists like Phil Anselmo, (Pantera, Down, Superjoint Ritual) Tom Waits; George Jones, David Allan Coe, and many talented others. He is a true artist; true to himself, true to his roots, and true to his very loyal fans.
If you aren’t familiar with his music, you should be. His unique blend of Country, Punk, and Metal has earned him a hardcore following of Hellbillies and Hellbetties. At a Hank 3 show you will see “Metalheads, Punkers, and country boys that range from 18 to 80,” as Hank told me. If I keep going, I will just tell you everything and you won’t have to read the interview.
Kidman J. Williams: Where are you guys at tonight?
Hank 3: Uh, we’re in West Virginia right now, touring the East Coast.
KJW: Nice, it is absolutely gorgeous out there.
Hank 3: I know it man! It’s a good part of the year to be coming through.
KJW: Well, let’s just get right into this. You put out your double disc in 2013. Did you attack the writing any different than you have on past albums?
Hank 3: Pretty much started in January when I wrote it and wrapped it up by the beginning of May. That’s how I’ve done most of my records, just in the winter time. Just approaching the two different CD’s, uh, I won’t be able to do it forever and that’s why I’m doing it while I can; just trying to change it up and do something different. I got the rest of my life to just put out one at a time. That’s always a part of my reasoning for doing the double releases on the different styles of music.
KJW: I was listening to it all last night, it is a great album! The lyrical content seems a little deeper than some of your albums in the past. Was this a little more personal than some of your past music?
Hank 3: Well, the music is always going to go through changes. It is just a part of it. Sometimes its players, sometimes it is songs that are a little more in the now, sometimes I’m putting’ myself in other people’s shoes. It just depends. Some of those songs, to me, just have more roots in them, as far as paying respects to country roots; like “Loners for Life” or “Deep Scars” and stuff like that, compared to a lot of the pop stuff that’s been around for you know, almost ten years now, it seems. To me, you know, it is just paying respects on a more country kind of tip. I work hard on trying to keep the fiddle, stand up steel, the banjo, stand up bass, all those things in tact on the records.
KJW: Don’t worry; we’ll get into the Pop Country music scene later.
Hank 3: (laughs) OK.
KJW: I wanted to touch on my favorite song on the album, “Farthest Away.” What was that one about for you?
Hank 3: A lot of people can go through that if you’re in a long marriage and you aren’t on the same page sometimes. The divorce rates are through the roof! A lot of people are so busy trying to keep up and keep the bills payed or raising the kids and all that, their personal lives can get away from them.
You just kind of lose focus on a relationship sometimes. I think a lot of people just kind of deal with that. I also try to put a little hope in there. Especially if it is going’ bad, just try to remember some of the good times and see if you can make it last. If it’s meant to be or if it’s not it’s not, but that’s just a different take on a love song.
KJW: It is a great take on a love song. So much so, like myself, I balance professional and personal. Is this something that you yourself have gone through?
Hank 3: OH, DEFINITELY! I’ve always had long relationships whenever I’ve found the right person. Basically, a five year relationship, a fifteen year relationship and going’ close to two years on just getting’ back on track. So, there’s a lot of that in play.
Most of my songs I’ve lived it, eat it, breathed it! There might be about 20% of my songwriting where I’m going’ into fantasy land. If you just look at the song like the one I did for the respects for Gigi, you know, I just kinda envisioned what he did and getting to know Merle and Dino and all those people over the years. It’s pretty much an eat it, live it, breathe it kind of thing!
I try to balance it all out with a little bit of light, a little bit of dark; sometimes there’s a few happy songs, but I do sing a lot about the partying thing because I’m just trying to get people to forget about their problems on a Friday night and come out and have some fun. I’m not trying to sell anybody on this side or that side; even back in the Depression when everything was falling apart people wanted to come out and see live music and just kind of let loose. So, I always kind of keep that in the back of my head.
KJW: I’m glad you said that! You don’t forget, like some musicians do, that your job description is, entertainer.
Hank 3: Absolutely! I do my best. There are times where I’m always playing guitar and stuff like that. I’ve done the frontman stuff a little bit, but there are times where I just want to be like, I’ve been on the stage for almost four hours, I feel like I need to be doing some different kind of rock moves. The fans still hang in there with me man; it is what it is man!
KJW: A lot of people might not know, but you have done a wide range of music. I first heard about you when I bought the Superjoint Ritual CD. I almost feel ashamed to say that to you.
Hank 3: (laughs) Right, there are a lot of people like that man.
KJW: When I looked through the sleeve I saw your name sitting there. I was like, “There’s a third, wow!?!” That’s when I went and looked for all of your stuff. I even saw the music you did in the mid-90’s at the Grand Ole Opry. My Grandpa listened to your Grandpa, (Hank Williams Sr) my Dad listened to Hank Jr; their music was always in the house. It really felt good to kind of get my own Hank. Do you ever hear anything like that?
Hank 3: (laughs) It is interesting! I do hear people say that and you get to see fathers and sons come out and say kinda what you said, they are glad because they are into the whole family. It is just a different take.
Every Hank Williams has done different stuff. Hank Sr was doing doom, basically before doom was. Hank Jr was always into the Southern Rock and for me to get into what I get into was just a natural progression. I think over the years people have accepted me for Hank 3. People say, “I might not understand everything he does, but I get he is doing it his way and he is for the fans.”
I’ve gone through a lot of different changes just with my voice, compared to the 90’s. Part of that was going over the top and giving it all I’ve got and trying to stand on my own two feet. I always do a country show for the first two hours no matter what. I always stay true to my country roots. Then I go on and do the other part of my show. Not everybody gets it, but on the same tip it’s kind of what sets me apart and lets me be me; it hits a lot of people. I always say that our audience can be 18 to 80 and I keep an affordable ticket.
KJW: I’ll be honest with you. I don’t always get to interview people that I am actually a big fan of. I was reluctant to do the interview at first, because I really didn’t want you to turn out to be a dick.
Hank 3: (laughs) I hear ya man. I know how that goes. I’ve met a lot of my heroes and it can go like that. I understand that scenario.
KJW: You seem to have a real love for your fans. You have pictures with your fans all over the social media. How important is it for you to connect with your fans?
strong>Hank 3: It is to me. I’ve always had that work ethic. I’ve kept it the same over the years and never have changed it. It is just the old country way! I know some people just get so big that they have to stop doing it. It can get intense!
A kid last night who has been seeing me for 10 years now came up and said that he really appreciated me coming down there and talking to them all. You can’t make everybody happy and some people think it’s cheesy and weird. All in all I am just giving them a chance to say hello, a handshake or even a piece of art, sometimes it is just a thanks. They at least have the option.
I’m coming off of a 4 hour show and I’m in an intense state of mind. Some artists setup a table and they have their line, I don’t have that. I just jump down in there! First you get pulled away in different directions and then it slows down. I’m just glad I’m able to hang in there!
KJW: I’m glad you are too and I’m sure your fans are also! I’m sure you’re asked this a thousand times so I’m not going to disappoint you.
Hank 3: (small laugh) OK.
KJW: You grew up around the Country Music scene and…
Hank 3: Kind of.
KJW: Kind of?
Hank 3: Kind of. Keep it in mind that I’m comparing myself to Jack Osbourne. He was raised on a tour bus and around a million and one different rock stars all the time. My parents were divorced when I was like two and I only saw my Dad a week or two out of the year.
It’s not like I was really raised around all of the legends. Every now and then I would get to see Waylon and Hank Jr and go on a hunt with them. I got to back up Hank Jr on drums and Lynyrd Skynyrd at the same time and be around those festivals. It was like going to fantasy land for a couple weeks. You see it wasn’t a full on 24/7 thing.
Now, in the early 90’s when I started getting out on the fair and country circuits, yeah, that’s when I got to be on my own and opening for Johnny Paycheck, singing onstage with George Jones and being around Dwight Yoakam. People are starting to talk to me about some stories. David Allan Coe has always been a big part of my life. I am grateful for having had the time with some of the legends that I did have. He was just doing what I am doing, just beating down the road. I do remember Hank Jr shows were very intense. I will never forget how wild the shows were.
KJW: Do you and your Dad have a closer relationship now?
Hank 3: It is what it is man! I always looked at it like this; he never really had a Father to raise him. He just now, 3 or 4 kids later, he has been able to be a Dad and be home and enjoy his family life. That’s good, but when you’re on the road there are sacrifices that you have to make. I get to say hello every now and then. I just have to worry about taking care of my Mom and making sure my kids are hanging in there. It is just one of those things.
KJW: You’ve been pretty outspoken lyrically and vocally about the state that Country Music is in. As of late, what do you think needs to change in the Country genre?
Hank 3: Here’s another thing, just to keep in mind. Even though I might be saying a lot about the true Country music, I’m the first one to tell you that a lot of the stuff I do is not true country when you compare it to Wayne the Train and Dale Watson. I do keep the routes of Country more involved in my sound than a lot of the Pop oriented stuff that you hear nowadays.
Eventually that style will choke itself out and go away and the older style will hopefully come back into play. It is just a big business deal right now. That’s why that sound is so prevalent on the radio right now. It will change in time and we will see more of the raw talent that are keeping it real and you will still see the clean, perfect guys that are doing the dance for the music business.
KJW: How did you feel about Florid George Line feat Nelly winning the best Country Song?
Hank 3: I haven’t watched an awards show since I was 16 years old. I went to one with Hank Jr. when he was accepting his entertainer of the year award. That shows you just how out of touch I am with that world.
To me there’s not that many George Straits’ left. It is changing and it is all business. It has all crossed over and they’re not leaving any room for the underground rebels, bluegrass players, folk heroes or even the mountain singers. In a way it has just become a corporate deal for pretty folks.
Hank 3: They are almost going to have to open up a new award show for the people who are just keeping it a little more real, ya know? Since I’ve been kind of blackballed from some radio stations it is hard to say what I really think. I just keep hearing the same old same old, how people are ready to puke every time they see one of those award shows. I’d be upset to! I know what Country means to me. I know it is in a weird spot right now.
KJW: Will there ever be a time when we could see another “Outlaw Movement” like we did back in the 70’s only with Shooter Jennings, Hank 3 and maybe Lukas Nelson?
Hank3: It is hard to say, because I kept myself out of that situation for right now. I respect Shooter as a musicians, artist and friend. It just goes back to me having to be rough on him because he had that same situation that could happen to me overnight.
I knew Shooter back when he was clean shaven’ and a long haired kid wanting to be a rockstar. Then all of the sudden Waylon passes away and he is wearing glasses and a beard. That was kind of tough for me to see that transition, but I understand how it is. It is hard to put into words how things can change overnight.
As far as the big festival, I don’t know man. They tried to get me on stage with Lukas, (Lukas Nelson) but they went about it the wrong way. I play with who my friends are. If Lukas would have come up and said, “Hey man,” it maybe could have happened. When you try to force it on me, call me out and try to make me get on stage when there is nothing personal about it…yeah, that’s not going to happen.
A lot of those guys were tight friends back then. I stayed true and never left Tennessee for LA or New York. I always kept my roots in Tennessee. Texas was a little hub for a lot of people to do their thing. In time it might happen! When we get to our 50’s it might fall into place. I just don’t think that right now is the right time for it. I’m going to keep it raw, hard and over the top until I’m 50, then I might do the Kris Kristofferson thing and we might be able to hook-up.
KJW: Out of all of the musicians that you’ve worked with, who was your favorite to work with?
Hank 3: It is tough to say. As far as pride, someone who was ultra cool and a massive honor, I guess it would have to be Tom Waits. He has kind of taken on everything the way you’re not supposed to. His balance and career has really impressed me.
The Waits family made me feel right at home.
The very first time I got to talk to Tom I was trying to install a battery in my truck and it just wasn’t coming out. I had a crowbar out working on this thing and the phone rang. I answered it without looking and I answered the phone all short, because I thought it was just a fan or something just calling to say hello. I’ve had the same number for 15 years now, so I’ve had to give my number out to people and I get a lot of drunken calls. He starts saying, “Ya know, I was thinking about that song you wrote for me and…” As soon as he said that I realized who it was and I was just like, oh man I’m being short with Tom Waits! I was back-peddling for about 5 minutes, but he got a good laugh out of it.
I’ll tell you who scared me the most was George Jones. I had to sing with George live and I asked what are we singing? They said he’ll tell you when you get out there. That was probably the worst feeling as far as nerves go.
KJW: (laughs) That is rough!
Hank 3: (laughs) You know man! You want to do your best, but if you don’t know what you’re singing, HOLD ON! He always had a certain way about him.
KJW: I like to wrap up an interview with this question. Is there anything you’d like to say to your fans?
Hank 3: If there are any first-timers at the show, be on time. We don’t have any opening acts. We play a 3 to 4 hour show. We usually try to go onstage at 8:00PM. If you are a girl coming to our show, don’t wear any open toed shows; wear boots or something just for a little protection.
On a more personal note, I’d like to just raise awareness about mountaintop removal. I’m trying to keep it out of Tennessee. That’s something they are trying to start and I’m a big fan of the mountains and mountain music. I just really want to keep it out. That doesn’t really have anything to do with music, but it has to do with generations to come.