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By Phil Bonyata
January 16, 2012
Hank 3 has a shitload of pedigree. He's a near carbon copy, both physically and vocally, to his brilliant, but troubled, grandfather - first legend of country Hank Williams. He calls the country outlaw Hank Williams, Jr. his father (even though their relationship is strained) and has a son himself - who Hank 3 promises that their relationship will be different.
Shelton Hank Williams III was born on December 12, 1972. Being born into county music royalty also means that your career path has been preordained.
Hank 3 started his musical journey banging the drums in various punk and hardcore bands. His first record was an ill-advised album Three Hanks: Men with Broken Hearts which spliced the voices of all three Williams generations together into songs that probably should have been abandoned when it was still just a bad idea. This was the beginning of a stormy relationship with newly signed label Curb records. Curb refused to release his 2003 record This Ain't Country and wouldn't allow Hank 3 to sell it on his own. The issues were settled shortly thereafter in court in Hank 3's favor (and after Hank 3 sported and sold t-shirts with the words "Fuck Curb" pasted boldly on the front. Last September Hank 3 boldly released four records at the same time - a double country album Ghost to a Ghost/Guttertown, the doom-rock Attention Defecit Domination and the speed-metal Cattle Callin. Guest appearances on the records include Tom Waits, Les Claypool, Dave Sherman, Troy Medlin, and Alan King of Hellstomper.
Hank 3 chooses to walk the dirty gravel back roads rather than take the seat at the front of the bus. His idea of rebellion is one of compassionate anarchy. His live shows include diverse musical sets featuring amazing old-school country, spirited honky tonk, hellbilly, punk and jackhammer thrash metal.
Hank 3 recently chatted with Livewire's Phil Bonyata on county music, Nashville, his heritage and warning us to never let a drunken stripper on your tour bus.
Livewire: Hi Hank, Phil from Livewire here.
Hank 3: Phil from Louisiana?
Livewire: No, Phil from Livewire.
Hank 3: Well, you know I'm always a scatter brain this time of year.
Livewire: Do you prefer Hank 3 or Hank?
Hank 3: Hank 3 is what it should be. That was always the plan way back in the beginning. I had an ordeal with Curb Records, it was Hank Williams III then. So, Hank 3 is good with me man.
Livewire: What's the musical progression from Hank Williams to Hank Williams, Jr. to Hank 3?
Hank 3: Well, I do something a little different really. I'd say that Hank Sr. covered country music as well as it could be covered. If I were just a country singer I don't think that I would have the respect with my fans and people in the industry over the years. I think they would have been like "He's just riding Hank Williams coattails and taking the easy way out, you know and be a one hit wonder." I tried to do things a little bit differently. My heroes were The Melvins, Black Flag and all of these people with these different work ethics that were a lot more independent. I guess that's the best way to say it.
Livewire: How about your father? (Hank Williams, Jr.)
Hank 3: Well, he was pushed out on stage when he was eight years old. They told him to go out there and sound like your dad and it took him a long time to find his sound. I mean he basically had to fall off a mountain and kill himself before he found his sound. But, he brought a lot of different elements to his fans. He was listening to The Allman Brothers and Lynyrd Skynyrd back in the day and hung out with them. He used to go by the name Rockin' Randall Hank back in high school. My Lynyrd Skynyrd was just by chance Black Flag, Pantera and all these more heavier kinds of music for me.
Livewire: By your audacious release of four records at the same time last Fall, featuring country, Doom-rock and speed metal - you were able to package your varied musical styles into one brand at a singular moment. What was your motivation for this?
Hank 3: Well, I've been held back for so long really. All these writers would say that "he does country, he does hillbilly, he does metal and no one really has been able to grasp how diverse I can be in the music world. That was a lot of inspiration for me and while I got the energy I've been playing the longest shows of my life. Delivering four different sounds in over three hours a night. And I wanted to give my fans a chance to buy a Hank 3 CD. The stoner rock CD - here's this part of the show, and if you wanted the speed metal set you could buy Attention Deficit Domination. I've never been able to sell my own music at my own shows.
Livewire: I saw you live about 10 years ago in Milwaukee and I've never seen a more diverse cross section of people (country boys, hillbillies, punkers, metal heads, goths and 8 to 80 year olds) at any concert in my entire life and I've been to hundreds and hundreds of concerts. Where does your universal appeal lie?
Hank 3: We fought hard to have the open minds coming together for that. I'm trying to give the consumer the longest show for the cheapest ticket price available. And you know off the bat I'm going to pay respect to my roots, so that's going to give me the older folks, the average everyday guys and then you have a lot of the hardcore kids that are starting to get into the old Johnny Cash and all that stuff. I put on a diverse show that gets the diverse audience. I mean it took me a long time to get accepted into the rock "club." I always say that 18 to 80 is our crowd. It's all over the place. When we were at Wacken Festival (a large open air music festival held in Germany) Dave Lombardo (Slayer's drummer) came knocking' at my door and said "dude it was awesome to see some country during this big metal festival." That was a good feeling to have one of my heros say that.
Livewire: Give ma a challenge in your life that you haven't had the heart to take on yet?
Hank 3: Well, there's all kinds. One is understanding music theory. I wish I understood it, but I don't.
Livewire: Well, do you apply yourself hard enough or just don't take the time to learn?
Hank 3: I've had learning disabilities my whole life and its just been tough for me. I can write a song, make a record, play drums all this stuff, but I don't understand how it works. It's something that I will never give up on, I mean I would love to do a solo like Angus Young (AC/DC) or Tony Iommi (Black Sabbath) or Ted Nugent back in '75.
Livewire: Is your grandfather any closer to be reinstated into the Grand Ole Opry? (Editor's note: Hank Williams was kicked out of the coveted country institution in 1952 due to his severe alcoholism and has never been reinstated, Hank 3 is fronting a movement to get get his grandfather reinstated)
Hank 3: Well all we can do is talk about it. I think if anyone wants to do the research the 200th edition of Mojo magazine - that writer put it in the best perspective. He was able to find all the big time people and find all of the loopholes and he said "you have him listed as being a member online, but in reality you don't want to pay respect to him." He put the whole thing in the best words that I've ever seen. All we can do is talk about it and spread the word and hopefully one day they will have a ceremony to send Hank back home. I mean we're not asking for some $25,000 statue...we're just asking for one simple ceremony saying that we respect Hank Williams and we are proud to have him as part of our history.
Livewire: How is your relationship with your father?
Hank 3: Well, it's always been tough I mean he never really had a father to raise him and he's busy with his other new kids and you know, his other wife and stuff like that. It is what it is. I'm busy these days just worrying about my son and get him through college and try to be there for him as much as I can. At least my kid knows if it's good news or bad news I want him to always bounce it off of me and you don't have to worry about me judging you. I want him to know that I'm here for you at whatever level. My kid is a lot like me - he's wearing' the same kind of clothes and into different stuff like me.
Livewire: Why has Nashville been so reticent for so long on backing talented young Country artists or many of the living legends today?
Hank 3: Alls I can really say is that its gotta be just a business deal, man. In the late '50s the lawyers outsmarted the musicians and took over the business. Nowadays the power is getting back into the musicians' hands with YouTube and the internet and all of the technology that we have nowadays makes the playing field a little more even. I've always looked at guys like The Melvins and Rev. Horton Heat and these guys that beat down the road and play music to play music and whatever happens happens and that's been the best approach because you're not setting yourself up to be letdown. In my eyes I've already played with my heroes and had the most ultimate times. If I died tomorrow I'd be fucking proud and happy on all I was able to do. I approach every show like it's the last and every record like it's the last. You never know man...
Livewire: What was your experience working with the great Tom Waits?
Hank 3: Yeah, me and Tom at least got to talk about it a long time before it actually happened. And he's been watching my career a little bit as far as respects go. I mean Tom Waits, Les Claypool...having my underground heroes on the latest record that I put out which is a country record was definitely a huge highlight. That helps me to have that diverse audience, I mean I'm all over the place.
Livewire: What was one of your most bizarre concert experiences?
Hank 3: There's been a lot of funny stuff and scary stuff. When my granddad was doing this there would be guns and knives in bars. There would be a huge fight going on and people getting stabbed and we've had similar thing go on at our shows. We've never had a shooting, but that rowdiness has always been there. One of my big highlights is having David Allen Coe and Dimebag (Darrell of Pantera fame) watching the show and going back to Dimebag's house after the show to record with them two. So about 7 A.M. Dimebag and Vinnie (Paul of Pantera) used to have this strip club thing going on and there was this crazy girl around everybody all night and everybody knew don't hang out with her because she's going to be trouble and somebody let her up on our bus and we were like "man you need to get her off of here because she's going to fuck everything up!!" Sure enough, she was walking down the street and raising all kinds of hell and the neighbors called the police and here comes three or four Texas county officers and this girl is saying "I was up on that bus and they were giving me drugs and trying to rape me!" And earlier our bus got stuck as we pulled into Dimebag's. So, I had five cops talking to me at 7:30 in the morning saying "You got 45 minutes to get out of our county or we're going to find a reason to take you to jail." I said "officer I'm waiting' to get us unstuck and we're out of here. My great night all of a sudden turned into a bad reality.
Livewire: You can take three albums with you on a desert isle - what would they be?
Hank 3: Oh man, another one of those really hard ones! Well, I'm listening to so much stuff from the past, man that I would have to say Pink Floyd's The Wall, Jimmy Martin's old beat just to have an acoustic reference and to keep it rockin' for me I would say whatever biggest Black Sabbath box set that there is out there. I'm sure that would keep me occupied. (laughs)
Livewire: Gimmie three words to describe Hank 3.
Hank 3: hmmmm...How about "doin' it different."
Livewire: Hank 3 is rebel cool. Is that an image you nurture or does it come naturally?
Hank 3: Well, it's a little bit of both. Some of my heros are loud and truly don't give a fuck and that's why they're rock stars and super hardcore. I'm like that to a point, but I draw the line because I do care about my music and my fans and, you know, be there for them as much as possible. But, with a lot of the hardcore stuff, especially that's more like hate-filled, they gotta be that fighter or that full on "fuck you" attitude because that's what it's about, I'd say it's a little different for me. I mean the rebel thing...I went to Franklin Rebel High School and I always tried to talk about being a rebel more so than an outlaw and it was just what I was raised around. I march to a different beat, I'm a little more independent.
Livewire: So, you're rebel with a cause?
Hank 3: Pretty much. It's hard to step out of Hank Williams shadow you know.
Hank Williams, Jr.