No other family of music artists like the forebears of this legendary name - Hank Williams - have captured the heart of what it means to be a country outlaw, a Southern rebel, a despicable bastard in the eyes of our more uppity brothers and sisters. Three generations of this inglorious family have dominated the Southern consciousness since the early 1930s when the name's original bearer - (Hiram) Hank Williams, Sr. - picked up his Silvertone guitar and stepped in front of the microphone in Montgomery, Alabama, transcending into American mythology.
"Hank Williams was playing rock-n-roll before rock-n-roll was," explains his grandson (Shelton) Hank Williams III in a recent phone interview about his upcoming triple-threat release - Brothers of the 4x4, a double vinyl, and A Fiendish Threat - and concert at the Rail Club on Sunday, August 25, at 11:00 p.m. "[Bocephus] Hank Jr. always leaned towards southern rock. I think it's kind of natural for me to go to a little more extremer music."
"Extremer" is an understatement. Songs like "Dick in Dixie," "Cunt of a Bitch" and "PFF" - the punch, fight, fuck song - indicate the life of a man who breathes torment and exhales aggression. "Man, I live out 90 percent of my songs," says Hank III, "and the other 10 percent... once in a while, I'll put myself in someone else's shoes and try to go down that road."
"Straight to Hell," one of his 90 percent songs, for example, encompasses Hank III's philosophy and provides insight into his desire to push his music to the next level of extreme:
Well, my worn out boots are takin' me down town An' I'm lookin' for trouble an' I wanna get loud. Serve me up a drink an' I'll shoot it right down, An' I'll jump up on the bar an' holler: 'One more round!'
"I'm goin' straight to hell. Ain't nothin' slowin' me down. An I'm goin' straight to hell. So you just better get me one more round.
Hank III hasn't always been goin' straight to hell. When he was a child, his mother would play some of country's greatest legends, including Willie Nelson, Johnny Paycheck and David Allen Coe. It was music heaven for a grandson of Hank Williams. "My mom was always playing Elvis around the house or ZZ Top, so there was always rock-n-roll and country being played," says Hank III, whose own legendary status is rising every time he plays another three-hour show filled with country, punk and metal. "My first record was a Kiss record. Then I started getting into Queen, some Heart, older Ted Nuget, a lot of classic rock-n-roll."
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These influences eventually led Hank III to the dark side of rock: Punk. "That kind of set me on my way as far as a different kind of music I really identified with," he says. The Sex Pistols, Dead Kennedys and 7 Seconds are just some of the bands who found a home in his record collection.
From the age of 7, Hank III had a drum kit, and at age 10, he went on stage at the Fox Theater in Atlanta and backed up his father on "Family Tradition." "Energy wise, playing the drums was a lot of fun; I just felt like it was a natural fit for me." But eventually he followed in his father's and grandfather's footsteps and picked up a guitar. "My first electric guitar was a SG, but one of my babysitters stole it; I never did get to rock out on that guitar as much."
Despite his experience playing one of country music's greatest songs with one of country music's greatest legends, Hank III wasn't convinced that playing country music was the path for him. His first band Gravediggers played a mixture of garage/punk rock. It was a "spending a night at your friend's house" kind of band. "We were all jammin'," he says. "I still got those tapes."
Over the years, Hank III has played a variety of instruments in various punk rock bands - Shroud, Buzzkill, Whipping Post and Rift. "I was a drummer in a band," he says. "I was a guitar player in a band. I was a bass player in a band. I was a screamer in a band. I'm involved in the recording aspects of it. I record my own records. I engineer my records." When he's on the road, he also helps set up the gear, run the backline and switch tubes on the amps. "I'm pretty hands-on on a lot more than just strumming the acoustic guitar and writing some words. I've been very involved, very hands-on for most of my career."
This work ethic has led to some of the South's most successful "hellbilly" shows that draws people from the woodwork. "I'm goin' through a lot of different sounds," he says. It's three hours of his "hellbilly" sound: a mixture of country, doom metal, speed metal and, finally, heavy metal at the end of the night. "I don't know how much longer I'll be able to keep on doin' that, but dammit, I'm goin' to keep tryin' as long as I can. Forty is definitely not agreeing with me. It's just one of those things, man."
Hank III's latest triple-threat release begins with Brothers of the 4x4. "It's a traditional country record," he says. "It's got your slow country songs if you need to get some bad emotions out. It's got a couple of, you know, the not as sad kind of songs and a couple of songs that just aren't really country but they're kind of folky soundin'."
It's hard to put Hank III's hellbilly sound into a category. Songs like "Farther Away," "Held Up" and "Deep Scars" bleeds country, while "Ain't Broken Down" sounds like an anthem for the new South. Hank III proves that he not only understands the roots of his grandfather's influence but also infuses it into his hellbilly music. "When I make a country record, it's always very important for me to have a bango, steel and acoustic guitar, fiddle and a chicken pickin' guitar on it. Those are really the deep roots of country music for me."
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A Fiendish Threat is country punk rock. "It's done on an acoustic guitar with a little bit of fuzz on it and a stand-up basss beatin' it down," says Hank III, whose affection for punk rock has been infusing his music for more than a decade. "It's a different singin' voice for me. A lot of people who've known me for 10 years say, 'Man, if you hadn't told me it was you, I wouldn't have guessed. It just doesn't sound like you.' That's a good thing for me. That just means I'm changin' it up."
"Different From The Rest," "Watchin' U Suffer" and "A Fiendish Threat" are just some of the songs that echo Hank III's punk influences, like a hybrid between the music of the Sex Pistols, the Dead Kennedys and his grandfather Hank Williams. "Not everybody will get it," he explains, "but some people will understand the creative process that's going on."
Be sure to check out Hank III at the Rail Club on Sunday, August 25, for one of this summer's most memorable country metal shows. "We try to tell folks to be on time to the show," says Hank III. "We usually start early, and for the ladies who might come out, I always tell them not to wear open-toed shoes 'cause it can get a little rowdy sometimes. Aside from that, man, it should be a hot night in Fort Worth."