"What I'm fighting for is the new breed of country outlaws, the underground country singers out there who are fighting and playing music because they love it, not because of the money or the game."
Hank Williams III is following a family tradition. Granddaddy Hank changed the face of country music and inspired generations of rockers with his innovative style. Hank Jr. embraced the outlaw country rock sound. Hank III mixes his granddaddy's style with his father's outlaw ways and his own punk/metal attitude.
That hasn't been easy. A few years back, when Hank III went into a club, he'd have to threaten to shoot his way out. It wasn't the country side of his music that got him into trouble. Hank III has two parts to his shows. The country material, which he performs with The Damn Band, and the metal side, performed with the Assjack band. It was when he performed his punk/metal tunes in honky-tonks that all hell broke loose. Hank has since gotten that sorted out. "I ain't gonna have some coked-up, redneck promoter sayin' 'What the fuck did you just do in my club?'" the singer says.
Hank III now primarily plays rock clubs, which he says gets his country and rock following into an environment where they're used to some angst and energy. It took a while to get that respect, though. Rock clubs didn't want him because they thought he was country. But things changed when they heard he was touring with the Melvins, Beck and the Rev. Horton Heat. "I'm proud to say that we're the only band in the world that ever had a (mosh) pit in Billy Bobs', and I know we're the only band in the world that's ever done a heavy metal show at Buck Owens' Crystal Palace."
When he wants to be, he can be so traditional that even the Grand Ole Opry accepts him a guest. But it's not a place the singer is all that fond of. "Back in the '50s, the Opry was a bunch of young people. But now, it's turned into Branson, musically," says the fiery country metal rocker, who says he's played the Opry "10 or 12" times. "It's a honor and it's cool, but they should be trying to make it a little more youth oriented." But the Opry management keeps inviting him back anyway. "I know I got respect from 'em even with my wild ways. My old man's brought them more wrong than I have," says the singer. But III's biggest beef is the Opry not reinstating Hank Williams as a Grand Ole Opry member "even though they have a fake Hank Williams at the door greeting people. That's the least they can do if they're gonna rape his name like that."
Hearing Hank III sing country is an unsettling experience. On his last Curb release, Lovesick Broke and Driftin', he sounds just like Hank the first, from the flat nasal whine to the heartbreak in the voice. The lyrics reveal a different generation, but still a Williams rebel progeny when he talks about tokin' on "Nighttime Ramblin Man," or trashes Nashville on "Trashville:" "I used to think that country was out of Nashville, Tennessee/ but I don't think country is here because they killed it, you see."
It would seem that the album, with twelve country and honky-tonk originals and a down home cover of Springsteen's "Atlantic City" would satisfy III's country side, but he says it ain't so. "I'm gonna have to make my own bootlegs and hang myself to make the album that I want," III declares. He's put out four bootlegs already, and urges fans to audiotape and videotape his shows to get his real product out.
The singer says that rappers are part of his problem, along with a parental advisory being put on his records. "Cause we're dealing with Snoop Dog and Eminem and all these guys that are talking about killing and ho's and bitches and money and all that crap, and it is 2004."
III believes that getting one of his biggest songs, "The Dick in Dixie," on record is getting a step closer to the right direction. "I'm here to put the dick in Dixie," Williams sings, "cause the kind of country I hear nowadays is a bunch of shit to me." The singer wants to show younger fans that there is some attitude out there, some rawness they can respect. CMT, he says, doesn't cut it with the young generation. "It's just gotten fake and plastic. And if Toby Keith is the outlaw of country music today, well that's a sad situation."
Williams is working hard to remedy that situation. Along with his metal-country act, he spent more than 200 dates last year touring as the bassist for Superjoint Ritual, a metal supergroup featuring Pantera lead singer Phillip H. Anselmo, and he's only doing the Hank III shows until that band gets ready to go out again.
One thing Williams hasn't found time for is reconciling with his father. "He's hangin' out with Kid Rock, so that just says it all, man," he says with disgust. "That nips that in the bud. I don't need to be around that AT ALL! Whenever he gets a divorce, maybe me and him'll hang out. Whenever he comes back to the real world. I love him as an entertainer and everything that he's done. But as far as our personal shit, that's just what it is."
Hank III's immediate future involves more battles with lawyers and label-owner Mike Curb. He wants out. Curb, he said, needs to "get the vision I'm Hank Williams out of his head."
After another five or six month respite with Superjoint, III'll be back as himself, ready and willing to do battle for his vision of country. "I'll be back here beatin' down the road again, waiting for the lawyers to figure it out."
Hank Williams III plays Cat's Cradle, Sunday, Feb. 22 at 9 p.m. Tickets are $13 in advance, $15 day of show.