A CONVERSATION WITH
HANK WILLIAMS III (A.K.A. HANK3)
By Michael McDowell
“Both the popular country music and the popular rock music of today leave much to be desired. It will get to the point that people will just get tired of its sameness and start demanding something a little bit better. I hope that’s where I come in. I’m very confident in my own abilities now. I hope everyone else will pick up on it.”
So said country rock pioneer Hank Williams Junior in an interview with Editor/Publisher Michael McDowell in Blitz Magazine #32, which was published in September 1979. Although it would be nearly a decade before the so-called New Traditionalist movement would for one last time bring to fruition Williams’ vision for country music, the genre’s subsequent protracted aesthetic slump (combined with mainstream rock’s seeming inability to rectify its own situation) makes Williams’ observations all the more timely well into the twenty-first century.
In what is widely regarded as his signature track, the 1979 Family Tradition single (Elektra E-46046), Hank Williams Junior good naturedly celebrated what was generally perceived as the common thread between him and his legendary father, country music giant Hank Williams. But as is often the case, the difference between outside observers’ perceptions and reality can be substantial.
In the case of the Williams family, the common thread has actually been an extraordinary, God-given gift for artistic ability and creativity. Not so that each subsequent generation can dutifully follow in the footsteps of the earlier ones, but so that all concerned can assert their respective creative muse and produce unique and individual works of art that stand on their own merits.
To be certain, Hank Williams set the bar about as high as it can be set in that respect. In turn, Hank Williams Junior took into consideration his own inspirations, and for the past half century has established a most impressive legacy as one of the founding fathers of country rock with his various releases for MGM, Warner Brothers, Elektra and other labels.
Most recently, the current generation of the Williams family has grown exponentially in terms of breaking new ground. Beginning with the release of The Ones We Never Knew (Universal South 623392) in October 2004, Hank Williams Junior’s daughter, Holly Audrey Williams has since established herself as one of the premier singer/songwriters in all of music. Her third and most recent album, The Highway on her own Georgiana label is one of the most compelling new releases of 2013 to date.
All of which culminates in the work of a man who may well be the among the most qualified to not only rescue country music from the doldrums, but to inspire the world of music at large onto greater heights. Born Shelton Hank Williams in Nashville, Tennessee on 12 December 1972, Hank Williams III (also known as Hank3) has, since his 1999 debut as a solo artist with the release of Risin’ Outlaw for Curb Records, charted for himself a most unique and ambitious musical course.
As the son of Hank Williams Junior, Hank3 by definition was blessed with the creative capabilities that are indigenous to his bloodline. But as an avid musicologist, multi-instrumentalist and hardcore record collector, Hank3 also brings a wealth of experience and artistic acumen to the table. A firm believer in musical diversity, Hank3’s personal vinyl, cassette and CD archives include such inspirational visionaries as the late, great banjo virtuoso, David “Stringbean” Akeman and indie rock pioneers (and one-time Blitz Magazine cover story subjects), Black Flag.
In particular, Black Flag’s former front man, Henry Lawrence “Henry Rollins” Garfield has had a significant impact on Hank3, particularly in terms of his stringent work ethic. Likewise a relentless perfectionist, Hank3 has always made a concerted effort to persevere without compromise. While such noble aspirations may have temporarily cost him some momentum in terms of widespread notoriety, he nonetheless has amassed a most impressive recorded legacy along the way, with such triumphs as his 2002 Lovesick, Broke & Driftin’ album for Curb Records and the rather candid 2010 release, Rebel Within for Sidewalk Records to his credit.
In mid-2013, Hank3 once again took an ambitious step; this time in the form of two new albums that celebrate both of his primary musical interests. Recorded over a period of four months in his home studios (with Hank3 handling both drums and guitar, as well as production, mixing and mastering duties), the country-themed double album, Brothers Of The 4x4 also features Zach Shedd on stand up bass, David McElfresh and Billy Contreras on fiddle, Andy Gibson on steel guitar, Johnny Hiland on lead guitar, and Daniel Mason on banjo, with a special guest appearance by one-time National Old-Time Banjo champion, Leroy Troy.
In turn, the hardcore-flavored A Fiendish Threat affords Hank3 the opportunity to showcase his punk rock inclinations, which he does therein with resounding success. Brothers Of The 4x4 and A Fiendish Threat are scheduled for 01 October 2013 release on his own Hank3 label in both the CD and vinyl configurations. Hank3 is celebrating these new releases with a fourteen-date tour that will conclude on 08 September, including stops in Indianapolis, Flint, Pittsburgh, Washington D.C., Charlotte and Atlanta.
In the following conversation (which transpired on 07 August 2013), Hank3 shares not only his unique perspective as a member of country music’s royal family, but also the many varied inspirations behind his ambitious and engaging original material. To be certain, his is an artistic vision that at long last should appease the musical appetites of those whom are (in his father’s words), “demanding something a little bit better”.
BLITZ: It’s good to see that the so-called Family Tradition has continued in your case. Not necessarily in terms of one generation following in the direction of another, but in that each has maintained a high level of creativity in their own right.
HANK3: It’s always a challenge, trying to stand on your own two feet. Even if you’re Dale Earnhardt Junior or Frank Zappa’s son. Over the years, I’ve been lucky enough to find my own niche and my own voice. That can be a hard task, going up against Hank Senior and Hank Junior!
But my fans have stuck with me throughout the years. There have been a lot of great shows and a lot of different sounds that have come out of me over that period!
BLITZ: You came into an appreciation of music at a relatively early age. As early as the late 1970s, you were already expressing an interest in music and starting to accumulate a record collection. You had an advantage in that respect because of whom your father was, and he no doubt brought a lot of music to your attention.
But by that same token, you came into it right at the height of the burgeoning new wave/punk movement. It seems as though all of that factored into creating a richly diverse musical background for you. Did that concurrently spark your interest as a collector and a musicologist at that time, as well?
HANK3: It’s a little bit of both. My mom and my aunt always had interesting music around. Since I had a drum set and all of these different sounds, I kept trying to play along with Elvis Presley or Queen. Or when I got a little older, Gary Numan and the Sex Pistols. That’s basically how I learned how to play a lot of my instruments. It was kind of a natural progression for me on the guitar and on the drums.
For Hank Junior, Southern Rock was his thing. For Hank Senior, it was a little bit of country, blues and rock and roll. For me, it was just natural to learn other styles of music.
BLITZ: In a sense, you also carried on that perspective. Your grandfather reportedly had an interest in rhythm and blues, which was just coming into its own at that time. In turn, when Blitz Magazine interviewed your father, he mentioned that one of his early inspirations was Chubby Checker.
By that same token, from the onset, you seem to have embraced the rock of major label bands like Deep Purple, as well as the relatively underground movement espoused by Black Flag, the Sex Pistols and the Ramones with equal passion. Interestingly enough, at that time, those two camps were somewhat at odds, as though one was out to overtake or replace the other. Since that time, it seems that both camps have reconciled, though. Yet it seems that you always embraced both camps without that mindset.
HANK3: I’ve seen what you’re talking about. Sometimes jealousy or all of that stuff can come against bands. For me, that was a bit of a tricky one. When I was growing up, I liked Motley Crue. But I also liked Black Flag! Like you were saying, the followers of both were running down the street, hating each other as much as possible.
But with me, I just tried to keep an open mind. Throughout the country part of my show, I try to respect things, as I always try to give people their money’s worth. In the first part of the show, I always say, “I appreciate your coming out. I’m going to be doing some of these other sounds, which some of you might not like.” I think that kind of work ethic has helped me out in the long run, whereas it might have caused some issues with other bands.
BLITZ: There have been cases where artists have tried to move off into different directions or different genres. Or artists have taken careers that were established in one field and tried to establish themselves in another. Yet in those cases, there almost always seems to be some sort of resistance there.
You have always maintained that perspective. Yet for some reason, it seemed to have taken a long time before you committed your musical vision to record. You were involved in the Three Hanks project in 1996, in which you sang with your father and your grandfather’s recordings. But you didn’t make your debut as a solo artist until 1999, with the release of your Risin’ Outlaw album. Why the delay in putting your ideas into fruition?
HANK3: First of all, I wasn’t that crazy about that record, Three Hanks. I thought it was going to look bad, as if, “We’re paving the way for Hank3”. I naturally said, “Why don’t you wait ten years and then put that kind of record out?”
It was an honor to sing with Hank Senior and Hank Junior. But I definitely didn’t like the way that was done, being my very first country record.
The reason for the delay of the release of Risin’ Outlaw was up to Curb Records. They were getting used to me, and I was getting used to them. As time has gone on, I have probably been on my sixth year now without a manager. In some ways, it has worked to my benefit, just having the distribution company out there and putting out what I do, then going out on the road and trying to do it that way.
BLITZ: You did go with Curb Records for the release of the Risin’ Outlaw album. You may or may not be aware of it, but in the 1960s, Mike Curb was involved with the Sidewalk and Tower labels, which were subsidiaries of Capitol Records. In the mid to late 1960s, they released a lot of film soundtracks and worked with independent first generation garage bands like the Standells, the Chocolate Watch Band and the Arrows.
Since that time, some of the artists who were involved with him have shared your sentiments about their experiences. Presumably you never sought out any of them for advice in that respect, then.
HANK3: Not really. It’s definitely a tough business. If you’re an artist or a musician that knows what your sound is and you know what you want on your records, it can always be a challenge.
For an artist like me, they just didn’t understand or get what I was doing. It doesn’t matter if you’re as big as someone on a huge scale level like Tim McGraw, or someone on a smaller level like myself. It seems like some of those same problems come up in the conversations!
BLITZ: Despite the circumstances behind it, if you look at the Risin’ Outlaw album from the perspective of an impartial, third party observer, there are definitely some tracks of merit in there. For example, it is very easy to be taken with your cover of Bobby Edwards’ You’re The Reason, which of course was also covered in 1965 by Gerry and the Pacemakers. You did a great, great job on that track. What inspired you to cover it?
HANK3: Honestly, I would go through all of the tapes and listen to the songs. And if I was going to be doing someone else’s songs, I at least got to pick out the songs. At the time that album was cut, the original version stood out a lot to me.
BLITZ: You once indicated that on the Risin’ Outlaw album, there are only a couple of tracks that still met with your standards. Presumably one of them was If The Shoe Fits, which states your case as an emerging artist quite well. In other words, “This is where I stand. You might not like it, but I am standing behind who I am”. Is that a fair assessment?
HANK3: Definitely! I would be down at Polygram or something, and see all of these people writing songs in offices. And I thought, “I’m not sure what the difference between y’all’s song is and one of my songs!” Songs like If The Shoe Fits, Mississippi Mud or Country Heroes, all of those in my eyes are decent songs.
Those are for my fans, and that was definitely one of the first to help get me on my way. It was before the heavy rhythm, high energy gallop was coming into play. But it was getting there!
BLITZ: You seem to have hit your stride in that respect with your next album, Lovesick, Broke & Driftin’.
HANK3: Yes! Working with (co-producer) Joe Funderburk on that record, and having (steel guitarist) Kayton Roberts there, working with musicians like that is always an awesome experience! It was a good learning curve. That was one of the last records that I got to do on tape to tape on the machines, pre-digital.
BLITZ: There is one song in particular on the Lovesick, Broke & Driftin’ album in which you and Blitz Magazine are definitely on the same page in that respect, the song Trashville. It seems to be an answer song of sorts within the country genre to Bob Seger’s Back In ’72, in which he talks about how the self indulgence in much of the music of the early 1970s crushed the music which had inspiration and took away the heart and the creative element. There were people who were trying to express themselves personally as individuals, but there was an undue obsession at the time with image and socio-political causes that took away from the heart of the music.
To take it a step further, Blitz Magazine has long maintained that country music’s last collective gasp of consequence was the so-called New Traditionalist movement of the late 1980s and early 1990s, where artists like Dwight Yoakam, Clint Black, Carlene Carter, the Desert Rose Band and Highway 101 came in; plus a lot of the long time greats were concurrently able to return to the spotlight, like Waylon Jennings, George Jones, Johnny Cash, Buck Owens and your father. Would you say that was the cut off point when Nashville became Trashville? Or what was the cut off point for you?
HANK3: It goes back to that independent streak that I’ve had. I’ve always known myself and I’ve always known my songs. I’ve never really understood why someone needed to tell me how to write a song. If you think like that and you play like that, it’s not going to get you very far in Nashville!
I love living in Tennessee, and I love being born and raised in Nashville. There are just two streets that I didn’t get along with that well, as far as business goes. Because if you are a super creative person like you are saying, it’s a tough gig. For someone like me, they just didn’t understand what I do. It’s a challenge when you’re involved in it. The managers, the lawyers, the producers and all of that stuff.
Even back when I first started in Branson, they said, “You know what you need to do, and you know how to do it”. And that’s what I have always basically done. I had to do some time with Curb for a little while, just to get out there. But the deal is still writing the majority of my songs and trying to get out there on the road, doing the best I can and trying to hang in there with it.
It depends on what you’re in it for. I was in it for my sound, my songs. That’s just natural when you’re coming with a bloodline that’s as creative as mine! Some people get into it just to record that song that’s going to become a hit and definitely be played on that radio station. I have been just a little more independent in my ways of thinking.
BLITZ: It’s interesting that you have stuck with Nashville geographically. Consider the following scenario: In the early 1990s, an individual of our acquaintance was a successful radio producer in Southern California. But when the Northridge earthquake struck in January 1994, he panicked and relocated to Nashville, leaving behind his successful $100,000 a year career in Los Angeles.
His idea behind relocating to Nashville was to find success in that field in country music. But about a year after he relocated there, we spoke with the pastor of his church. The pastor told us, “Your friend came out here to die, and to die big time”. Instead of furthering his career in that respect, the former radio producer was now cleaning the house, taking out the trash and mowing the lawn for a successful Nashville producer and living close to the bone. Does such a scenario sound familiar from what you have observed? And if so, what did those involved do about it?
HANK3: For me, it’s not quite that bad. If you don’t set yourself up for that huge fall, then you’re never going to fall. Unfortunately, I have never been used to making that much money! I’ve just been out there trying to figure out how to break even. I had to file bankruptcy about ten years ago, just to keep it out on the road. But being born and raised here, I have gotten a lot of the respect of the old timers. That’s a tough one!
I’ve kept it inside of the bars. There’s something of beauty of not going outside of the bars. It’s been the perfect thing of not too big, not too small. I think that’s helped me a lot over the years.
BLITZ: To that effect, you have maintained your integrity, which means at least being able to sleep at night. We can return to the Lovesick, Broke & Driftin’ album as an example. The opening song, 7 Months, 39 Days is a masterpiece of the traditional country template. You took that sound and put your own personal, distinctive stamp on it. It sounds as though you are in solidarity with that genre of music yourself, yet you want to keep it within your own framework.
HANK3: I’m always open to working with other people. But when it comes to my records, I’m writing the songs! I am at least in a position now that’s great, when another musician calls me up and says, “Hey, man. You wanna sing on this record?” I say, “Sure!” I get to do it, and I have no problems.
I don’t have to miss out on a lot of great opportunities nowadays. I got to record with David Allan Coe. I’ve had Junior Brown here at the house. He likes the way I record and the vibe of the house. There are a lot of things I’m involved with. I’m not totally opposed to working with other people. I did a project for Alamo Jones, just for the sake of doing it. We did like a five song EP. I’m always trying to be creative. I’m just not trying to be creative with other people as much, but the door is still open.
BLITZ: You seem to have made peace with your so-called Family Tradition a lot earlier on than perhaps your father did. Early on in his own situation, the obvious reference point for his concerns in that respect was his 1966 Standing In The Shadows single for MGM. He took a stand for himself, and he did so quite well.
On the other hand, you have also taken quite an impressive stand for yourself. You have done what you do very well for roughly the past fifteen years. Yet you don’t hesitate to give credit where credit is due, and that’s great.
If nothing else, you have demonstrated that the Family Tradition means that the spark of creativity is found in each successive generation, but in an individual way. For example, a couple of years ago, you made a guest appearance on Marty Stuart’s television program, in which you sang an absolutely spot on, bone chilling version of your grandfather’s My Sweet Love Ain’t Around. Then you turned around and did it your own way, underscoring that the common theme of the bloodline is that each generation is creative, but in their own right. Is that assessment on target?
HANK3: Definitely! Once in a while, I will do a tribute to Hank Senior, just because there will never be another one. No one will ever come that close to doing it as good. You won’t see me doing a whole Hank Williams show. You will only see me doing a few. Maybe a couple of songs every now and then, but it’s usually for friends, or just for paying respect.
When I think of Hank Junior and Hank Senior and all of the things that they’ve done, I am strictly mesmerized as a musician, and as a songwriter, about all of the different phases that they have been through in life. So that is something with me. When I’m listening to music, I am always thinking about the process that they had to go through to write the songs. How they might have had to get up at 5:30 in the morning and go down to the radio station. How did they have a voice that early in the morning? I’m amazed by the talent and how they got it done.
BLITZ: Do you think it is possibly a matter of perception? For example, you are presumably familiar with the 2012 reissue CD on the Time Life label, Lost Concerts, which features two complete and previously unreleased 1952 concerts by Hank Senior. The traditional accounts of his life often suggest that things were not going well for him in 1952, with one challenge after another. Yet if you listen to the Lost Concerts CD, what is more than evident on there is an artist who is very much on top of his game. He was doing stand up comedy, his delivery was brilliant, he radiated joy and he was in absolute command of the proceedings. If indeed there were issues extant in his circumstances, you couldn’t make a convincing case of it with that record!
By that same token, certain things were expected of you. Curb Records and the Nashville elite wanted this and that out of you. But you defied their expectations and did things quite well. Is that then a case of the bloodline maintaining its independence and its creative spark?
HANK3: I think it just kind of shows itself naturally. If you look at my whole music career, I’m not trying to be that negative punk. I’m just trying to do what feels natural to me. Some have said that I have held myself back for a lot of years. But it just goes back to that not being too big and not being too small. It’s just being in my niche! Being a drummer and a rhythm guitar player, throughout most of my young life has brought me into a situation like, when Johnny Hiland takes a solo on my record, he says, “Man, your rhythms just really stick out to me. I play on a lot of records around town, and no one has these kind of rhythms!”
So when I hear a compliment like that from someone who is looking at me in the now and not even at the past hardly at all, it’s good to hear that kind of a comment from such a high end musician. Theory and songwriting has always been tough for me with my learning disabilities over the years. It’s always a challenge to pump that stuff out.
BLITZ: It’s interesting that you alluded to exploring the dark themes. That interim period after the release of Rebel Proud, amidst those later Curb reissues, like Hillbilly Joker, Ghost To A Ghost/Gutter Town, 3 Bar Ranch Cattle Callin’ and Attention Deficit Domination, those albums seem to explore a lot of dark themes. Is it more of a situation of sharing first hand experiences, or perhaps doubling as a red flag of sorts to your audience, saying “Don’t go too far over the edge”? How do you view it?
HANK3: I would look at it more like when Johnny Cash would sing a sad lonesome song, or talking about taking his guns to town and killing somebody. You can only hear so much squeaky clean happy stuff on the radio, or whatnot. There has to be room for a lot of other stuff. I’ve just fallen into that “other stuff” category! I’m able to write about that other stuff a little more easily.
I definitely don’t try to push too much religion or too much politics. I do put it out there that yes, there is the light, and yes, there is the dark. And my granddad sang about the light, and he sang about the dark. I’m kind of doing it that same way. The genres are just a little more extreme nowadays. There is a whole genre called doom metal, which had that spooky, eerie, kind of ghostly feel to it.
Like on the new record, when I have songs like Deep Scars or Loners 4 Life, then I’ll turn around and put a good time feeling song in there, like Dreadful Drive, with the clawhammer banjo. Or Possum In A Tree, getting a little bit old school with Leroy Troy, just to brighten it up a little bit.
I’m always trying to keep some balance in mind. 3 Bar Ranch Cattle Callin’ is kind of a lighthearted, fun record. It’s not getting real serious. I tell all the kids that! I’m always trying to have that come across.
BLITZ: You have two of the best new albums of 2013 to date with Brothers Of The 4x4 and A Fiendish Threat. On the track Possum In A Tree in your new Brothers Of The 4x4 album, there is some inventive steel guitar work. The delivery is, like you said, pure. Is there an attempt with that track to capture some of the novelty spirit of the genre, as perhaps your grandfather did with Kaw-Liga?
HANK3: I wrote that song for Leroy Troy. Leroy Troy is a purist, clawhammer banjo king. Yes, I wanted that song to sound more old school. I wrote it with him in mind.
That was my first attempt at trying to play steel guitar. I took my recorder over there. Me and him tracked it live in his shed out back. There’s a lot of reasons why that song is going to stand out. It sounds a little more low-fi than a lot of the record would. There is a reason for that. As Leroy Troy would say, “And to top it off, it’s a true story, too!”
That was definitely a good, lighthearted, fun recording session. I can’t wait to play it for Leroy. He gets to hear it when it’s officially done. I want to see his expression in person!
BLITZ: You mentioned the musicianship of the band. The title track on Brothers Of The 4x4 and Lookey Yonder Comin’ both feature strong instrumental workouts that celebrate the joy of the lyrics, but also showcase the strong musicianship of those who are playing on there with you.
You have always surrounded yourself with really strong musicians, who tend to soar when given the opportunity. Do you find that outside players gravitate to your work for that reason?
HANK3: I’m lucky enough to have a lot of the same players come back every time I make a record. Over both records, there is two and a half hours of music. Yet there is only about twenty minutes of editing. So almost all of these songs might have taken a hundred times to get that one take. But that’s how we did it. The players are definitely steppin’ up to the plate on those songs, like you were saying.
Johnny Hiland was the first guy to lay down some outside stuff on it. Then Daniel Mason on the banjo, Andy Gibson on the steel guitar, and Zach Shedd on the stand up bass. It’s always a challenge, doing the engineering and the recording process of it. Sometimes the players look at me, wanting me to tell them what to play. Then other guys just already know what they’re going to play and lay it down.
BLITZ: It works very well in that respect, too. It seems like with the Brothers Of The 4x4 album, you are shifting the focus a bit more towards instrumental dexterity, rather than lyrical content. Would that be a fair assessment?
HANK3: I’ve always loved the great musicians. It just goes back to writing vocals being a challenge for me. Yeah, I like turning the band up! If you listen to my mixes, you’re going to hear kick drum and snare pretty loud. I’m a fan of the band.
When I was growing up, I never could understand why a lot of the live band members weren’t playing on the records. That always baffled me. So I am lucky enough nowadays that the majority of my live band plays on the record. I get to see some friends that I’ve made over the years come in and do some of the super pickin’, just layin’ it down like it was nothing. Johnny Hiland and Billy Contreras.
BLITZ: You mentioned the clawhammer style of banjo picking. In the past, you seem to have professed an interest in the real pioneers of that work, such as David “Stringbean” Akeman. He was a forerunner of that style when he recorded for Starday. You even covered one of his songs. Would you say that Outdoor Plan from your new album is an attempt to carry on his mission statement? Or at least that of Elton Britt, Uncle Dave Macon or Hank Snow? There is a little bit of all of them in that song.
HANK3: What you are basically picking up on is the man who has been like my grandfather growing up, and that’s Eddie Pleasant. He writes probably two to three songs per day. That song is a co-write, and a lot of those influences are coming across on that song. That’s probably what you’re feeling. Even though he loved it when it was just me and my acoustic guitar. I put a little more of a current kind of bounce under it.
There is a lot more Stringbean that I probably need to get close to. I have some of his records that I want to get to in the future. It brings me peace. When I’m not feeling good, I can just pick up the banjo, go outside and sit down under the tree. There’s something about it that soothes my soul! I know I’ll be doing a little more recording of that one day.
BLITZ: You have stated in recent years that you get that same gratification from sitting down and listening to your record collection. Does that still resonate with you?
HANK3: Absolutely! I go through my highs and lows. If I’m not super busy with the crew, and the trailer is loaded, the gear is in place and the merch is counted, I have some times! Hasil Adkins is one of the guys that can make me hurt if I need to hurt. I can put on some of his songs and definitely get past some emotions. If I feel like working strong through the day, I’ll have Jimmy Martin blasting in the background and getting some stuff done. Music is still definitely tapping into my emotions very strongly, when I’m just listening to it.
BLITZ: Have you added to your collection lately?
HANK3: Right now, I’m kind of stuck. I’ve been into a lot of ’70s rock and roll, and getting into a lot of Roy Duke. I’ve been fascinated with Dock Boggs over the years. Something about Dock Boggs has just grown more and more on me. There is something about the banjo and the singers.
I save a lot of it for when I’m on the road. That’s when I do a lot of my vinyl shopping. I haven’t been on the road in almost a year. So I’m a little out of touch!
BLITZ: You at least maintained enough of that inspiration to be creative enough in the studio to produce an album like A Fiendish Threat. If you were looking to perhaps capture the spirit of Black Flag, the Sex Pistols or, to a lesser extent, the Ramones, you nailed it!
HANK3: Whatever music style it is, whether we are calling it punk rock or not, I think it has a unique sound for it all being played and sang at the same time on the acoustic guitar. The acoustic and the stand up bass has made it its own little whatever people call it.
My friends that I have known my whole life are saying, “What are you calling this?” I just know that it was a record that was a lot of fun for me to record. It made me feel like I was a younger man on some of those vocal takes. A lot of high energy! Imagine a skateboarder that had a really bad wreck, and he’s got to piece himself back together. I’m putting a lot of the “rebuild yourself” kind of hope into that record. There are some positive messages in that one.
BLITZ: That brings to mind another tangent of your Family Tradition situation. You are of course a father. You have a son and a daughter. If either of them approaches you and seeks your advice on music, how would you guide them? What would you suggest to them?
HANK3: With my son, while he’s still in college, I am backing him, no matter what! I always tell him to learn a trade. He’s kind of going through spurts of playing the guitar for a while. Then he will play the banjo for a little bit. Then he will be all about capturing sound with tape decks! Either way, I’m always telling him to try to learn a trade, and play your guitar as much as possible. It’s going to take you a little while to figure out what your calling is.
But I am glad to have the open relationship and to be supportive. It’s always interesting to see him go through the changes, trying to figure out what he wants to do. My main thing is, “You’re young. Enjoy being young while you can. You know I’m here to help you out whenever you need it.”
BLITZ: During the times that you were both endeavoring to get started in your own respective careers, did you ever exchange feedback with your sister, Holly for ideas?
HANK3: Me and Holly have never talked all that much on a musical level, probably because we may both be a little bit afraid that we don’t want to offend each other! We just keep it as a family relationship. She knows that I respect her as a musician, and I think that she does the same. I think for right now that’s the best thing for us. We don’t want any of the business messing us up!
BLITZ: A couple of the more interesting tracks on A Fiendish Threat are Watchin’ U Suffer, Fight My Way and Full On. What is the background on those?
HANK3: Watchin’ You Suffer is in a deeper tuning. That’s one reason why it might sound a little different. It’s got a little bit of that melody kind of drive to it. That’s where a little bit of the sci-fi stuff might be coming in to it. If you’re thinking about some 1950s kind of alien movie, where they’re up in the sky watching you suffer, it’s that kind of thing.
Fight My Way is definitely inspired one hundred percent by 7 Seconds, to the point where I was calling them up and telling them, “This comes from y’all one hundred percent, and I need y’all’s permission before I can go through with this!” They gave me their blessings. That was a song that just spoke to me a lot when I was growing up.
Full On is just one of those creative, kind of going for it full on songs of energy, all at once.
BLITZ: When these two albums are released, you may confound expectations, but you should also meet them. Those who have known you and your music, and know that you have pursued multiple directions will be pleased to see how much your work has grown.
That of course leads to the issue of how these new releases will come to the attention of your audience. For example, of course for much of your father’s career, the goal was to get on a major label, make a record, get it on the radio, get it played, get the disc jockeys behind you, and then you will be a success.
But as you are no doubt aware, in the ensuing years, the game has changed radically in that the independent artist and label has largely taken over. Radio has lost a lot of its impact. Commercial music is no longer universally held up as the standard for all to attain. The major labels have pretty much begun to focus on reissues and catalog items, because they cannot do justice to artists as they once could, while a lot of the artists are doing that sort of thing for themselves now. Fan support, technology and social websites have further enabled the independent artist to do that. To what extent do you envision those developments furthering your own career?
HANK3: There is something that my dad had that I’ve never had. He had a great relationship with his managers. That is huge! I’ve never had that. I’ve had a couple that I had been close to for a little bit. But when you’re talking about Merle Kilgore and Hank Williams Junior, I’ve never had anything that powerful in my corner.
BLITZ: It was Merle Kilgore who set up the interviews that Blitz Magazine conducted with your father years ago. He couldn’t have been nicer. A world class gentleman.
HANK3: No doubt. But you need to understand that if you are talking about the music business, what Merle did for Hank Junior was pretty huge. It’s hard to say with an artist like me, but when I see some of my heroes in a tough situation when they get to an older age, it’s either going to work for me, or it’s not. It’s really hard to say.
I had taken advice from Henry Rollins a long time ago. He said, “You work hard. You tour hard. You know your sound. All you need is good distribution, and that’s it.” I’ve stuck by those words, and it’s helped me out a lot.
I’m not saying for certain, but one day I might have a manger again. Someone I feel comfortable with. But most of the time, I’ve found that there are some artists that management just doesn’t work for. I think I’m one of those, just because I’m creative in a lot of ways.
BLITZ: Henry Rollins has maintained a level of success over the decades by constantly reinventing himself. After he left Black Flag, he did spoken word recordings. Then he became an author and a newspaper columnist. Most recently, he has been dabbling in acting. He has been all over the map, but he has nonetheless had success in every one of those ventures. Like you said, he worked hard and asserted himself. Presumably that is also what you are trying to do right now.
HANK3: Absolutely! He is definitely one of my heroes. A lot of my heroes usually have a high work ethic. Sometimes I wish that I could hang in there as much as Henry does. He’s so smart, and he takes on everything. I am hoping to get more and more stronger as I go. People like him, who kind of understand my history a little bit, have helped me conquer a lot of my challenges.
After I’m fifty, I really don’t know what’s going to happen musically for me. It’s going to be hard for me to look past that. Having someone like Henry Rollins to look up to, shows me that there might be other things in life that will ring true for me some day.
BLITZ: So you aren’t thinking creative muse long term as much as you are a survival strategy.
HANK3: I’m more concerned about not being able to pull off the show that I want to pull off! Can I still put on the country and the heavy metal? Every tour is a challenge. I am definitely living more in the now than I am in the future, because if you look at my financial past and all of that, it’s always ups and downs. Every night when you play, sometimes there are a thousand people, some nights there are a hundred people. But they still get the same show! And I’m still there if I’m sick or if I’m well. I’m gonna be up on that stage, doing the best I can, and letting someone forget about their problems for a little while.
BLITZ: It’s interesting that you are concerned about being able to maintain and execute your musical vision once you pass a certain chronological point. In recent years, we have seen a lot of first generation garage rock and related bands such as the Yellow Payges, the Monkees, the Young Rascals, the Rolling Stones and the Beach Boys all take to the road again to considerable acclaim, in spite of such concerns. Would taking it from the standpoint of heightened self-confidence help in that respect?
HANK3: Absolutely! I’m always astounded by some of the older guys that can keep bringin’ it to the table. Two nights ago, I went and saw Adam Ant. The first time I saw him was in 1984. He still has the voice. He still sounds like the guy that I looked up to way back then. I am always amazed by the Iggy Pops and the Willie Nelsons. These guys are still out there singin’ and playin’ and takin’ it to the next level!
I am always fascinated with the voice. For me, the voice is something that is hard to hold on to. On the road, you lose it and it gets weak. It gets gravelly. And sometimes, when you get older, just listening to Hank Junior records, you can hear how much his voice dropped, aside from the mountain fall and all of that.
Or Robert Plant. He is another perfect example of how things change when you get older. It’s always a challenge, that’s for sure! It keeps you on your toes. Who knows what will be waiting around the corner?
BLITZ: Monkees drummer Micky Dolenz, who has a wide and commanding vocal range, keeps his voice up by doing vocal exercises. Many artists also work out in the gym to prepare themselves for the rigors of the road.
HANK3: I have also been psyching myself up mentally in getting ready for the tours. I do nothing but stretch and breathe steam. I’m not the kind of guy who can just walk out on stage and have my voice. After a week and a half into it, I have to work at it two to four hours every day just to get it there. I do warm ups, stretching and exercises to get it to where I want it. Singing three and a half hours a night is always a hard thing.
BLITZ: Is that part of the reason why your upcoming tour is relatively brief, so that you don’t over extend yourself? Some artists have toured up to two years consecutively at a time. But your upcoming tour is scheduled to be completed in roughly a month.
HANK3: I’m just trying to see what a few weeks is going to do to me right now. I’m doing a small run. The longest I can go is a month and a half. Doing three and a half hour shows and four different genres per night? Now if I was just a country act, I could maybe pull off five to six months straight. But doing all of the other hard singing is a lot more tricky for me, mentally and physically.
BLITZ: How much of the set list in your upcoming tour will feature material from the two new albums?
HANK3: The country show will just be here and there, because of the fans. I’ve got my songs that a lot of the people want to hear. Foundation songs.
In October, there will be a lot more. I call this next tour the Nothin’ In It tour! I'm just gearing myself up for a harder run and a lot more work. I’m saving the energy just to get really personally excited for the next two years out there.
BLITZ: With regards to your two new releases, what is your perspective on the current developments in the industry? As you are aware, there has been a lot of interest in bringing back vinyl. Conversely, there has been a push from other camps in the industry towards eliminating physical product and making everything available only as a download. In the middle of it all is the compact disc. All three camps seem to be at odds with one another, each saying that their respective formats have a place, and they don’t want to concede it. What is your take on format availability?
HANK3: I seriously hope that people always have a chance to hold the product in their hands. Both the CD and the vinyl album. I know that vinyl will probably outlast the CDs. But as long as there is something there for them to hold on to, read and flip through, well, you just can’t replace that! Digital downloads are great, but it’s just not the same.
Like you are saying, hopefully it will hang in there. It needs paper and ink!
Since we’re talking about vinyl, I don’t carry that much of it on the road. I always tell everyone that hank3.com is the place to get the vinyl. If anyone does come out to see me live, I usually don’t have an opening band. I always tell people that we usually play early. If the showtime is eight o’clock, then we are usually on stage at eight o’clock, as we often play about three and a half hours.
We cover a lot of different genres. I always do the country part of the show first, and the rock part as the night goes on. We’ve had a lot of great shows at the Machine Shop in Flint, Michigan over the years. There is always a lot of energy in the room on those nights!