Hank Williams III – Part 2
Shelton Hank Williams, aka Hank Williams III, is a singer / songwriter musician. He hails from the legendary Hank Williams Sr. bloodline but is entirely his own man. As he says himself, music comes naturally to him and with it he marches to his own beat. And as he blazes a trail worldwide his fans remain as close to him as his music. Currently gearing up for an upcoming US tour, Hank kindly took some time out to chat with me about the past, present and future…
Hi Hank, I’ve been a big fan for a long time so I thought to try reach out and chat to you. Thanks a lot for taking the time.
So, I first discovered you from picking up your album ‘Lovesick, Broke & Driftin’’. It’s brilliant! Could you tell me a little bit about writing and recording that album? Was it a case of finding your voice, and also the words to describe your own life from the country perspective?
Okay. Well for that record we’re going back almost… ahhh… ten to eleven years. And that record was recorded more so on an analog setup in the studio. So I had a couple of friends of mine that were doing the engineering on that. And, you know, I had Kayton Roberts playing steel, I had Randy Kohrs come in doin’ dobro. And, as far as the writing process on that it’s just a little different compared to how things are nowadays. But pretty much I had the songs laid out, go in there, do my acoustics first and then kind of stack everything around it.
Would you say you were more influenced by your father and grandfather at that time, as opposed to now with your more rockabilly type stuff?
Ah, I would say I was more influenced by Wayne ‘The Train’ Hancock. Just because of getting influenced by someone else, you know? Listening to… having Hank Sr. as a grandfather and Hank Jr. as a father that only goes so far. And it’s one of those things where you just gotta find another way to ‘A” find your own voice, and ‘B’ find your own niche. But with Wayne, he taught me a lot, showed me a lot, when I was in Texas, and em… he was probably more of an influence on my singing style and my writing style. Back then and to this day, you know? He’s still hitting it hard. But you know, of course, Sr. and Jr. are both influences in their own way but I’ve kinda… I’m not a totally traditionalist pure country act. A little more open than that, since I do many different genres.
Ok, sure. I was also curious if you had ever thought about collaborating with your half sister Holly Williams? She’s very good as well.
Ah, yeah, it’s just something I’ve never really considered that much. The family is the family and I always try to collaborate with other people… just in totally different worlds. So, that’s just one reason, you know? The three Hanks record, I never wanted to do it in the first place because it just made it look like, “Oh we’re gonna pave the way for ya”, and that wasn’t the deal… so… if they had of waited ten years yeah I might have enjoyed that record, but the way that the majors came up with that and everything behind it was a kind of last time I’ll ever do that. And on a country trip, if I ever collaborate with anyone it’s gonna be with Wayne. You know, we’ll do a ‘HW/WH’ or a ‘WH/HW’ record… one of the two. So, that’s something we’ve talked about over the years and we’ll make it happen.
And then you sort of transitioned into rockabilly and punk and that kind of thing. The crazier type music. I wondered what drew you in that direction?
Well all the Hanks actually, if you do your research, all the Hanks played rock n’ roll. I mean Hank was playing rock n’ roll before rock n’ roll was. ‘Movin on over’ came out before Bill Haley’s ‘Rock Around the Clock’. It’s the same structure, it’s the same melody, you know? I mean Hank Williams had electric guitar in the band. So he’d already beat them to the punch, and he crossed many genres, jazz, blues, gospel, doom with Luke the Drifter. So, he wasn’t being pigeon holed into one category. If you look at Hank Jr. when he was growing up he was known as ‘Rockin’ Randall Hank’. So, the Allman Brothers, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Marshall Tucker Band, all those guys were not country. That’s full on southern rock. So it’s been a natural progression for any Hank Williams to go a little outside the box. But for me, growing up and listening to certain independent radio stations, and being a drummer, gradually got me into a lot of different styles of music. And over time music has just gotten a little bit more and more extreme. So, that’s one of the reasons why I’ve probably felt a little more comfortable with some of the more rowdier heavier stuff. But I always pay my respects at a live show. Always you know, the first hour to two hours is the country show and then we move on and do the other stuff. So that’s always how I’ve done my shows, to show respect to the fans and make sure everybody gets their money’s worth. So, that’s kinda worked over the years.
Sure. I’d watched some of your shows online. Unfortunately I haven’t had a chance to see a live one yet, but I thought it was really interesting the way that you rotate some of the band members, depending on the music. And it reminded me a little of Hank and the drifters too.
Yeah. It really depends. Like if I’m over in Europe playing a festival, you’re not really seeing the real thing because we have to condense it all into one hour. Our normal show length is four hours. That’s the way we do it. So if we play a bar, you get to really feel the whole difference of the Jekyll and Hyde show. If you see us on a festival, it’s a little more crammed in there. You know like, we only get to do five or six country songs and then get on off into the other stuff. So, we always kinda fight for as long of a show time as we can get. That’s always been the challenge.
And would you say that the direction into the harder stuff, the more rocky type punk stuff, is an extension or result of your album ‘That ain’t country’, where it seems you got a little bit tired of the industry and maybe what the record guys were putting on top of you?
Well, no. That’s just the normal sounds. As Curb (the record label), or business people, they would have taken the opportunity to put that record out seeing as I wasn’t just giving them one genre. I was giving them three different genres of separate music. And if they had any marketing sense they would have understood what they could have done with all those records. But all that’s in the past. That’s all of Curb’s loss. You know, they waited until I was off of their record company to put that record out. So that goes back. That’s a fourteen or fifteen year old record. So, you know, the punk stuff with ‘A Fiendish Threat’, is the new punk album. That’s what’s really happenin’. And that’s where the stand up bass is taking control. And the fiddle and the banjo and the steel. That’s where the new punk is. And the new life. You know, ‘This ain’t country’, it was great at the time, but if you’re gonna wait that long and do bad business you know, I’m not gonna listen to it or tell anybody to buy it, ‘cause they dropped the ball.
Right. I’d read about the problems with Curb. I was wondering how that sort of thing affects you artistically too. Does it get you down, or would you have any advice to other musicians who encounter similar conflicts with their labels? How do you manage your artistic side alongside the business side?
Well with Curb records it doesn’t matter if you’re a more independent mind thinker, or if you are someone like Tim McGraw who’s made them over a hundred and fifty million dollars. Or probably more around a billion dollars. They had the same problems. So that just goes back to greed. For such a Christian label it shows how greedy Curb records really is and how they don’t respect the business. So Leann Rimes, Tim McGraw, myself, Moral Hazard, Dale Watson, Junior Brown… Everyone who has ever worked with him has not had a good experience. So that just shows how much of a greedy, self centered CEO he is. Now there is other labels out there that respect the artists and the musicians and let people have some creative control. So it just depends what you’re going for. And ah, that’s the biggest thing. That’s the beauty about independent labels… is you get to do it yourself, and you have no limits, and you’re art is not centered. And with major labels it just depends who you’re working with. There is some major labels out there who respect the people but it’s a little more tricky. And it just depends what you’re going for. Some people don’t care about their songs and want to be told what to do and what to sing… “We give you this and it’s gonna go to No.1”. And some people actually, you know care about what they write, and don’t want it hacked up and don’t want it censored and stand behind their songs. As Johnny Cash would say, “A real song comes from you, not from ten people sitting in an office”.
Yeah! I really respect that you are so dedicated to the music. It must be really easy as a young artist to fold and follow an easy formula they set out for you. So kudos to you for showing integrity as an artist and staying true to the music.
Well, it’s a lot of the road too. That’s the other part of it. It’s just getting out there and being able to tour. And having a loyal fan base. So, you know, I’ve been out there over twenty years beatin’ the road down. And that’s part of it too. It’s a lot harder to do what I do, but in the end a little more not too big not too small and you get more longevity.
Sure. And probably much more loyal fans too.
Well, you know when I do the show, and I keep it a four hour show and try to give ‘em the lowest ticket price I can. I started on the road in ‘94 for seven dollars a show. And now I’m running with a crew of twelve people and gas is almost… well diesel is almost four dollars a gallon. I keep my ticket price anywhere from seventeen to twenty-five dollars. I do a four hour show and then at the end I stick around and shake every hand. And meet everyone who wants to say “hello” or “thank you”… it’s usually one of the two. And over the years they’ve noticed how that makes ‘em feel like they’re part of the show and how I’m on their level. That in itself is the old country way. You do your show and say hello. And that has kind of… I think, besides having the family name, has gotten me a lot of respect with the folks over the years.
That’s awesome. And when you’re rolling from show to show I was wondering what type of music you like to blast in your car or truck?
Well honestly, when we’re working it’s seventeen hour days out there. And by the time we load the trailer, set everything up, do the show, break everything down and load the trailer, and by the time I eat, I’m falling asleep, waking up and doing it all again the next day. And ah, most of the time, and this is if I’m on the road… if I’m on the road I just can’t talk and I’ll usually watch a movie or something. But if I’m at home, there’s a lot of the classic bluegrass or a lot of classic rock, or a lot of the ‘Killed by Death’ compilations, or punk rock from all over the world, from 1970’s all the way up to 1990’s. It just depends. You know sometimes I have to listen to… I have such a big catalogue of music, sometimes I have to listen to myself just to keep somewhat of the words still flowing in my head. That in itself is always a challenge, since I don’t really have a set list. I always walk out there and kind of wing it. Just to keep it fresh night after night.
Okay, cool! And when you’re back home on a break from work, is it still the ‘Whiskey, weed and women’ type of lifestyle, or what do you like to do?
Usually I’m working outside. It just depends. In the wintertime I’m usually making records, or doing leather work. And once the spring and summer rolls around, I’m usually working outside, trying to get in shape for the road. So, that’s basically my routine, is ah, doing that. And it works for now. I’m forty-one but I try to treat my body like I’m twenty-one every day. That’s something I’ve just got to deal with as time goes on. That’s basically… you know, I try to halfway get out of the winter mode and do all kinds of different… if it’s just clearing out trails, or fixing fallen trees, or cutting trees or moving wood… anything just to get the back strong and ready to lift all the gear. To get the cardio kind of breathing hard again. But that’s pretty much it. That and running my dogs. Once in a while when some friends of mine are coming through town and playing, I’ll go out to a show. But most of the time I’m usually just locked in at the house. ‘Cause I meet so many people, and the road is so intense in it’s own way, when I get home I enjoy the private downtime, of enjoying the land and kinda just being in Tennessee.
Okay, awesome. And in regards to some of the music, some of my favourite country songs are the ones about heartache and pain. I was wondering if you could tell me a little about creating those sort of lonesome, blues-y, yodeling and sorrowful type songs? Does it always just come from the heart? Something like ‘Five Shots of Whiskey’ it’s brilliant, you really feel it, you know?
Well, ninety percent of my songs I’ve eat, lived and breathed it. Only ten percent of the time do I go to la-la-land and kind of haven’t lived it. But, you know, the yodel… yeah, in the early nineties I had the yodel, it was pretty natural. Probably all the way up to kind of 2004 is when it kind of disappeared. And um, the reason I can write those songs and sing those songs is I’ve been in long relationships, and have lost long relationships. I’ve had a lot of loss in my life. So that’s where they come from. Like, see a fourteen… nothing against Leann Rimes, I totally respect her, but when she was you know, a young teenager coming out singing those heartbreak songs when she was fourteen or fifteen it was hard to believe because she was so young. But, you can just tell in a way when someone has been down that road, or not. Like, on the new record, the song ‘Loners for Life’, or ‘Deep Scars’ get back to that kinda feeling. So, I always do, on every record I always put a couple of the slow deep ones out there. You know, to let the stand up steel guitar do its thing and you know, to make it more traditional country.
That’s awesome. It’s both great, and difficult and challenging the way women can affect us men. But then you create something very brilliant out of it, so well done about that!
Yeah, a lot of times during the live shows I don’t live out too many slow songs ‘cause I’m trying to keep everybody in a good mood, but once in a while, you know if the fans heckle me enough for a certain slow one I’ll do it. And you know, it just depends. I go all around the spectrum during the country show. That’s just one of those things, in time if I make it to fifty and I’m still out there playin’ I might slow it down a little more than where I’m at right now. But the bluegrass, kind of banjo driving the band right now… out of thirty songs during the country show maybe five or six of them might be a waltz or kinda slow.
Okay. I was wondering too if you might be able to tell me a little bit about being a local guy, growing up around the heart of country music in Nashville, near the Grand Ole Opry. What’s the lifestyle like for a young guy like yourself?
Well I had a pretty normal… I wasn’t raised on the road and I wasn’t raised around all that. Um, if you look at someone like Papa Jack Osbourne, Ozzy Osbourne’s kid, he was someone who was absolutely totally raised on the road. Raised around crazy scenarios and all that stuff. Myself, my parents got divorced when I was two. I went to normal schools. I tried playing sports until I couldn’t make the grades anymore. And when I couldn’t make the grades that’s when I started getting into music and hanging out with some different folks. But when I was younger I’d go to the Grand Ole Opry just a little bit. But honestly, I wasn’t raised around that… that whole country music legends image, you know? I did get to… yeah you know, when I was thrown into rehab when I was younger yeah Waylon would call me up and talk to me and tell me, “Well I wouldn’t have done that, I would have done it a different way…”… you know I opened up for Johnny Paycheck and watched the Hell’s Angels escort him to the stage. I’ve gotten to sing with George Jones. I’ve gotten to sing with Grandpa Jones. But all that was when I was out there working on my own. So, you know, when I was growing up I only got to see Hank Jr. maybe once a week out of a year. And I would just kind of go to fantasy land in far as on the road and see the shows… and that was about it. So I had a very normal upbringing. I did live out in Franklin, Tennessee driving a jacked up truck. On weekends we would just go out on a field and go revvin’ up the engines and trying to find some mud-holes to go through and we would all hang out on the farm so we don’t have to worry about getting in trouble with the police. But aside from that I would just go to punk shows, country shows on my own. I was always just kind of more independent. ‘Cause it was just me and my mom. That was it. There really wasn’t that… I think Jack Osbourne is the greatest comparison because he was raised around so many people and he’s met probably a hundred and fifty huge rock stars being around the road and them coming into the house and all that. So it’s kind of a night and day difference. I had a choice… it was my choice to get into music. It was something I always did naturally. You know, I started playing drums when I was eight, nine years old. The first time when I was on stage I was ten years old. So no one pushed me into it. It was always just something that I gravitated towards.
Okay, that’s really interesting. I’d read as well that sometimes you talk about music being truth, and finding your true voice. I was wondering how hard it is to discover that as an artist. Are there times when you’re practicing and you realise, “Oh yeh, I’m hitting the right note here, this is gonna be good”?
Well, I think with almost any artist, not all, but a good seventy-five percent, I think it takes a good five years to find your niche, and find what you’re doing. But that’s not always the case. Sometimes there are those one hit wonders who are so talented at everything they pick up or everything they sing is just totally natural for them. But there’s other singers out there who it takes a while for them to learn… you gotta kind of learn from your mistakes, or learn how to find your own niche until you’re standing on your own two feet. And that was the case with me. It took me a while to find my sound. And that goes back to me talking about Wayne ‘The Train’ Hancock having a lot to do with motivation and inspiration. And then also guys like Henry Rollins that had intense work ethics, who would stay busy and do all kinds of different stuff. So, I was always influenced, and even by King Buzzo from The Melvins, still to this day those guys amaze me as far as how much they tour, how much music they put out and how they’re still knocking it down to this day.
That’s really interesting. And you have a lot going on too, right? Four new albums coming out this year?
Well the four albums came out in 2011. That was ‘Ghost to a Ghost’, and ‘Gutter Town’. That’s the country record and the cajun record. Then there was doom rock record which was called 3’s Attention Deficit Domination. And then the speed metal record which was called 3 Bar Ranch. That’s what happened in 2011. And as far as all the way up to last year I did a double record release of the new county record ‘Brothers of the 4 x 4’. It’s a double CD. And then the punk rock psychobilly sounding kind of record ‘A Fiendish Threat’. Those are the two newest ones.
Oh! I was aware of some of those but I thought there were another four coming? I thought you were really pumping them out!
Ah, ah well, like I said I make records when I’m not on the road, so this November I’ve been working on a project that consists of twenty five songs. But it’s not necessarily going to be out under my name, out of respects to the fans, because it’s so different. So that mighta been what you’re hearing about just a little bit.
Okay, right. And then on a personal level I was wondering if there might be any stories that people wouldn’t know about which you might be able to share? Things that people might not expect?
Um… let’s see… I mean, I’m trying to think man. I probably said it a couple of times that school was always tough for me. I was always having trouble hanging in there with the classes, and the learning disabilities…it was always just tough making it through school and it was tough making it through music theory. Like I know a lot of guys, like even David Gilmour from Pink Floyd, he knows how to make great records and great songs and music, but he doesn’t really know music theory. So that’s something I put out there to a lot of the kids. Just don’t give up. If you don’t know the rules, that’s the way to create something new and get a different sound. As far as other stories that people might not know…
It’s interesting that you really enjoy the outdoors type life. I suppose a lot of people might think that you enjoy the rock n’ roll lifestyle when you’re at home.
Yeah, well, it’s part of being half an athlete out there on the road and also still being a rebel at the same time. I take the job pretty seriously, and I always go overkill or over the top. And that’s just what I’ve had to do over the years to maintain it. So, it’s one of those things. Everybody goes through periods of their lives when… you know, Waylon went through periods of his life when he was maybe drinkin’ hard and then he would take a break. And I’ve been down that road before, and it’s just one of those things. I gotta do what I gotta do for the stage. But then it also goes back to me being, in the summer time I was raised on a farm. You know, I was milking cows and bucking hay and doing the chores outside. So that’s kind of a natural thing that’s in my blood since I was raised around it. So I think that’s another reason I have a kind of a farm aspect or feel. I’m lucky enough to rent… I live ten minutes from downtown, but where I live it feels like I’m in the country but I’m in the city, because I’m able to rent forty acres from this family. So it’s just enough land to see some deer and see some turkey. To keep up with the land and keep up with the trails and the trees. So, that helps get me back on track after maybe a real hard tour or something.
Sure. And do you still like to spend time with family and friends? I’d read how some time ago you used to like spending time with Minnie Pearl and listen to her telling stories about Hank Sr. I was wondering if you had any such stories, or still enjoy reminiscing with older country guys?
Yeah, I mean unfortunately we’ve almost lost all of them. I mean, Little Jimmy Dickens is probably one of the last guys that’s standing from that era. But yeah, Minnie Pearl was always very nice to me. She used to pick me up and take me out to lunch and we would just talk. She was one of the few people who would tell me stories about my grandpa. You’d be surprised, I don’t know that many stories about Hank Sr. Not that many people have talked to me about it. So, as far as being current, Marty Stuart is someone who will take some time out and share some history with me. ‘Cause he is such a historic kind of guy, he’s got so many artefacts and things… since he was raised around music since he was six or seven years old he’s got a lot of history in him. I’m glad that Marty considers me a friend, and just about family. As far as the get togethers nowadays, most people… with Leroy Troy, he’s a clawhammer banjo player, and a great singer. He’s an old time banjo shouter. They have little get togethers. That’s about the closest thing that I get to be around as far as having just that old school kinda Nashville feel. You know, a lot of people were born and raised here, but then again there’s a lot of outsiders who just kind of moved here. But that’s where it’s at, where I can go there and feel… I still feel intimidated any time I go to a pickin party, just ‘cause of my lack of music theory. A lot of those bluegrassers and all that know every single note and every single chord and all that, so… I just know how to sing my songs and write my songs. I play by ear more so than playing by science. So that’s always been a… it just kind of intimidates me when I’m around pickin parties. But it’s all good. That’s the closest thing outside of family that we’ve got going on around here. And if you by chance showed up and there was a pickin party in the spring or the summer, you’d be surprised, you’d be able to go to one. It’s not like they exclude too many people, it’s pretty open. It’s a very laid back scene. Something to keep in mind if you’re ever into Nashville. Do a little research on Leroy Troy, you might find some very interesting things.
Awesome! Just one last question really… I was wondering if you are kind of conscious of building your own legacy and what you might like to be remembered for in fifty or a hundred years? And a final extension of that if there is any kind of life advice in general that you might like to share with everybody?
Well as far as the work, I’m just trying to do as much different stuff as I can, while I can. I try not to put limits on anything. I’ve always had an open mind and tried different stuff. Because, I’m a gear head, I’m an engineer, I’m a producer, so being involved on all those different angles I have to be open minded, I can’t just be closed minded in one way. So, it’s really hard to say what’ll happen with me historically. All in all I think people will say he was a guy who did lots, had a really hard work and was very humble to people. That’s one thing I’ve never cared much for, the massive egomaniacs. I’ve never really had those kinds of people in the band. I’ve always tried to keep a level headed crew. In general I’ve always been a very kind of humble person. And I know a lot of people will say that about me when my time comes. And as far as life, it’s always changing, it’s always a challenge. It seems like Loretta Lynn would say, “It gets a little more complicated as you get older”. And it just depends ‘A’ how you live, and what your mindset is. You know, some people are nine to five, and some people are totally not in that world. And I’m one of those people that’s not in that world. I live in a… I march to a different beat. So, that in itself makes life a little more interesting. But, you know, just because of where Hank Jr. is, and if you look at John Carter Cash and when his father passed away and what it did to him, it’s really hard to say what’ll happen. You know, if I pass away before my father does, that’s one thing. Or if he passes away before I do. Things could change overnight, and that’s a weird thing to kind of think about if you kind of look at it that way. So that’s why I don’t know. I just live day by day. I do the best that I can. Some days I’m inspired and I’m working on the record. Some days I’m outside and I’m working on the land. And then I’m trying to pull a crew together… because I don’t have no management. I just have a lawyer, a publicist, and ah that’s it. And you know, most of the guys are from out of state that I tour with in my band. So it’s always a little bit of a challenge to be involved in every angle of it. And deal with life. I have as much depression as everybody else. I have my highs and I have my lows, and ah that’s where some of the songs come from. Not every day is perfect. So, it’s ah… that’s why I’m a country singer. I experienced trauma at a very young age, so I think that kind of comes across in some of my songs and it could be one of the reasons why some people identify with what I do. Aside from the Hank Williams legacy.
That’s awesome. Really fascinating and interesting. The last thing is that I live down in Brazil at the moment, even though I’m Irish, and I wondered if you had any plans to put on shows down here or even in Ireland?
Well, two years ago I was at least able to make it Ireland. Ireland has always been very special to us. There’s been a crew of people there. The Wexford family has been there for us ever since the early nineties and they’ve been very, intimate, is the best way to say it. So unfortunately in 2009 I wasn’t able to make it to Ireland, it didn’t happen and we were very upset about it. But I fought hard to get us in and I just couldn’t. But every time we tour Europe we always go out of our way to try and get to Ireland. And as far as Brazil, I know I have a lot of fans there so it’s just a matter of time. You know, I talk to a lot of people on Facebook from Brazil. I know Brazil, just in general they love live entertainment, they love music. And a lot of my friends they toured and played there, and it’s one of those places that it’s just a matter of time. It’s always a little harder for me to tour outside of the United States. It just takes a little more orchestrating. And I always gotta make sure I’ve got the right tour manager with me any time I step outside of the US. So, one day I’m sure I’ll make it there and really see it, and play hopefully some bar shows and maybe a festival or something. There is a lot of folks that I talk to on Facebook that say hello and it seems like they get the music.
That’s awesome. Well, hopefully I catch you somewhere, either here or in Ireland or in the US. But thanks a million for talking to me, it’s really been a great interview.
Well if you ever see us in the US we don’t have an opening band. So if it says we start at eight o’clock be there at eight o’clock. That’s what time we go on. Like I said, we play for four hours. If anyone wants to order the new stuff, or the vinyl records Hank3.com is where to get all the new music. And I start my tour June 2nd and I’ll be touring the rest of the year, and hopefully we see you sooner than later.
Awesome. Wish you the best of luck with everything Hank! Thanks a million.
Alright, thank you sir.
Here is one of my favourite lonesome type Hank III songs – 5 Shots of Whiskey:
Here are a couple others mentioned in the interview:
Loners for Life
For more on Hank you can check him out here:
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