Hank Williams III gets cranking

by Chris Riemenschneider

Star Tribune (Minneapolis) (MCT)

30 November 2011


MINNEAPOLIS — His dad has been in the news lately for saying crazy things, but Hank Williams III is really the one going off on a wild tangent these days.

The son of recently ejected “Monday Night Football” theme song singer Hank Jr. — and obviously the grandson of country music’s greatest icon — Hank III just issued four albums in one bold swoop to mark his coming out as an independent artist with his own label.

No. 3’s long-disputed contract with traditional Nashville label Curb Records came to an end last year. Good riddance, he says. He’s producing so much material at once, he explains, to show off the versatility he accuses Curb of trying to bury.

Then again, it’s hard to fault Curb for not knowing how to market at least two of the records: One is a collection of sludgy doom metal called “Attention Deficit Domination,” while the other with his band 3 Bar Ranch features a truly bizarre blend of speed-metal and cattle auctioneering. No kidding: old coots calling out cattle terms over thrashing guitars.

The other two albums, “Guttertown” and “Ghost to a Ghost” (packaged as a double-disc set), offer more straightforward and mighty impressive roundups of Hank’s twangier side, with Cajun-infused country songs and guests such as Tom Waits and Les Claypool.

One guest you’re not likely to hear on a Hank III album anytime soon is his dad, with whom he rarely sees eye-to-eye. That didn’t stop No. 3 from moderately sticking up for Hank Jr., who made headlines by comparing President Obama to Hitler on Fox News. He also frequently sticks up for his grandfather, whose lanky appearance he mirrors (but with leather and tattoos).

Hank III, 38, is now leading a campaign to get Hank Sr. re-inducted into the Grand Ole Opry. The power brokers there kicked him out for drunkenness in 1952, a year before his death (see ReinstateHank.org). However, the third-generation singer does not approve of the buzzed-about new album “The Lost Notebooks of Hank Williams,” featuring takes on unreleased Hank lyrics by Bob Dylan, Jack White, Norah Jones, Alan Jackson and more.

In a phone call from Nashville last month, Williams talked about all this.

On “The Lost Notebooks of Hank Williams” album: “I don’t see any money from the Hank estate, so I really had nothing to do with it. I personally will never listen to it. If I want to hear a Hank song, I’ll listen to Hank. If anybody’s gonna do ‘em, it probably should’ve been more of the old-timers like (Kris) Kristofferson and David Allan Coe. But if it’s an unfinished song, there might be a reason it was an unfinished song.”

On the uproar set off by his dad: “It seems to me he should’ve been making those comments at a NRA (National Rifle Association) convention and not national television, and then it wouldn’t have seemed like a big deal. What he was basically saying was, ‘If you’re an enthusiast about guns, then you should be concerned. Your right to bear arms is being taken away more and more every day.’

“That’s his problem, though. Politics and music should only mix to a point. Me, I think my job as a musician is to make people try to forget about all that. I go by what David Lee Roth used to say about politics: ‘That’s one place I don’t go.’”

On his ambitious four-album debut as an indie artist: “I’ve been in the game for 18 years and only four or five CDs to show for it. I’ve never been able to sell my own CD at my own show, because I used to refuse to sell Curb product. This is the first time ever. I’m giving fans a chance to hear the country, the doom-rock, a little bit of Hellbilly and 3 Bar Ranch. And then they can finally buy all those products, too.

“A lot of inspiration went into it. I started writing all the material on Jan. 2. In February, I hit ‘record.’ In the daytime, I would be more serious and worried about tuning, pitch, being in time, doing things the right way. At night time, I would start working on experimental sounds for ‘Guttertown,’ or I would do a guitar track for the doom-metal stuff, or play drums for 3 Bar Ranch. It depended on how I felt.”

On the “Cattle Callin’” record: “My (maternal) grandfather used to take me to auctioneering barns. I was raised on cattle farms. I was always fascinated by the speed of the auctioneer, and I thought, ‘Well, speed-metal and high-energy auctioneering, that seems to go hand in hand.’ That was my inspiration. I had to track all those guys down, and explain my vision to them. I had to let them know, ‘You’re probably not going to understand this music, or like it, but you need to know I’m not making fun of your industry.’ That part of it was hard. Fifty percent of the auctioneers I wanted to use pulled out on me. Some of the fastest guys refused to be on the record — for now. Maybe I can get them on the next one.”

On Tom Waits, who sings on the “Ghost to a Ghost” song “Fadin’ Moon”: “We’ve always had these weird kind of run-ins throughout my career. I was walking out of the entrance of the Vans Warped Tour in like 1999 — the front gate, not the backstage entrance, with 20,000 people walking through it. And there was Tom Waits with his kid. And then I’ve heard, ‘Oh, Tom was at the show tonight, but he came in disguise.’ He has watched me over the years and, I think, he’s respected my work ethic and that I’m trying to be different and not take the easy way.”

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