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Published: Wednesday, 5/9/2012 - Updated: 3 years ago

Family tradition

Like father and grandfather, Hank Williams III doesn't toe industry's line

Hank Williams III Hank Williams III

Just the idea of Hank Williams III fronting a death metal band can cause the brain to freeze up and grind to a stop.

This is a man with direct lineage to the forefather of country music. Hank3 -- that's what he's called -- has more twang in his DNA than country-pop clones Brad Paisley, Kenny Chesney, and Tim McGraw have in theirs combined. Those guys can't even pretend to be as country as someone named Hank Williams.

But as strange as it may seem, for Williams -- the son of Hank Williams, Jr. -- there's nothing unusual about someone with his background playing an extreme form of rock in addition to having deep roots in country.

"My grandfather, Hank Senior, and my father covered the country world as best as it can be covered," he said in a phone interview.

"If I was just a country artist I don't think I'd have the fan base that I have. Plus, it's a natural progression if you really look in the blood line. Hank Williams, Sr., was playing rock before rock was around and my dad plays country rock."

He's right, of course. Hank Senior songs such as "Move It On Over" brought rock stylings to country, and Hank3's dad was one of the forefathers of country rock, stubbornly refusing to play his father's songs in concerts and blazing his own path.

So when Hank3 takes the stage Tuesday night at Headliners you'll get the straight-forward country music you would expect, followed by a hard rock set, some speed metal, and death metal, all in one long show.

The 39-year-old Shelton Hank Williams III, has carved out a contentious, hard-partying career marked by a long, intense fight with Curb Records that finally has ended even though the company just released a batch of outtakes and odds and sods that Williams doesn't endorse.

It should be noted that a mainstream artist like McGraw also has been ensnared in a fight with Curb over creative control, which puts Williams' battles in context. He released three discs with Curb starting in 1999 and the first two were outlaw country offerings, but when he started recording under his death metal alias Assjack, the company rejected his offerings. His stance was to stop recording until he could get out from under the contract.

"It doesn't matter if it was me -- somebody who did not make that much money for Curb records -- or someone like Tim McGraw who made them 25 million dollars, it's the same problem. They don't respect the artists' creativity," Williams said.

He said the fight was long and debilitating and he's glad it's over.

"It doesn't make you feel that good to work with someone who doesn't respect what you do," he said. "It kind of takes the wind out of your sails to work with someone that doesn't like you."

Williams now has his own record label and last year he released three albums (one of which was a left-over Curb disc called "Hillbilly Joker") that cover the gamut of styles from honky tonk to metal. "Ghost to a Ghost/Guttertown" is a sprawling two-disc set that features straight-forward country and brutal rock in addition to collaborations with Tom Waits and Les Claypool. And "Attention Deficit Domination" is a dark, doomy death march of a disc.

Williams said the cross-pollination of styles is a natural outgrowth of his creativity and desire to express himself in a variety of ways.

"For me it's all the same, but I'm just putting out a lot more energy on the rock. With the country I just have to be a little more uptight because when I'm standing up there I really have to concentrate on singing in tune. When I play the rock, the distortion allows me to let my hair down, so to speak," he said.

Expect a marathon three-and-a-half to four-hour show that starts with his country material played by his Damn Band.

"When people come to my show they're going to get quite a bit. I always pay respect to my country fans first and then as it goes along I do a little bit of everything," he said.

The country set is followed by about a five minute break before he switches bands and plays a mix of hard rock, "doom," and speed metal.

When it's all over, his shows are epic in length and Williams politely encouraged anyone who's coming to the show to be there on time or even a little early. "If it's a weeknight we always start a little early so it's not so hard on people when they have to get up and go to work," he said.

"I've always played long ever since day one. I've had sound guys say, 'You play too long.' I've always thought it was a time to give and I can play hour long shows when I get older," Williams said. "It's especially important when times have been so hard on the men and the ladies."

Doors open at 8 p.m. for the Tuesday night show at Headliners, 4500 N. Detroit Ave. There is no opening act. Tickets are $20 in advance and are available at all TicketMaster outlets, by phone at 1-800-745-3000, ticketmaster.com, at Culture Clash (419-536-5683), and Ramalama Records (419-531-7625). Tickets will be $23 at the door, night of show.

Contact Rod Lockwood at: rlockwood@theblade.com or 419-724-6159.

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