The name “Hank Williams” is legendary. However, that name has put a lot of pressure on Hank Williams III (aka Hank 3) as he’s tried to follow in the footsteps of his grandfather and his father. However, he’s found success by playing country his own damn way—and throwing in a little heavy metal, too.
He’ll be stopping by Pappy and Harriet’s Pioneertown Palace for a show on Sunday, Sept. 28.
Shelton Hank Williams was born in 1972 in Nashville, Tenn. Despite his famous and successful father, Williams did not grow up in a life of privilege: He was raised in a working-class home by his mother, and his father was absent for most of his life. He grew up listening to country music, of course, but also got into punk music; he’s talked in the past before about how his mother would disapprovingly burn those punk records. Due to a learning disability, Hank 3 was not able to learn to play guitar through guitar lessons, but eventually learned by ear.
He played drums in punk-rock bands until the mid-’90s, when he decided to give country music a try in an effort to pay some back child support. He signed a contract with Curb Records—but the relationship between artist and label soon soured, due to disagreements over the direction of his first album, Risin’ Outlaw, and how he was promoted to mainstream country audiences.
During a recent phone interview, Williams discussed the controversy.
“It is what it is,” Hank 3 said. “I thought they would understand me more after working with my dad for so many years, putting out records like Whiskey Bent and Hell Bound and all that. You would have thought that after 25 years of being broken in with a pretty rebellious character, it would be a good fit.”
In 1996, Curb Records put out a compilation called Three Hanks: Men With Broken Hearts—largely consisting of Hank Williams songs with added-in vocals by Hank Williams Jr. and Hank 3—that Hank 3 has said he despises.
“The Three Hanks was what it was. I didn’t like it then, and I don’t like it now,” Hank 3 said. “It made it look like Hank Jr. is paving the way and opening it up for me, and that’s totally not the way it’s been, if you really do your homework and research. I was against that record. It was an honor to sing with Junior and Senior, but I didn’t like it and the way they were throwing it out there.”
After the release of Lovesick, Broke and Driftin’, his second solo release on Curb, Hank 3 wore t-shirts saying “Fuck Curb” on them. He got into a legal dispute with the label, and began performing in metal bands, most notably as the bassist in Superjoint Ritual, a side project of Pantera frontman Phil Anselmo.
“That goes back to Curb … sitting on me and not putting out my records. They were wasting my career and my time,” Hank 3 said. “I had good friends out of New Orleans such as Jimmy Bower and Phil Anselmo, who used to watch some of the bands I was in when I was younger. It was a great opportunity to work with some of my heavy-metal heroes, to be on the OzzFest (lineup) in 2004, and to be introduced to many, many legends in that world. I put everything into it and took it as serious as I could.”
In 2006, after a long legal battle, a judge ruled in favor of Hank 3 in his legal battle against Curb Records, forcing them to put out his album Straight to Hell, which became the first country-music release to merit a “Parental Advisory” sticker. As the story goes, the album was recorded in a house on a $400 digital workstation in East Nashville—and it reached No. 17 on the Billboard Top Country Albums chart.
Over the years, Hank 3 has won an audience of people who are not fans of modern mainstream country, as well as punk and metal fans. While he received praise from many country-music purists and session players who played with both his father and grandfather, other were not impressed by Hank 3’s punk image and vulgar lyrics. His critics also bemoaned the fact that he would play shows with a country music set that was followed by a metal set with his band Assjack.
“There’s always going to be haters, especially when you’re the underdog,” Hank 3 said. “Straight to Hell is legendary in its own way. I was on a major label, and pretty much put out a very independent record on a major label. As far as the cussin’ thing goes, there’s not that many cuss words. If you compare me to someone like Eminem, I’m a choir boy, and if you look at all the old legends like Merle Haggard, Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson and even Hank Jr., those guys have cussed during their live shows. They might not have done it on their records, but cussin’ was an everyday thing for those guys.
“I’ve had a lot of old-school Nashville people come up to me, especially within the last 10 years, (and say), ‘I might not understand your work ethic, but I appreciate how you try to keep the roots of country music in the records that you make.’”
While Hank 3 is not necessarily a fan of Curb Records these days—the label continues to release albums of Hank 3 material from recordings he did during his Curb days—he can laugh about the fact that he made Curb release his metal project Assjack’s self-titled album in 2009. For a label that largely focuses on country music, this was definitely out of the ordinary.
“It is an accomplishment, but I was also giving them a chance to do something new in the music business,” Hank 3 said. “Instead of looking at me as this guy who’s causing problems, I look at it like, ‘Here’s a guy who’s doing something new for us.’ They could have just taken that to a whole different level. If you look at all the people they’ve had on their docket, I was bringing something a little different. I will go on record and say that … if you look at someone like Tim McGraw, who has sold them millions of records, he and I still had the same problems with that label. LeAnn Rimes had the same problem with that label. Merle Haggard had the same problems with that label. It’s just one of those things: They don’t respect their artists very well. Even if you sell them a billion dollars of music, they’ll still give you a hard time.”
Today, Hank 3 is free from Curb Records. Under Megaforce Records, Hank 3 has his own label, Hank 3 Records. He recently put out two new albums, a country album called Brothers of the 4x4, and a punk album called A Fiendish Threat. He said there are no current plans for another Assjack album, but that he’s willing to work with them in the future.
As Hank 3 prepared to play at the old-school venue Pappy and Harriet’s, he mentioned his haunted home ranch—appropriately called the Haunted Ranch.
“There have probably been about 15 to 20 incidents with different people over the years,” Hank 3 said. “It can be something as simple as getting tapped on the back, and turning around and looking, and there’s nothing there, or it can be something as serious as I’m getting a call at 2 in the morning saying to take someone to a hotel room, because they’re that sensitive to it. I’ve had a lot of different people see different things.”
Hank 3 will perform at 7 p.m., Saturday, Sept. 28, outside at Pappy and Harriet’s Pioneertown Palace, 53688 Pioneertown Road, in Pioneertown. Tickets are $30. For tickets or more information, call 760-365-5956, or visit pappyandharriets.com.