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20 Oct 2015

Honoring the Hillbilly Shakespeare: Three Things Worth Knowing About Hank Williams and 'Hank and My Honky Tonk Heroes'

Written by 
Jason Petty. Jason Petty.

When singer/actor Jason Petty takes the McCallum Theatre stage this Saturday, Oct. 24, he’ll be on familiar ground.

Petty has made a career out of performing as and paying tribute to the late, great Hank Williams—and he packed the house at the McCallum the last time he performed at the theater not too long ago.

“This type of music transcends culture barriers,” he told the Independent during a recent phone interview. “People living in Palm Desert and Palm Springs and Brooklyn—places all over the world—say, ‘I remember my grandfather listening to this. I love this stuff.’

While Petty often portrays Williams as an actor—Petty got his start by playing the legend Off-Broadway in Hank Williams: Lost Highway—he does more signing than acting in Hank and My Honky Tonk Heroes, the show he’s performing at the McCallum this weekend. Petty calls the show a “concert narrative” during which he performs the songs of Williams, as well as the country legends who inspired Williams. He throws in some songs by artists who were inspired by Williams as well.

Here are three things worth knowing about Williams, Petty and Hank and My Honky Tonk Heroes.

1. Hank Williams was a conflicted soul. “In a way, he wanted fame and fortune,” Petty said about Williams. “In a way, he wanted peace and quiet.”

Unfortunately, the fame became too much for Williams. As most people know, he died young—at the age of 29, due to heart failure brought on by drug and alcohol abuse.

“The fame overwhelmed Hank,” said Petty, who has gotten to know many of Williams’ friends and family members over the years. “His fame overpowered his personality. He sort of felt, trapped, smothered.

“These demons get so many of the musical geniuses.”

2. Williams used his music to write about his life. When asked what his favorite Williams songs are, Petty mentioned “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry” and “Alone and Forsaken.” The latter song is particularly haunting to Petty: Alone and forsaken by fate and by man / Oh, lord, if you hear me please to hold my hand / Oh, please understand.

“It’s a desperate plea to God for help,” Petty said. “He disguised it by writing it about a woman who left him, but if you read between the lines, he wrote his autobiography through his music.”

3. Williams is not only one of the founding fathers of country music; he’s one of the fathers of rock ’n’ roll as well. Petty noted that Williams is a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame—and for good reason.

“‘Rock Around the Clock’—it’s ‘Move It on Over’ with an electric guitar and drums,” Petty said. “Bill Haley even said that in an interview one time.”

Hank and My Honky Tonk Heroes, starring Jason Petty, will take place at 8 p.m., Saturday, Oct. 24, at the McCallum Theatre, 73000 Fred Waring Drive, in Palm Desert. Tickets are $22 to $52. For tickets or more information, call 760-340-2787, or visit www.mccallumtheatre.com.

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