Rowdy, rebellious, and unrepentant as ever, Hank Williams III, AKA Hank 3, honors Americana tradition while flipping it the occasional middle finger.
Alongside the usual banjo-baited twang and fiddle-fueled hoedowns, he proffers a seamy underside that's revealing and rebellious. Over nearly two decades, he's readily bared his barbs, defying the wishes of those who expected due reverence because of his bloodline.
He comes from country music royalty, after all. His grandfather was the legendary Hank Williams Sr., one of America's most influential songwriters and the man who brought the music of the heartland into the popular mainstream. His dad, Hank Williams Jr., is also a performer, one whose rowdy ways are clearly represented in his son's DNA.
Despite the fact that he eschews his surname, Hank 3's legacy comes with obvious expectations.
"There is that aspect, of course," he concedes. "But when people look at what I do, they realize I can make my fans feel connected to my material. And that's made a big difference. If I was just a country singer and stayed in one genre, I don't think it would be nearly as unique or as special, and I wouldn't have gained the respect I've gotten. I always knew what sound I wanted, and I didn't need a producer to tell me, 'That's a good song, but to be a better song and be on the radio, you need to do this, this, this, and this.' I knew from the get-go what I wanted."
Whether he's an insurgent or simply an eccentric could be cause for debate. Last year, for example, he released four albums simultaneously -- Ghost to a Ghost/Gutter Town , a double album of traditional country music; 3 Bar Ranch Cattle Callin' , a heavy-metal rampage; and Attention Deficit Domination , a downcast collection of dogged rock -- each representing the different genres in which he's dabbled so decisively.
In fact, his biggest challenge has been to meld this diverse palette into his stage show, which abruptly transitions from one style to another. "It's a really mixed bag," Hank admits. "Some people hate the ADD
and love the 3 Bar Ranch
. Some people love the country and hate the heavy stuff. I give a little bit of variety, but everybody gets their money's worth. Most people's attention spans are about ten or 15 minutes, and when you're up there for almost two hours, well, that's enough standing up for most people."
Still, Hank's attempts to defy categorization have also embroiled him in occasional controversy. When his previous label, Curb Records, refused to release an early album that he had defiantly titled This Ain't Country, he printed T-shirts bearing the slogan "Fuck Curb." Even so, Hank 3's determination to venture beyond country's traditional parameters and dabble in punk, metal, and hardcore made it clear early on that he's charting his own trail.
"Despite what Music Row may have wanted, I wasn't going to be the one-hit wonder," he says. "I didn't want to be the overnight success, because I wanted longevity. I've had to go outside the box, but in a way, that's how I got respect from the older generation while remaining true to my art."
Consequently, Hank 3 puts the focus on his audience. "It's a very loyal fan base," he asserts. "They know I pay respects where respects are due. Some of them are there for the country, but even with songs that are a little strange for the country fans, they hang in.
"One of the reasons I sing about partying and drinking and such is that when people come to a show, I want them to forget about their problems. I want folks to have a couple of hours where they don't have to worry about nothing except feeling good and enjoying themselves."
Hank 3 performs at 9 p.m. Wednesday, March 7, at Culture Room, 3045 N. Federal Highway, Fort Lauderdale. Tickets cost $18 in advance, $20 on the door. Phone 954-564-1074.
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