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Hanky Panky

If anyone had his fate set in stone before he was born, it was Hank Williams III. No one else has been born so obviously into country royalty. His father, Hank Williams Jr., was one of the big names of the country outlaw set in the 1980s. And his grandfather, Hank Williams Sr., was an American icon, pure and simple.

For those of you not familiar with the Williams family, mayhaps we should elaborate. Hank Williams Sr. more or less invented modern country music. He played the part of the starving artist from about age 19 until age 25, when his first song entered the country charts. For the next four years, he could do no wrong. Hank Williams led one of those strangely charmed musical lives, much like the Beatles or Elvis, in which every song he penned turned to gold. And like many music stars who experience sudden success, Williams's life was cut tragically short. A slight drinking problem ballooned into a massive one upon his prosperity, and a newfound interest in painkillers didn't help matters. Williams died in the back seat of his Cadillac on the way to a gig at age 29. But in four short years, he had changed country music forever.

Williams's son began his career doing covers of his father's songs but came into the limelight in his own right by the late 1970s, when he identified with the country-outlaw movement that spawned such stars as Johnny Cash, Merle Haggard, Willie Nelson, and David Allan Coe. Like his father, Junior had a brief period in which everything he did came back to him in the form of large amounts of cash. But unlike papa, Junior's predilection for booze didn't do him in. He weathered the storm, got sober, and was alive to watch his career reach its nadir on Monday Night Football.

And then there was part III. After cutting his teeth in punk rock outfits, Hank Williams III is back on the country track -- and actually sounds more like his legendary grandpa than his daddy. Williams's debut album, Risin' Outlaw, features Hank Sr.-style balladeering such as "Lonesome for You" as well as nods to older country stars such as "Cocaine Blues," a song made popular on Johnny Cash's Live at Folsom Prison. At the same time, the youngest Williams reveals a harder edge on the songs he pens, so maybe that mohawk hasn't grown into a mullet quite yet; see for yourself when Williams performs at the Culture Room this Thursday. His first set consists of the country bits, while the second set is made up of the raucous numbers that first drew him into the music scene, so it should be an interesting show. That, of course, is assuming he shows up; two weeks of attempts to track down Hank at sound checks across the country for an interview proved fruitless, as the hard-livin' hillbilly was unable to make many of his shows. Country music, it turns out, isn't all he has in common with his ancestors.

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Dan Sweeney
Contact: Dan Sweeney

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