Music News

Happy Birthday, Hank Williams III!

In some cases, the old axiom "like father, like son" could be expanded to state "like grandfather, like father like son" as well. It might apply in the case of Shelton Hank Williams -- better known as Hank 3, the grandson of country music's most enduring icon.

Born December 12, 1972, the youngest Hank has followed in his forebears' footsteps, although admittedly he's upped the ante in terms of restlessness and rebellion. Like his dad, Hank Williams Jr., whose recent blunder-headed remarks disparaging President Obama got him tossed from Monday Night Football, Hank III has been known to speak out against authority. And yet, like all famous offspring, expectations ran high that he'd follow in his family's footsteps. Singer Minnie Pearl, a friend of his grandfather, was awestruck at his physical resemblance to Hank Sr. and even remarked, "Lord, honey, you're a ghost" when she first met him. Others noted the similarity in his singing style. 

Early on however, Hank 3 made it clear early on that he'd have no part

of the traditional country regimen. His songs "Trashville" and "Dick in

Dixie" summed up his sentiments on that subject succinctly. And when his

original label, Curb Records, hesitated to release one of his early

albums, which he had defiantly titled This Ain't Country, he

began manufacturing T-shirts that boasted the slogan "Fuck Curb." To

make matters worse, Curb changed the title without his permission,

issuing it as Hillbilly Joker instead. That prompted the singer

to urge his fans not to buy the record and opt for burns or bootlegs as

an alternative. When the label turned down his next album, Thrown Out of the Bar, it set the stage for a protracted series of court proceedings in which Hank 3 eventually agreed to rename it Straight to Hell

and to release the album in both censored and uncensored versions to

appease the morality gods at Walmart.

Eventually, he was able to wrest

himself away from Curb and begin recording under his own aegis with

Hank3 Records. He wasted no time proving his proficiency, offering three

albums simultaneously this past year all in different genres -- 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.

While Hank 3's determination to venture beyond country's traditional parameters have found him freely dabbling in punk, metal, and hardcore, in many ways that makes him more akin to his grandfather than his dad, who was still rowdier and more off-the-wall than many might have expected. Yet while Hank Jr. upped the ante on the energy and often dabbles in rockier realms -- coheadlining gigs with Lynyrd Skynyrd for example -- Hank 3 has actually opted to experiment in a way that Hank Sr. may have better appreciated. The elder Williams not only changed country music but indeed popular music in general by penning songs that would become standards in any number of formats -- "Hey Good Lookin'," "I Saw the Light," "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry," "Jambalaya (On the Bayou)," "Your Cheatin' Heart," "Cold, Cold Heart," and scores more.

It's a credit to his enduring influence that just a few months ago, more than 50 years after his death, a dozen of today's most revered artists -- Bob Dylan, Lucinda Williams, Norah Jones, and Merle Haggard among them -- completed songs he had left unfinished and compiled them into an album titled The Lost Notebooks. This past year also saw the release of various rare and unreleased recordings bannered under the title The Legend Begins

It would be a lofty goal for Hank 3 to ever etch as indelible a mark as his granddad did, but judging by his prolific output, he appears at least as ambitious. One can only hope he avoids the pitfalls that ensnared Hank Sr., specifically an addiction to alcohol and painkillers and a penchant for erratic behavior. When he died at age 29 on New Year's Day 1953, the eldest Williams left behind a glorious legacy but a troubled past that abbreviated any further accomplishments. Indeed, Hank Sr. passed on well before the dawn of rock 'n' roll, leaving us to imagine the significant role he might have played in its formation. 

It's unfortunate then that people tend to pin their fantasies on a great person's successor. One need only look at the burden placed on Julian Lennon, Rufus Wainwright, Teddy Thompson, and most likely James McCartney (given his recent released recordings) to understand the pressures these talented offspring face. Fortunately, with a career that now spans a dozen years and some formidable aspirations, Hank 3 seems unconcerned with living up to anyone's expectations but his own. Consequently, we can only wish Hank 3 a happy birthday and hope that wherever his musical journey takes him, that it carries him very far.

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Lee Zimmerman