Shelton Hank Williams, or Hank III as he’s better known, will be excited to see his new record, Straight To Hell (Curb), on store shelves, but excuse him if he won’t allow himself to become too enthusiastic.
“Yeah,” he says with a thick Southern drawl, “I’ll believe it when I see it.”
The double-disc set may be new in the sense that nobody was able to buy it before February 28th, but not so new in the sense that most of the material is familiar to anyone who follows Williams — grandson of Hank Williams and son of Hank Williams Jr. — because he and his band (The Damn Band) have been playing it for nearly three years now. Originally scheduled to be released in September of last year, Straight To Hell continued to get pushed back to the point Williams himself began to doubt it would see the light of day.
The hold up? You might be surprised.
“Wal-Mart,” Williams says with a deep sigh. “They wouldn’t accept the censored version. That was a huge deal. Wal-Mart and Target rejected the clean version, with all the beeps and all the cuss words beeped out and all that stuff. That’s bullshit. You’re going to reject our little bullshit hillbilly record when you’re going to sell ‘South Park’ five feet away that says goddamn, shit, fuck, [and] fucks with homosexuals, politics, racism, religion?”
Williams refused to record more songs (“We ain’t changin’ shit”) for a squeaky clean version and thinks his record label stalled at the notion of losing out on the mega-bucks Wal-Mart makes selling country music (see Garth Brooks’ deal with the store that made it the exclusive carrier of his recent box set). “Forty percent of country music sales is through Wal-Mart,” Williams says. “But what they [Curb] don’t understand is, oh, maybe eight to 10 percent of those people might buy our record.”
What Williams is saying is he isn’t exactly your average country musician, at least by today’s standards. Lump him in with pop country acts like “Brad Paisley, Keith Urban, fuckin’ Toby Keith, and all that shit” and he’s likely to hang up the phone and go back to playing with his dogs. Those musicians, Williams believes, have sucked the life out of country music and draw the scorn of many of Straight To Hell’s tracks, most notably “Dick In Dixie” where Williams taunts mainstream Nashville by singing “I’m here to put the Dick in Dixie/and the cunt back in country/’cause the kind of country I’m hearin’ nowadays/it’s a bunch of fuckin’ shit to me.”
“If you’re gonna talk shit you’re gonna get shit for it, man,” Williams says about Nashville’s reaction to his outspokenness. “I would say the main thing is I’ve talked so much shit about FM radio, I don’t see us ever really gettin’ much respect from them.” But it won’t stop the fiery Williams from talking shit; it’s just the outlaw in him. One look at the 33-year-old with his long hair, tattoos, a sleeveless vest stitched with Misfits and MotÃ¶rhead patches (he got his start in the music industry playing in hardcore punk bands like Buzzkill, Whipping Post, and Bed Wetter) and it’s obvious he could care less about the way things “are supposed to be done.” His country idols are renegades like David Allan Coe and Waylon Jennings — guys who did what they wanted to. Ask him and he’ll tell you his greatest achievement with this album is the fact he and his band recorded it entirely by themselves on a $500 Korg D1600 digital recorder, instead of opting for the slickness — and debt — of a Nashville studio.
He writes songs about drinking (“My Drinking Problem”), drugging (“Crazed Country Rebel”), and, oftentimes, both (“Smoke & Wine”). He’s a celebrated pot smoker, half hardcore honky tonker, half hardcore headbanger (he is also the bassist for Superjoint Ritual, led by former Pantera vocalist Phil Anselmo) whose fuck-all attitude has drawn scorn from a lot of people in the industry, even his notoriously rowdy dad. Hank Jr’s “F Word” took a shot at his son for using language, the song says, that has no place in country music. Ironically, the song featured backup vocals from Kid Rock, who was already on Williams’ shit list.
– Trevor Fisher
To learn why Hank The Youngest is mad at Hank The Middle, pick up the March issue of Illinois Entertainer.
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