It's a Family Tradition

Hank Williams III hopes to do it his way, with or without Nashville's help.

Howard admits the disc may be cleaner than Williams wanted. But he says Williams's frustrations may be a factor of his band not being ready for the studio and his failure to understand why the suits in Nashville call it the music industry. "When an artist comes in and says, 'I want to do my record, and I want it gritty like Wayne Hancock,' I go, 'Okay, great. But look, dude, I'm sorry, but these people at the label put up this money to do all this, and you can't say now that you want to do a record that's gonna sell only 20,000 copies.' At some point, there has to be some economics. But Hank III," he adds, "he loves controversy and all that anti-establishment brouhaha that makes his life and songs click." Kilgore agrees. "Hank gets on stage and tells everybody not to buy his record because he doesn't like it," Kilgore says with a belly laugh. "He's crazy. But he's got a lot of talent, and he's just as nice as he can be. He'll go places if he listens to the right people."

That scenario is unlikely as long as Williams keeps company with Hancock, who has made a habit of voicing his "let's take back our country" anti-Nashville leanings. "There are guys that are like me -- - entertainers -- that pound the pavement for little or no money," Hancock says. "Then there's guys -- businessmen -- that won't play unless they get paid a certain amount. Well, Nashville is run by businessmen, and Hank is an entertainer. And he's feeling like he's roped in, and he's afraid if he leaves there that he'll fall flat. But I'm telling you, he's damn good, and if he leaves Nashville, he's gonna go places." Hancock says he bears some responsibility for Williams's speaking so candidly about his frustrations, as he encouraged Williams to do so. "But I forgot one thing," Hancock says. "I've got three albums out and a reputation. He doesn't -- he's starting out. But he's the coolest guy I've ever met," Hancock adds. "Sure, he's young and made some mistakes, but ain't we all? But he's in it for the music, and God bless him."

Williams will be venting his frustrations on a short swing through the U.S. fronting a new combo that draws from both extremes of his musical experience. The lineup includes stand-up steel player Jim Murphy (a former player with Johnny Paycheck and Hank Snow), fiddler Donnie Herrin (of BR-549) and newcomer Duane Dennison, former lead guitarist for the Jesus Lizard. It's a cross-cultural outfit, just the kind of band that'll never load up a CD if Nashville has its way with Hank III. Not that Williams is holding out hope of ever finding a label that understands him. "All I can do now is hope to be dropped one day by my label," III says, "and I'm doing everything I can to get out of that contract. See, I'm not here to be no happy-go-lucky pop-country guy. I'm here to be lovesick, broke and drifting, writing heartache songs and singing about pain and misery and depression, with a few good times here and there. That's what I'm into -- the dark things, whether it's a song about two girls drowning or selling your soul to the devil.

"And I don't know anymore what Nashville people think," he adds, "and I don't even fret over it. I live day to day, basically selling everything I got or doing what I can to keep this thing going on. I can't really change Nashville. Everybody's done their little rebellious thing, from Steve Earle to Dwight Yoakam to Lyle Lovett -- whoever. You can't change it. I'm just gonna keep doing what I do, and hopefully not make too many people mad."

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