Hank 3 on the self-contained anarchy of his shows, from a stabbing once to a heart attack
See also: Hank 3 at Boulder Theatre, 9/4/12
Hank 3 has one of the most unimpeachable country music pedigrees of anyone alive: His grandfather is the late Hank Williams Sr., one of the pioneers of both country and rock and roll, and his farther is Hank Williams Jr. To his credit, Hank 3 has never really relied on any of this, and instead has largely carved out a name for himself as someone who is comfortable playing punk, metal and country, equally as well.
His fourth album, 2006's Straight To Hell, firmly established Hank 3 as an innovative musician and powerful performer in his own right. In 2011, Hank 3 released four albums and for this tour he and the band will be playing an extended set including this material.
We spoke with the thoughtful and gracious Shelton Hank Williams recently, and in typical classy fashion he made sure to point out that the show will start on time and early so that people can get up for work the next day and not feel bad. Anyone interested in picking up Hank 3 vinyl should go to hank3.com as that's the only place to get it.
Westword: In a recent interview with the East Nashvillian, the author of the article said he thought you spoke for the misfits of the world. Do you feel a kinship with misfits?
Hank 3: Well, I speak to the common working man and working woman. With that all the Williamses have always had a rowdy crowd. A lot of people that work hard and play hard and are young at heart. But [we all have] a very loyal following. Some people would call them misfits. People that like to judge might call them misfits. Eighteen to eighty is our audience. I have cowboys, punk rockers, average, everyday people, the train-hopping kids out there and people that just look a lot more worn down because life has been kind of hard on them. It's all around the spectrum.
Hank Williams, Hank Jr. and myself, if you check your history, you'll see that they've always played in rowdy environments. Part of that is a lot of people are coming to forget their problems and not being told what to do for a couple of hours and not try to have anything sold to them or pushed on them. A big thing I always say when I have a security briefing before every show is, "Let all these folks have as much fun as y'all can."
You spent some of your early years playing drums in hardcore bands. How did you become involved in that world?
I got my first drum kit when I was six years old. My first vinyl was a Kiss record and a Walt Disney record. I liked the energy of rock and roll. My aunt used to listen to ZZ Top, Ted Nugent, Heart, Queen and all these more rock and roll kind of bands. And I enjoyed playing that style of music. It's a natural progression. Hank Williams was playing rock and roll before rock and roll was. "Move It On Over" and what Bill Haley and the Comets did was basically the same thing. "Rock Around the Clock" is "Move it on Over." It's just labeled differently.
Jr. gravitated more toward southern rock, and for me, it was natural to be into more extreme, underground music. That just happened to be more hardcore or punk rock or the speed metal stuff. I'm still a drummer to this day. I play on all my records. I still play in a hardcore band and just going back to the love of the music and enjoy playing.
Who was the first hardcore band you saw live?
For me, it would have to be Cro-mags. At the time, I wasn't old enough to get in to some of the places. Like when the Dead Kennedys would come to town, I was still like twelve and thirteen and wasn't able to see that. But Cro-mags and Corrosion of Conformity, the original line-up. The biggest production show I went to with my step-dad and my mom was Adam Ant when I was probably eleven. To this day, I admire what he's done and how he still has his voice. How he's still doing what he does. I knew right away that I wanted to be in some aspect of music.
What was it about Adam Ant that you admired?
He always really had a tribal sound. Like the Kings of the Wild Frontier record had a very interesting sound. Basically anything Malcolm McLaren touched I kinda liked. Adam Ant's singing style, his percussion, the way those albums were produced, the guitar work was really interesting. Some of it was spaghetti western stuff. That could be another reason why I felt drawn to it. I hope to get to see him when he gets to the United States in October. But that last time I saw him was 1984.
How did you meet Buzz Osborne?
A lot of bands don't come through Nashville that much. The Melvins was one of those bands that did. I was always into the heaviness of their music and how it was different. They came to town, and I brought Dale some gardening gloves back when he was wearing those all the time when he was playing drums. I brought Buzz a couple of things.
I just introduced myself to them, and they started telling me they listened to Buck Owens, Johnny Paycheck and all these things while driving on the road. We developed a relationship, and I used to write to them a little bit. I actually flew out to San Francisco and stayed with them for a while. I got to be on the The Crybaby record, and I got to see how they recorded and how they did stuff.
As time went on, I was lucky enough to have Dale Crover come and play on one of my songs in the Nashville way of a country session. So it was kind of funny for him to see how Nashville did it. I got to do a lot of fun stuff with those guys. I got to go Graceland for the very first time with the Melvins. I got to take the Melvins on the Gibson tour. They never had seen the Gibson guitar factory, and we got to go behind the scenes, and they got to see how they're all made. We had a BBQ at Dale's house. All kinds of fun stuff. It was just out of respect. That band has such a work ethic that I admire, and they've never broken up.
I'm known for singing about the drinking, the smoking, the drugging and all that stuff, but they're a band out there that has conquered the road basically being sober. That is an amazing task and a huge inspiration. It was just kind of the right place at the right time. We got to tour with them for a while and got to know them. Buzz is very interesting, there's no one else out there like him.
You've said in interviews that the Melvins kind of helped you break down the walls -- perhaps between country, punk and metal as well. What did you mean by that, and how would you say that band helped?
They're one of those bands that do what they do and you either you get it or you don't, and no matter what, they're still going to do what they do. I've always taken that to heart, especially with the kinds of that shows I do and being involved in different sounds, and that offered me a bunch of inspiration right there. That should be for any band, really. I don't care if you're the best musician in the world. There's always going to be someone there that's not gonna get it, or is going to be heckling you, or throwing beer at you, and just trying to mess with ya. That's just part of it.
I'm in Seattle right now, and one time, I was opening for the Melvins, and I had like fifteen cowboys waiting to really physically harm me at the end of the night; you know, chasin' me down and destroy what I was ridin' in just because they thought that what I was doing was such a curse to the family name, or whatever. They just didn't get it. That's their problem.
I've been right beside Buzz more than once where people have tried to get violent with him just because of the way he looks. They don't even know who he is. It doesn't matter if it's some redneck in Tennessee while we're just sitting down trying to eat...What really pissed me off was when I was in San Francisco, in a place where you supposedly can't shock anybody, and someone's gonna give him trouble like that.
But it showed me how patience and [perspective come in handy]. That's their karma; that's their problem and you're being unique and different and standing on your own two feet. They have broken a lot of barriers and just offered so much inspiration in many ways.
In a recent interview with Metal Sucks, you mentioned that you listened to Karp. How did you find out about that band, and what is it about that music that struck a chord with you?
Back when I was growing up listening to the Melvins, I got on a mission to find any other band that sounds like the Melvins. By chance, I found Karp. I basically did my research. I looked up all these bands out of Washington. I got to grow up with Karp and watch all their changes. I had the original CD back in 1993. I didn't get to them all of a sudden because Big Business brought me into them. I was interested by their guitar tone. Jared [Warren's] voice. The guitar player and the bass player had an interesting high scream/singing thing going on. You can tell they were paying respect to Melvins and were fan of Melvins but had something different going on.
I never did get to see Karp live, only bootlegs. They have stayed at the house when they were coming through on tour. That's back when Jared was pretty depressed and didn't know what was going on. The really bad stuff had just happened with the loss of the drummer. It's good to see the rebirth within him and the solid foundation that happened with Buzz, Dale and Coady. Just the way they've all come together with that.
Did you see the Karp documentary, Kill All Redneck Pricks?
Oh yeah. I waited for years for it to come out, and I have definitely seen it. On this tour I did everything I could trying to get a show at the State Theater just to say that we played there and be able to be part of that history. I wasn't able to get everyone to make it happen, but we tried. I did enjoy the video and I'm always still looking for bootlegs -- audio or whatever on that tip.
You were in part of the film The Wild and Wonderful Whites of West Virginia. How did you become familiar with them and then involved in that project.
This goes way back to the beginning also. It goes back to Apple Shops and what they did with the documentary on Donald Ray White, The Dancing Outlaw. And the Hasil Adkins documentary. I saw both of those at the same time. The connection to it, again, was that I just understood the depression, the misery, the happiness and the sadness all in that story.
I got to know Hasil over the years. Through Hasil, they heard that I wanted to one day meet Jesco. And Mamie and the miracle woman, Bertie Mae, came out to a show where it was me and Hasil Adkins. That's how I first got to know them. They said, "Well, if you want to come out to Boone County sometime, just let us know.
Sure enough, when I was making my Straight to Hell record, I had the song "D. Ray White" and I wanted the family to hear it first and make sure that they were okay with it. So I grabbed my dog and we drove to Boone County, and I just stayed with Jesco for a few days and ended up recording him dancing on "Louisiana Stripes" and got to know him. So I got to know them before the film came about.
A guy named Storm Taylor, who lives up in Knoxville, asked me if I wanted to be involved with it. I said, "I'll do what I can, and I'll offer you this and that." It's an interesting movie and documentary and all that stuff. But I think they focused a little too much on the harder things. At least in the original, there was some creativity with the art, the dancing and the story there. It wasn't just about get wasted, get wasted, get wasted, bad, bad, bad. It's a tough life in West Virginia for a lot of people.
That's the only thing that kind of rubbed me the wrong way, a little bit. I wish they had shown a little more of the creative side. Because there is a creative side there with Jesco in just the way he talks, and when he plays the harmonica, and when he jokes, all kinds of stuff. I asked to be involved with it; I took him up to a farm, and we hung out for a couple of days, and then they did all the rest of it in editing. It goes a good five or six years of knowing them before the documentary.
In various interviews you bring up Henry Rollins in the context of good advice or words that you remember. What are the best bits of advice he's given that has stuck with you?
The biggest thing he told me was that you don't need management. All you need is a distribution company. "You work hard, you know your sound, make records, record your own records and all you need is distribution." I've kept true to that when I got done with my time with Curb Records. I went out and found a distribution company that understand what I do and what my vision is. An since 2011 I've held on to that full on, and it's been great.
Henry is just another guy that has offered tons of inspiration as far as pulling through hard times, going over the top, doing it while you can: Don't just sit around talking about it -- get out there and do it. I was honored to send him all my records last year that I put out. To hear him say, "Wow, that's awesome that you're able to pump that much out. Congratulations. I'll see you out there."
When I was growing up, as far as screaming and what all he was doing, he was a huge influence. All of Black Flag was. I just got to be around Greg Ginn. Two days ago, I did a show with him. Working on his guitar was an honor. We all pitched in together, and we got to work on his guitar and got it to him before show time. All the different members of Black Flag I've gotten to know over the years have been very special to me just because of all what they offer to me.
Did Greg still have that clear guitar?
He has another graphite guitar, and it's a black one. It was twenty years old, and I think he still has the clear Dan Armstrongs. He and Buzz both go back to this graphite guitar because it has a bit more clarity to it.
You've definitely carved out a niche for yourself playing various venues of all sizes and numerous situations over the years. What have been some of the hairiest and some of the funniest situations in which you've found yourself?
It's hard to say. Even the other night when we played in Reno, it was right there on the edge of a full-on anarchy. But everyone was still getting along. That's what a lot of these security guards have noticed over the years when I keep coming back. They might look crazy but if you just let the fans take care of themselves, they'll do it. But if you try to get out there and control them and start throwing everybody out, it's just going to make things worse. That's why I always talk to the security guards and let them know we've got a rowdy crowd and try to be respectful to them as much as possible.
But there have been some times, even up in Colorado, some girl stabbed a guy, and we had to stop playing. They made everyone stay in the building and then walk out one at a time, and they searched everybody, and they finally found out who did the stabbing, and they let us all back in, and we finished the show. [Ed: This incident happened in Fort Collins a few years ago]
As far as funny stuff, it's kind of hard to say. I take everything so serious, man. The funny times, to me, is just playing with a hero because that's when I'm smiling the most, whether that was with George Jones or playing a song with David Allan Coe and Dimebag on stage. Even playing with Philip Anselmo. Or having Jello Biafra out. Those are my biggest moments that make me happy.
I did have an incident where there was way too much security. There were like over eighty guys standing in front of me and trying to totally control this crowd. That's ridiculous. A kid made it up on to the rafters at the top of the building. He was walking across, and it got scary for a minute because we thought that if the kid dropped and what was going to happen.
But sure enough he got down safely and ran out the building and security chased him. There have been a lot of highs and lows. I saw people have a heart attack in front of us up in Canada. Of course there's always a lot of fights and a lot of stuff being thrown sometimes. You just never can tell what's going to happen. Every night is different, and there's always a lot of different energy in the room.
Is this tour you're on now kind of in support of those albums you put out last year?
It's a lot of things. I mean, A), I haven't gotten to sell my own CD at my merch table in over eighteen years, so that was a huge thing for me to release all those records at once across multiple genres and to play every set of that on the road -- that was important for me, to do the country, the hellbilly, the doom and the three bar ranch. That's why we've been hitting it so hard. I gotta do it while I can. I have the rest of my life to play only an hour. Right now I'm just going over the top.
Each show is close to three and a half hours a night. It's the most gear I've ever pulled, so we load in at one o'clock in the daytime, and it takes us up until 6 p.m. to get everything set up, sound-checked and ready. Then we play our show for three and a half hours, break it down. I always do the after show hellos and pictures and autographs and shaking hands. It's definitely intense. I've hit everywhere I wanted to hit so far except for Japan, and I'd like to get to Canada soon.
Have you played Japan before?
Yeah, it was '95/'96, but I haven't really got to do my thing there. I was playing way upscale jazz night clubs, sit down dinner kind of environment. But I know there's so many kids over there that have the Elvis pompadour and love the stand-up bass and that rockabilly sound that it would be great.
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