~A chat with Hank Williams III~
June 02, 2001
State College, PA
I've just seen a ghost - no, not a ghost, but I've just seen Hank Williams, or at least the spitting image of him. Turns out, it's Hank Williams the third and he's playing the Crowbar tonight with his entourage known as the Damn Band. Being a huge Hank Sr. fan, I must talk to this guy and see what makes him tick. As we begin rolling tape, Hank is telling me about all the things the band has been doing...
TV: Tell me, what have you guys been up to lately?
H3: Well, we were just at the Crystal Palace, May 19th - Buck Owens got to open up. He does that for every band that comes through his club, he opens up for you. Before that, we were on tour with the Melvins for two weeks - getting out there just doing our heavy stuff - having a chance to release some energy.
TV: I got a lot of that stuff off of Napster from those shows.. and to be honest, I haven't really had much of a chance to hear a lot of the heavier stuff, because well, there's really nothing out there, except "Risin' Outlaw"..
H3: Yeah... (expressing disdain) (chuckles a bit)
TV: ....but it was good to hear some familiar things in there at soundcheck today, like "Mary Jane".
H3: I hear you - that was on the first bootleg, but we've got another bootleg that's getting ready to come out, and it'll have a couple of the same songs on it that the first one did. (Shows me a jewel case with the artwork and track listing)
H3: We also have a new country album recorded, that I'm a lot happier with, that's been turned in to my label - so we'll see if it gets out in another four or five months.
TV: Got a working title fo it?
H3: Well, maybe "Walking with Sorrow" or "Lovesick, Broke and Driftin'" - probably one of those two. That's a whole other battle just to name the album.. going head-to-head with them.
TV: Are you still with Curb?
H3: Yeah, but we're trying to get away from them. Trying hard.
TV: What else do you have going on?
H3: We've got a rock album done. It's called "This Ain't Country", and Curb has rejected it. So, we're gonna have to see what's gonna happen with that. We're in legal battles.
TV: Is there a problem with going to another label while you're under contract, even though it's a totally different type of music with a completely different name?
H3: Well, IF they let us go. Curb was going to let us do that (the rock album), but then they read the lyrics.. they're a "Christian" oriented label, or whatever. They finally rejected the album after having it for six months, and I was trying to work deals with Warner Brothers, or Reprise or some other independent label. Now, they might give the album back to me, where I'll own it solely, so I can sell it on the internet and sell it at shows.
TV: So you'd avoid going through Curb, or any label for that matter?
H3: Right, I'd totally do it myself, but it's up to the lawyers.
TV: Well, maybe when you pick it up (from Curb) you could go around the corner and accidentally drop it off at Sony.
H3: (Laughs) Yeah! No doubt.. no doubt.. we'll see. We've got a banner that says "FUCK CURB" and we're looking to make shirts that say "Fuck Curb Records", so we'll see what happens.
TV: They"ve dropped a lot of people, in fact some pretty good-selling acts, so maybe you'll luck up and get let off.
H3: Hopefully. I'm just wasting my time - I should have about four albums out by now. I'm 28, and I've only got about another eight or ten years left to scream, and I've gotta do it - the Jekyl and Hyde thing - while I can, and get as much out there as I can. These bootlegs that I'm selling, I could totally get my ass sued because I'm doing it, but hell, I've gotta do it, man. We've got to build our following so we've got people coming back next time.
TV: I think that the half-and-half set is a really good idea. You get the die-hard country fans in there who might be just a little bit curious, so they stick around for the second part and really get into it.
H3: Yeah, sometimes they get into it, and sometimes a lot of people leave. Sometimes we have the hardcore drunk assholes that're like "What the fuck are you doing!?" - getting up in my face, trying to fight.
H3: It's weird - we get a wide variety of people. We've played shows where there's been 500 cowboys, and 500 rockers and I'll say "Alright, we're gonna do the hard stuff now.. let's not fight. Ya'll can get in the pit, but don't get violent with each other." This was in Gruene Hall, TX - the oldest Honky-Tonk in Texas - we had two sherriffs on each side of the stage.. and it WORKED!
TV: No Way!
H3: Yep - the cowboys were in the pit, everyone was jumping around and there was not ONE fight. The police were just freaking out because it looked like it was going to be a riot, but it all came together.
TV: How long have you been on tour now?
H3: We always work about three weeks and take a week off, so we just recouped from a week off. This is only our second day out on this leg.
TV: Where did you play before this show (State College, PA 06-02-01)?
H3: Last night we were..... somewhere in Maryland! (laughs)
TV: Was that listed in the tourdates at all? According to the Curb site, this looked like the first show.
H3: On some it was, but on some it wasn't. (Opens itenerary notebook) ..some theatre is where it was. It was alright - we'd played there before with the Reverend Horton Heat.
TV: I can't help but notice the Misfits stickers all over your gear, and the fact that you wear an oldschool Misfits shirt during the second half of your set.. ever get to play with them?
H3: He does that with everybody, you know, "Let's get together and jam!" (laughs) Well, the only chance I ever had to jam with Jerry was about a year ago, when I first saw the "new" Misfits. They brought this blind kid out on stage.
TV: Down in Atlanta - the Dragon Con maybe?
H3: Yeah, in Atlanta. They brought him out for one song, and then he walked offstage. So Jerry calls me up a couple of months later, and says "We're gonna do a benefit for this blind kid who can sing and play bass and all this stuff, and wanted to see if you'd come down and play it. I think it'd be cool if you and my son got up and did 'Country Boy Can Survive' (a popular Hank Jr. song) with the blind kid." Now, I would've done it, but that would've been TOO weird - "A" - doing a Hank Junior song, and "B" looking over there seeing Jerry Only, "C" seeing Jerry's kid, and the blind kid on 'Country Boy..' . If he had said "Let's just get up there and ROCK", I'd have been all for it, but that one threw me for a loop. I didn't expect him to say that.
TV: And you're a big fan of the Misfits?
H3: Yeah - it's just the energy and the whole "look" they have going on. It's priceless. That skull, the crimson ghost skull, is undeniably everywhere, and anyone who knows anything knows what it is. Same with the Danzig skull, and the Black Flag bars - you just know what they are. And with Glenn (pauses) .. I have to scream - I can't sing high like that. He's really talented.
TV: They're definitely a unique band of guys.
TV: Are you into Samhain and Danzig as well?
H3: I was really a big fan of Danzig when they had the first band with John Christ and Chuck Biscuits - that was cool for a good four or five-year run. Now it's time for him to get over his cockiness and do the ultimate reunion tour. (laughs)
TV: I'd LOVE to see that. It would sell out like that (snaps fingers). What else finds it's way into your CD player these days?
H3: Nowadays I'm really into "Fantomas".
TV: That's with Mike Patton, right?
H3: Yeah, with Buzz from the Melvins, and Dave Lombardo from Slayer.
TV: Have you heard any of the stuff from "Grip, inc." with Dave Lombardo?
H3: No, what's it like?
TV: It's pretty heavy, but with that sort of 'latino' drum influence that he seems to bring to everything. I wasn't to thrilled with the singer, but it's pretty good. Anything else?
H3: Oh, I've been listening to "Lamb of God" - thet're out of Richmond, Virginia. Of course, the Melvins and.. I dunno. I have about 3 CD cases floating around here (flips through a case).
TV: Oh - Junior Brown's "Guit With it"! That's a great album.
H3: I have a pretty wide variety of stuff I like, but what I really don't like.. what I'm really against is what's happened to Brittney Spears, Jennifer Lopez and all those movie stars becoming singer, and vice-versa. They don't have to get up there and even sing because they can just lip-sync..... it's all about dancing.
TV: That's right - shake their butts, push their boobs up and they're a star.
H3: Hell, I even had a manager from out in LA who works with some of my people come down to a show and say "I'm probably not staying for the show - it's too teeniebopper for me."
TV: What? Hell, that's not teeniebopper.
H3: Right - teeniebopper - that's your Backstreet Boys, and all that stuff.
TV: What really sucks about that is that it's what sells. They cram it down everybody's throats, and it's just snowballing.
H3: Yeah, it's definitely sold crazy amounts. There's just not a good rock scene happening anymore.
TV: You know, this whole thing with the interview was partly because of the Misfits. I have a friend working at a country station in Harrisburg, and he called me up to tell me about this picture of you he saw in a magazine. You were with Ray price and some record rep, and you had on a Misfits shirt. Well, I started poking around on the internet trying to find out more information on you, and of course - Curb's site sucks, but I finally found the tourdates, here you are, and here I am.
H3: Have you ever been to ours? ( www.hankthree.com )
TV: The one with the really nice "flash" intro and skulls and so on?
H3: Yeah, yeah, that's it. He's the only one who's willing to step up and do it for me for nothing really. He lives about 40 miles down the road from me, and I'm finally getting to where I can pay him a little to do it. There's a message board there, and all sorts of stuff. We're getting ready to be able to sell the seven-inchers and all that - where we'll be able to accept credit cards and all that.
TV: You seemed to have just all of a sudden "popped out" onto the scene - what happened there?
H3: Well, we've been on the road seven years, just doing what we do. With just about any band, once you've been on the road for a number of years, you 'll pick up a following. A lot of it was signing to new management - they hired a new publicist who helped a lot. We're still not a "famous" band. I think we'll have a huge cult following, like the reverend heat or something like that. We'll probably play clubs like this for twenty years, we don't get played on the radio, you get your following and just work it. Right now, everything we make goes into this bus. I've done it (touring) in a van before, but until we have to, it's just a lot better on the bus for a whole lot of reaons. Running a crew of nine or ten people, you'll get pretty grouchy in a van, because you're on top of each other all the time.
TV: You guys are ALL on this bus? It's all self-contained?
H3: Yeah - all the crew, band and equipment. We've got nine guys out right now, sometimes it's ten. I said if I EVER get into country music, I'd get a bus and get out of the van, also if I got into country, I'd do it just to make enough money to get back into the rock. Our Rock stuff is getting pretty brutal - say you have 500 people in the audience: maybe 150 will understand it. It's just assaulting, a lot of screaming and shit like that. We're just having fun with it.
TV: You'd think it would be easier for people to accept with all of this rap-core and crossover stuff happening nowadays.
H3: No doubt. I've been a big fan of death metal too, so I can understand why people might not like out heavier side, and like our country side more. But then again, there's people who hate our country side and normally like our heavy side. That's the only weird thing that you get into when you do these two different aspects of music.
TV: Well, you've got balls to go out and do it.
TV: Now, I've seen you listed with "The Damn Band" and "Assjack" - are they two different bands?
H3: No, "Hank Williams and The Damn Band" is what I call the band when we do country stuff, and "Hank3 and Assjack" is the harder stuff. There's no real difference, but we just got Kevin Bonds on guitar, who's replacing Duane Denison (formerly of THE JESUS LIZARD) and new drummer Joe Fozzio. Both of those guys came out of Phil Anselmo's side project, SUPERJOINT RITUAL. Also, we've got Dan Johnson on steel guitar, and he's been with us about six or eight months.
TV: So Kevin and Joe came to you at the same time?
H3: Yeah, with Phil (Anselmo) getting back surgery, I was lucky enough to get them both. Kev's never played country before, just always played rock. Filling Duane's spot is tough... tough for anyone actually.
TV: Seeing them at soundcheck, I was pretty impressed. I thought you guys were just going over a few tough spots, not actually learning the songs at soundcheck!
H3: Fazzio, he's getting there - he's never played country before. Our old drummer could fly (demonstrates a galloping drumbeat), but in a few months Fazzio.. he'll be there. It's all just learning curve right now. Whenever you get a new drummer, it's like starting over.
TV: I was a bit concerned that you'd be a bit tense, what with having two new guys trying to learn songs on the road, but I'm glad to see that you're relaxed enough to talk with me a bit.
H3: Oh yeah, no problem.
(Bass player Jason Brown enters the room)
TV: How about you? How long have you been with Hank?
JASON - Geez, maybe six years, since '95.
TV: What about your fiddle player, Michael McCanless? How long has he been with the band?
H3: Two years.
TV: Does he have any outside projects besides working with you?
H3: Well, he does a lot of stuff around Nashville, but we're number one right now in his book. It's hard to find a guy who's willing to make noise on a fiddle like that.
TV: He looks really comfortable doing it though.
H3: He's a weird one.
TV: What kind of music are you selling at the show tonight? Maybe the "Risin' Outlaw" disc?
H3: There might be a few of those, but it's mostly the seven-inchers. It has two songs from the final album. There's 1000 of the black ones printed, and 250 of the purple ones. Each one of our bootlegs are different, so they'll have some sort of value to a fan.
TV: Kind of like the Misfits, with all of that colored vinyl.
H3: Oh yeah, it's amazing how much (Misfits) stuff people have given me, just from wearing their shirts.
TV: Maybe we'll be seeing your stuff traded out like that someday.
H3: You never can tell.
JASON - Is that your truck out there, the Misfits-mobile?
TV: Yeah, it's mine. Kind of a rolling advertisement for my site.
JASON - Cool!
TV: So, you guys are gonna do these three weeks, then take a break?
H3: Well, this tour is actually only ten days, then we head home for a little break.
TV: Where exactly IS home for you?
H3: Nashville (laughs)
TV: I should've seen that coming. What would you say has been the most interesting experience in your touring so far?
H3: Hmm.. probably getting shut down by the cops, for no reason. It was an outdoor show, they're selling kegs, there's food set up, and we're in this big parking lot. Well, we go onstage, and 30 minutes later the guy walks up to me and goes like this (makes cutting motion across throat). So, I tell everyone "We've gotta go.." people are booing us, and I say "You don't understand - we're being told by someone above us that we have to stop." So, everybody's getting restless, and I ask who shut us down. My guy tells me it was the cops, and I thought we were being st up to get busted because of all the stuff we talk about in interviews, but it was a new noise ordinance that went into effect just three days earlier.
TV: Well, hopefully we won't have you guys getting shut down tonight.
TV: About four years ago, I saw something, I think it was in "Country Weekly", a picture of you all dressed up in the white suit and hat - looking like the spitting image of your granddaddy.
H3: (laughing) Yeah, yeah, that was it.
TV: Do you get that a lot - people wanting you to look like him, be like him and sound like him?
H3: I used to, but I get fans that just want to hear his songs more than anything. Business-wise, they know that I'm more of a slacker, down-to-earth, common man that's not into the flashy side of things. I just did it in the beginning to get started.
H3: Yeah, I got sued after a one-night-stand waited two years to tell me I had a kid. They took me to court, her dad was a cop, and it was real ugly. The judge said to get a real job, and my way of getting a real job was to go down to music row, get a manager and get on a label.
TV: Was your granddaddy still alive when you were born?
H3: No, he died in 1953 - my dad was three when he died, and my dad almost died when I was three - when he fell off the mountain. I don't know how I would've turned out if he had died.
TV: Kind of like the Hank Williams curse, eh?
H3: Yeah, if he had died, I might not have had a chance to get pissed of and get into metl, punk and playing drums. Hell, I might be like Bryan White.
TV: So they (father and mother) split up and you went with your mom?
H3: Yeah, when I was about four.
TV: So it's not like you were under his thumb getting all of this musical coaching.. pushing you into it?
H3: Noooo.. we don't even talk about music. Hell, it was just his birthday and I haven't even called him yet.
H3: (Laughing) Yeah, I'm in trouble.
TV: So, do you catch a lot of crap for doing these hal-and-half shows?
H3: Good and bad... I had this guy come up to me, when we were on tour with the Rev, and he said "That was was the biggest sell-out bullshit thing I have ever seen." ... How can you say that it's selling out? That's just me being 100 percent me, and that kind of music doesn't sell thousands of albums or attract girls... how can you say it's selling out? I just thanked him for his opinion and told him I respected it because it was his opinion. Thirty minutes later, he walks up to me and says "I just wanted to tell you that I think it's cool that you respect my opinion."
TV: Right, when you could've been getting nasty, and all in his face.
H3: Yeah... but still, I hate it! (laughs)
TV: True, you're doing something that you love, putting every bit of yourself into it, and you've got some guy telling you that it sucks - it's gotta hurt.
H3: ....and we get it all the time.
TV: Do you go to the bars much when you're home?
H3: Oh yeah, all the time..
TV: What's the one down the street from "Legends"?
H3: The Bluegrass Inn, next to Robert's?
TV: Might be.. there was a band called "Slick Andrews" playing there.
H3: Oh Slick! That's the Bluegrass Inn.
TV: Those guys were great - really had the room jumping.
H3: That place and Robert's are my second homes... if I don't have a girlfriend. (laughs). Here lately, I've been pretty lucky, got some stability going on. Though I was scared to give in again.. not having stability keeps you more raw. It's easy to get lazy when you're in love and all that shit.
TV: Weren't you slated to appear on the WARPED tour?
H3: (Laughing) I dunno, all the cool bands dropped off of it - I don't know why.
TV: Maybe more time for you then?
H3: No, we're on a side stage, so we only get thirty minutes. The Misfits were going to do it, the Rollins Band, Deftones.. but it's all gone to HELL now!
TV: Do you have many traditional country favorites? I saw you had Junior Brown...
H3: Wayne Hancock - he's a massive influence, Webb Pierce..
TV: You guys gonna do "There Stands the Glass" tonight?
H3: (laughs) Yeah right.. I don't think we all know that one.. we used to do a couple of Webb Pierce songs, but with all this screaming, it's taken it's toll on my voice.
TV: I can imagine.
H3: There's all kinds of others too.. (George) Jones, (David Alan) Coe, (Johnny) Paycheck, (Merle) Haggard..
TV: Oh yeah, you can't do without those guys.
H3: ... Dale Watson...
TV: Truck Stop in LaGrange!
H3: Yep, Truck Stop in LaGrange.
TV: Have you heard of "The Bastard Sons of Johnny Cash" ?
H3: I don't think so.
TV: Apparrently, Cash has given his blessing to the name. They do a couple of Dale Watson songs too..
TV: What do you think of Dwight Yoakam - not to put you on the spot, but he's one of my favorites. He's looked down upon by the "industry" for living in LA and not really having a "Nashville Presence".. you guys are kind of alike in that way.
H3: I respect Dwight for what he does. He knows how to get out there, put on a show and make the women scream and all that shit. He's a great singer, takes care of his voice, eats only certain foods and all that, so I respect him for how intense he is about taking care of himself. He's definitely unique.. one of a kind. You can't deny that. I'd easily pick him over any of the others that are in the "scene" out there now.
TV: Really - it's about time for a new wave of music on country radio.
H3: There's a lot of young guys out there - a lot of kids out there in Texas not getting the respect they deserve.. but they will soon.
TV: That's good - I hope we hear more. If you're breaking through and getting more notoriety, then I'm sure that you'll be pulling some people with you.
H3: You bet, I'm always talking about them.
STEEL GUITARIST Dan Johnson Enters
DAN - You seen a carton of Camels back here? (rummages around) Awww.. shit. (leaves room)
TV: So, are you happy with these guys now? Are they going to be a permanent fixture with you?
H3: Oh yeah - they're great, but all band members come and go. We'll make it last as long as we can.. until they get bored with it. Hey.. (holding up tattered Misfits shirt) Here ya go.
TV: Oh yeah, that's the one - old school. So what are we going to see tonight?
H3: Probably half-and-half.. I'll play country untill I feel like the crowd's getting bored.
TV: I heard you guys doing "Orange Blossom Special" in there earlier.
H3: Yeah, working on it, trying to get Fozzie up to speed on it.
TV: Well, I'm looking forward to the show tonight, so don't disappoint me!
H3: We'll try not to.
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