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Chicago Sun Times
Monday, October 25, 1999
Hank 'serving time'
Offspring of country legends carries on rowdy tradition, awaits big break
By FISH GRIWKOWSKY -- Edmonton Sun
Hank Williams III is carrying on the family tradition. You think I mean as a country singer, don't you? While that's true, it's not the whole story.
His daddy, Hank Williams Jr., was a notorious boozer and pill popper, and his grandpa, the man whose legend sits nestled in the roots of every country family tree ever drawn, drank himself to death before he reached 30.
The original Hank Williams suffered, all right, and evil or not, that pain translated into wonderful music. But Hank III, whose real name is Shelton Hank Williams, keeps on suffering, and there's a sideways nobility to that, which can only be understood after a long conversation with the rail-thin Nashville resident.
Spookiest of all is that he sounds EXACTLY like his granddaddy when he talks. You'll understand the weirdness after you read a few quotes.
After three days of miscommunication and neglected phone deadlines, Williams finally calls from a pay phone in New Orleans.
I ask him why oh why, given the hell his family's gone through, and the hoops that plastic Nashville presents, he would ever want to be a country singer.
The answer knocks me on my butt.
"A one-night stand that waited three years to tell me I had a son. I needed cash flow fast," Williams says with snake-bite honesty. "It was time to get into the business.
"Now I live with four people for $137 a month, and I'm still broke."
Shelton Williams was relatively happy with his life before putting on the cowboy wear. He was playing in energetic punk bands, getting high and having sex. He'd been in jail "but not for anything major: I f---ed up when I was pretty young, you know?
"Looking back," says the 26-year-old, "those were the best times of my life, playing on the bill with Corrosion of Conformity, Bad Religion, Fugazi. We'd been on the rock circuit for a few years, but there was no f---ing money in it. There was bad sides to it, seeing my friends shooting up and dying off, waking up not knowing what day it was. But I miss it."
Williams is now "being drained" by child support, which forced him to seek a record deal. "That whole situation is about greed. They just ream me every month. I don't even get to see the kid," he says with a sardonic chortle, "what with my reputation as a pot smoker, her dad being a f---ing cop and all. That's just gonna cause worse of a sticky situation if I even try and get near, you know? Maybe when the boy's 15 or so he might want to look me up, but ..."
He doesn't finish. I ask him if he'd encourage his son to plug into the music business. "I don't know what he'll be right now. But if he feels the urge to play - go to it!"
Williams' memories of his own dad are sparse, which might explain a few things, and makes his current situation sadder.
"I only saw the guy, like, three or four times a year. He was doing what I'm doing. Living on the road, getting screwed up. We wasn't really close; we ain't now. We got together for that gawdawful Three Hanks piece of crap, which I wish they would destroy.
"It's an embarrassment," he says with a moan.
Most sensible critics, including me, agreed. That album was madness. His recent solo follow-up, Risin' Outlaw, was a big improvement, but still too Nashville.
"Which pisses me off. Everything Curb (Records) puts out is s---. They wouldn't let me record none of my own songs, barely. Too country for country, you know the line. Blue Devil, this tune I recorded on a four-track with my friend after we got a good buzz going, is the best song on the album."
Which is actually true, and it's the only track carrying his name alone in the writing credits, plus the most real.
I've often wondered what modern Nashville, which ironically drops his name endlessly, would actually do if a mess of a guy like the first Hank Williams wandered through town. Now I know.
"The name alone usually attracts about 50 or so curiosity seekers to the show. We know if we're playing the Policeman's Ball or something to have the proper respect, but we like to get rowdy.
"I played the House of Blues here last night. Whoever booked the show was an idiot. You get a bunch of honkies pretending to be brothers hanging out, then they drive them into the street and have some kind of gangsta show. It was a bad trip, made for violence."
He's more hopeful for his show here Wednesday at Cook County.
"This (interview) is for a Canadian paper, right? I hope it's a rowdy crowd, at least."
Take that as a challenge, then, from Hank Williams III, who's been down enough dark roads to offer one.
"One day I'd like to find an Al Jourgensen or a Beck who would take a chance on me and produce some killer tunes for me. Until then, I'm serving time."