Hank Williams III, the “Tennessee Hellbilly” and one of Punk Rock’s most cherished and rebellious Country boys, is heading out on a 3-week run of East Coast dates this month. Needless to say, I couldn’t have been more excited to speak with a man whose name and career exhibit more DIY Fuck-All than just about anything going today.
Releasing solely through his own label, Hank3 Records, Hank3 writes the perfect Southern ode to drinking, fighting, and fucking. He may claim to be going “Straight To Hell,” but chances are he’ll take his seat as one of the most exalted when he gets there.
Right before the run of dates, I spoke with Hank3 over the phone to talk about his lengthy career and release history, Metallica concert anniversaries and current controversies, his Randy Blythe penned biography, Dave Brockie’s untimely passing, the legend of Jesco White, and what drinks we should have ready for him when he comes to Syracuse, NY on June 14th at our own little slice of venue anarchy, The Lost Horizon.
G- Hank, how’s everything going and thank you very much for taking the time to speak with Live High Five today. You’re on the run… How’s everything been?
H- It’s been good, man. I appreciate all the research you’ve done and the awesome intro, and congrats on the 20 year anniversary (Metallica/Danzig/Suicidal Tendencies 6/5/94). It feels like yesterday I was head banging myself at a Metallica show, and I’m glad we’re both still here to keep talking about it.
G- And so are they ironically, even though the people at Glastonbury would prefer otherwise because of James’ hunting habits. Have you followed any of that?
H- I honestly haven’t. I’ve been so busy with pulling my new crew together and getting everything working on the road again, man, that I haven’t gotten to see the official story. But I just know when it comes to game wardens and all that stuff, it can get pretty heavy. So I’m kinda out of touch on what’s really happening with it.
I will say that the last tour I got to see was …And Justice For All. So, it has been a little while since I’ve gotten to see Metallica live.
G- Wow that was probably the best tour they’ve ever done. Not necessarily in terms of popularity, but that’s the record I wish I would’ve seen them on. I was only 13 and it wasn’t happening… No car.
H- (laughing) I hear ya, man.
G- But does Metallica need more people talking about them? Let’s talk about Hank3.
You are currently touring in support of your 3 (yes 3) recent releases. One of those is Brothers Of The 4×4 which is a double Country album, and then there is A Fiendish Threat. You released them all released on your own label, you recorded them all yourself… Where do you find the time, man? (laughing)
H- Well, pretty much in the wintertime, I shut everything down. Growing up, I was the kind of kid that would get strep throat 3-4 times a year in the winter… The way I hit the road is pretty intense, so after my show I usually shake everyone’s hand and talk to everybody and I’m really easy to access and say ‘Thanks for coming out and rocking with us.’
So in general, I’ve gotten into the habit of making records in the winter, and that usually takes 4-5 months on most of my projects. As far as releasing both records at the same time, I’m just trying to do something different and trying to change it up. I’ve got the rest of my life to only put out 1 record and, for me, it was just a personal goal.
But in general, I’ve always been a highly creative person and, while I’ve got the energy and the focus to do it, I just wanted to go over the top with those releases.
So, there’s Brothers Of The 4×4, which is the Country Roots record, and A Fiendish Threat kinda pays respect to a lot of the bands that influenced me when I was growing up and helped me learn how to develop my styles the way I play certain instruments. A Fiendish Threat was a very fun record for me to make and to sing, and just to capture live.
G- Dig that. You’re one of the only people to do what you do. You know, a lot of artists out there say they’re influenced by this and they’re influenced by that, and the music styles will be anywhere from Tupac to Garth Brooks. You ARE the influence at this point because you’re writing punk and you’ve played in metal bands. You write Country music and you play Roots type stuff.
Based on that, it would seem that Hank3 fans appreciate and respect both your primary styles (Country and Punk), but it’s kind of odd because you have these crossover crowds you attract. Is there ever any tension between the two highly different cultures, and how does everything mesh up?
H- Well, I think there used to be more tension at first. Once I got accepted in Rock clubs, it all worked out. The most tension I had was at Root-Scoot country bars. Not only during the Country show if I was playing something that they couldn’t dance to, or if I was playing some of my more metal or rock stuff, that’s when I saw people kind of getting out of control or freaking out on music. Even when I was opening for The Melvins, sometimes I’d have 15 guys trying to track me down after the show because I was doing something different.
And it is what it is, man. I did straight up a couple of years at Country fairs and on the circuits just to get out there. I was into Punk and Heavy Metal Tri-State area bands for a long, long time, man. Then, I had a situation show up where unfortunately I had a girl that waited 3 years to tell me I had a kid, and I had a judge tell me that playing music was no real job. I had to come up with almost $125,000 back pay, and I didn’t want to be a dead-beat dad, so I got out there and said ’Well yeah, music is a real job,’ and I’m gonna fulfill my goals and still play Rock and Roll, Heavy Metal, Punk Rock, and stay true to what is in my blood with the Country roots.
Everything happens for a reason, and I got to play with my Country heroes and my Heavy metal heroes. It’s been a really interesting journey and there are a lot of kids out there that like Johnny Cash and Waylon (Jennings) and love Slayer as well, and there’s been a crossover that happened.
But with the tension, once I got accepted in the Rock club circuit, it all kinda went away. I can tell when I get put in the wrong environment because I’m always thinking of the fans. If there are certain kinds of shows, I’m always asking about the security crew, what kind of show it is, do you know what you’re getting. I’ve played some shows out in California where, like I said, if I see a kid get manhandled by security, we’re gonna have an issue. So, sure enough, I try to pay the money and get out of the gig because in knew it was gonna be a problem. And when I get there, and it happens, they make it sound like there was a prison riot going on and they point me out as the bad guy, and all that stuff that can happen.
Nowadays, it’s a very diehard, loyal fan base. It’s a good time. 18-80 is our crowd. It’s a high energy audience that loves all kinds of stuff from Heavy Metal to Country music, and usually there is more energy in the Country part of the show than there is at the end of the show. You never can tell how the mosh pit is gonna work. But all in all, it’s a lot of people coming together trying to forget about the hard times and trouble that might be going on and just trying to have some fun and let loose.
G- Awesome, man. I can say without question that my friends and I who will be attending the show up here that it’ll be a happy, rowdy, probably drunk crowd, and we’re gonna try to bring everybody we can out because we don’t often get a treat like this in Syracuse, and we appreciate it.
H- It’s been a little while, man. I’d say it’s been close to 3-4 years since I’ve been up there. So it’s been a little bit.
G- Yep and I was in NYC getting my degree when that happened, so they told me about it and I was like ‘Gee thanks, jerks.”
H- Well, we’ve got loyal friends, and it’s always the same show. We’ve got 1.5 hours of Country at the beginning, then I do the “Hellbilly” and Punk Rock stuff, then we do some of the Doom sound, and then we end the night with 3-bar Ranch. So, there’s no opening band. We go on usually at 8pm, and it’s a pretty long show, man. We give respect to all kinds of genres.
G- And you do this at EVERY show. You play 4 different sets. There is no time and no need for an opener because you’re running the gamut. What is your secret… Do you have a really strong blend of coffee that you can hip us to or something? How does this work?
H- It’s intense, man. We’re pulling almost 17-hour days. You’ve gotta figure in a 6-hour sound check to get everything up, and then I’m left with about 55 minutes to get my voice and my stage gear on. And I’m just as much a roadie and a stage tech as everyone else in the crew, so it’s intense. I don’t know how long I’ll be able to keep up with what I’m doing, but right now I’ve always been known for playing long shows. Even in the early 90’s, I had some sound guys and managers say ‘Dude, you play too long,” But where I come from, a 4-hour shift is standard in Nashville. But a 4-hour shift, when you’re dealing with the more heavy duty energy, is a lot different.
It’s interesting, man. It’s a challenge and it’s a fight every time I hit the stage. You never know how it’s gonna be. It is what it is. So, my goal is to keep hangin’ in there as best as I can. I’ve got the rest of my life to only play an hour, and that’s the way I look at it. I’ve gotta go full throttle.
And this isn’t the only project you’ve been involved with and you’ve done lots of other things with lots of other bands. Recently, there was a biography penned about you, and it was penned by none other than Randy Blythe.
G- Tell us a little bit about how that came to be, because… You have a legacy and you’ve been doing this your entire life, and that’s a wild story in and of itself. The story of how this came together is probably worthy of a book itself.
H- No doubt. Well, I was always a fan of Randy’s voice, and Mark got to open up for us way back in the day at Alley Katz (Richmond, Va.) when he had his little Country side band for a while, so I had a little in with some of the guys in Burn The Priest (Lamb Of God’s former name.)
As time went on, it was like ‘Lamb Of God is gonna be here tomorrow… Can you leave this letter for the crew and the band?’ I’d leave them a bunch of ‘Hey what’s up and hope to meet you one day in person and I’ll see you soon.’ Then I’d get a letter from Lamb Of God at a different venue, and then all the sudden we were on Ozz-Fest together hanging out. I’d wake up to Slipknot and lamb Of God everyday, and that was awesome.
As time has gone on, we’ve become friends. We have a lot of similar musical taste and a lot of the same friends, and it’s been a trip watching him become a massive rockstar over the years and watching the progression happen.
So, it’s really great that he found his niche for writing and screaming and photography, and even with all the battles he’s gone through… It’s a really scary thing for any front man in Heavy Metal. We all know personally that when you’re a kid and you go to a metal show, you get up there because you want to get up there and you jump off the stage because you want to.
G- Every time.
H- it’s as simple as that. And I’m glad that the decision was in his favor and he faced it. That’s just part of Metal, man. It’s gonna happen. You never can tell what kind of experience you’re gonna have at a Rock show. That was a pretty scary blow for Heavy Metal, but he came out on top and it’s good to see he’s doing well and writing well and all kids of stuff is happening for him. I’m glad to be his friend and who knows…
He’s written a Country song and time will tell… Maybe we’ll get to record it. He’s been on stage with me more than one time singing, so we’ll see what the future holds.
G- Right on. Well, I didn’t want to get off-topic here because I have a few more questions, but in bringing up Alley Katz, the legendary venue in Richmond, Va., Lamb Of God is from there, and Gwar is from there…
G- We lost Dave Brockie. Clearly, there was an accident. Clearly an accident. We all know Gwar and Randy has been very public that Dave Brockie was not one of these typical types of users.
I just wanted to get your take on the situation because the media is trying to pull things in different directions, if you’re comfortable doing so.
H- I’ll talk about Dave Brockie all day long, man. He was one of my heroes. Now unfortunately, Dave and I only got to talk through people.
Every time I play Richmond, I would always dedicate a song to Dave Brockie because he was one of my favorite singers. He had a unique style of singing, a loud voice, and the whole thing that Gwar did was over the top.
But from day one, I used to get my Mind Control Monthly magazines and all that stuff from them. So, as far as what happened, yes it’s sad and it’s a massive loss to the Heavy Metal world and community. If you look it from a view like Hunter S. Thompson would say, 50 is a great time to go.
H- You know, because I never personally go tto be around Dave Brockie, I can’t speak that much. But I can say people say he was a really interesting, very dialed in kind of person. And yea, you looked at how loyal and creative he was to his job, and doing The Dave Brockie Experience when Gwar wasn’t tourig, he lived for the road, man. I will say… If it was an accident and it was like that, I’m glad it wasn’t anything really, really brutal. It was halfway peaceful.
If you look at Johnny Thunders, his body was literally broken to pieces, and with Dave Brockie, it seems like he might have just fell asleep. Hopefully. It’s just an awful loss.
But I think he did a lot that will never be forgotten. I mean, there was Kiss, and then there was Gwar. It’s as simple as that.
G- Damn right.
H- I wish I would’ve had the chance to be around his presence, but I just know how much he affected me and how much energy he brought to people, how he made people laugh… He was one in a million.
G- One of the most special interviews I’ve been able to conduct was with Dave and I was able to open for and see Gwar a few times. He would’ve loved you to death, and I’m sure you guys woud’ve gotten along famously. We miss you, Dave, and we love you.
Let’s move on to something a little more candid than what we’ve been talking about: The Wild Wonderful World of The Whites.
G- You offered the stand-out musicianship alongside Jesco White, a tap dancing prince if there ever was one, dancing along to your songs. How did that come about and how are you connected with them? It boggled my mind when I saw you in that video.
H- Ok. Well, the very first documentary was called The Dancing Outlaw. Anyone who’s seen The Wild Wonderful World Of The Whites, they need to watch the original The Dancing Outlaw, and it will complete the story. But that’s the documentary I had, and I felt a connection to Jesco because I don’t know why… I felt a connection to that family from West Virginia for some reason. And Hasil Adkins. There’s a lot of creativity that came out of West Virginia and Boone County.
But basically, I got to meet Hasil Adkins first, and I shared the stage with him and he came out to a show and we got to talk about music and just enjoy the highs and lows of the road, and talk about some of our heroes and stuff that he had done, and he was a fan of (Hank Williams) Sr., and we got to talking about Jesco. I was like one day, I’d like to be able to meet the Miracle woman, Jesco’s mama, and Mamie, and maybe you can introduce me to the family.
So I was playing in West Virginia and sure enough, Mamie and Jesco’s mom came out to a show. They said hello and invited me to come up and stay with him in West Virginia for a while, so I grabbed my recording machine and took my dog up there and stayed with him for a little while and recorded Jesco dancing. I wrote a song for the family, “The Legend of D. Ray White” and I had Jesco doing his mountain dancing for the solo.
I think they just realized A) they had respect for Country music, Loretta Lynn and Hank Sr., and since the knew Hassle and had the Blues in there, they could tell that I was wanting to come there and just hang out with them, and if we got to do something creative, that’d be awesome. And that’s kinda what happened, and we’ve been frineds ever since.
They asked me to be in that documentary for a little bit. Unfortunately I was a bit tapped out on my own. I was pretty ‘after a tour,’ where I had a bit more energy, but I was hanging in there as best as I could, man.
But Jesco is always a trip. He’s always intense. He’s got a song coming out of him every 4-5 minutes and just trying to make people laughing if there’re around him, and Mamie is the same way. A lot of people are just really forlorn in that lifestyle. There’s a lot of coal miners in West Virginia and they have to face death every day when they go down in the coal mines, and sometimes it becomes a bit of a way of life.
But there is a lot of creativity if you look at D. Ray White. He was a very smart man. He entertained people doing his dancing. He’d do his singing, and he took care of his family as well. So, it’s a very tragic thing on what happened to him and the family, but I just somehow felt a kinship to that documentary.
It’s kinda hard to explain… You just have to see it. Appleshock put it out there and it’s called The Dancing Outlaw. That’s how I got hooked up with them and we’ve been friends ever since. I might even be seeing them tomorrow… It’ s hard to say.
G- Well if you do, tell them they’ve got a fan in Syracuse and I will make sure I link those to this interview as well.
H- Yea man. Jesco White and Hasil Adkins. Don’t forget about Hasil because he’s a very important figure. The Cramps got a lot of their style from him, and not a lot of people were doing what he did in the 50’s.
G- With it.
Now a couple of quick last questions. You’re doing this june run and you’re perpetually busy I just want to know where you will find yourself in the rest of 2014. What are your plans, man?
H- I’m basically just trying to hit everywhere that I didn’t get to hit in 2013. So, I’ve still gotta do Florida, New Orleans, I’ve gotta work our way up through Colorado, Utah, maybe Wyoming, South Dakota, North Dakota. So, there is quite a lot to go. Month on, month off for the rest of the year if I’m lucky, so that’s what I’m shooting for.
G- And I’m gonna finish with this question like I always do, but this is how you make it in music, kids. You might make it in music, and you might not make it in music. You may not be a rich person, but if you can enjoy yourself and entertain people and eat a sandwich everywhere you go and maybe have a beer while making somebody’s day, that’s important.
What I want to ask before the very brief last question is you’ve been doing this for a long time, you work incredibly hard and you do it all yourself with your musicians, of course. And there’s no sign of you stopping anytime soon.
There are kids everywhere who want to pick up a guitar, bass, drum sticks, and microphones everyday, and they want to try and do what you’re doing on the road to make music and try to be a professional musician.
From all of your experience, what advice can you give that might give them a leg up?
H- Well, it’s always tough. If you’re in school, try to pay attention to the numbers. Try to hang in there with math. If you’re good with math and can develop some business sense, even if you don’t like it, try to hang in there with it, because it’s tough.
I, myself, had to file bankruptcy not even 10 years ago just to keep the crew and the bus and all that flowing. So, just try to get out there, keep your ticket prices as low as you can, play to play, try to record your own records with your own sound as much as possible. If you do get an advance from a record company, you don’t have to spend $100k on your record to get a good sound. There’s other ways you can get around it.
If you’re gonna sign a deal, just make sure you get a lawyer and check it out before you sign on the dotted line, because it could take 10 years off of your life before you know it. And if you’re just going to be touring to tour, just go out there, find a few guys you get along with, hold on to your merch as much as possible. Don’t let that go, because in the end it might be your lifeline for the road to keep fuel in the tank and keep strings on your guitar.
And it’s really… Times are tough all in all for a lot of people right now. So, if you’ve got your vision and it’s what you want to do, just see it through and hang in there and try to do it yourself as much as you can. Or you might be the kind of band where you just need a good manager or you might need just a good engineer. Some bands have taken an engineer on the road and done it that way.
So, it really depends on what style you’re going for, but having a good work ethic, a good work drive, usually takes you pretty far down the road. You’ve got good mentors like The Melvins or Henry Rollins or people like that, those are some good people to look up to. Jerry Only is one that’s really done a lot, and just like Dave Brockie. Even when he wasn’t with Gwar, he was still going out there and keeping it going.
G- Somehow I knew that asking you would probably get the best answer in the 400+ interviews I’ve done since I start doing them for Live High Five.
I just want to say again thank you so much for taking the time to speak with us. You’ll be in Rochester, NY on June 11th and Syracuse , NY on June 14th, and the only question I have left for you today, because of our little time constraint issue today and I’m a man of my word, is what kind of bottle do you want to drink?
H- Well, if it’s a whiskey serving bar, man, I’ll stick with the Jack Daniels out of Tennessee, man. If it’s just a beer club, you can hook me up with a Miller High Life and that’d be just fine.
G- You’ve got a bottle of Jack coming your way, my friend. Travel safe, play hard which we know you’re gonna do, and we will see you in 9 days. Thank you so much for your time.
H- Alright. Thank you.