This piece also appears in the September, 2011 issue of Exclaim!
It’s been 15 years now since Hank 3 took up the mantle of country music royalty first passed down from the grandfather he never knew, Hank Williams, to the father he barely knew, Hank Williams Jr.
Shelton Hank Williams had no intention to follow in their footsteps—he was playing drums in Nashville punk bands until a one-night stand suddenly came back to haunt him in the form of $24,000 in back child support.
Thus, at 23, estranged from his family, he began singing country music in the style of Hank Sr. (to whom he bore a striking resemblance) in order to dig himself out of that hole, and hired a manager to fully exploit his legacy through a long-term deal with Nashville’s Curb Records, whose roster at the time also included Tim McGraw and LeAnne Rimes.
It was a decision Hank 3, as he became formally known, soon regretted since he could never play by Nashville’s rules. Although his five albums for Curb came to display great skill at balancing traditional country with his punk and metal influences, the constant fights with the label over his creative vision left him feeling shackled, and ultimately more respected within the hard music world, where he was also known for his Assjack side project and as a member of Superjoint Ritual and Arson Anthem, both featuring Pantera vocalist Phil Anselmo.
The Curb deal finally expired on Jan. 2, 2011, and on that day Hank 3 founded his own label and started recording at his home studio, the Haunted Ranch. And he kept on recording. In one of the boldest statements any musician has made in recent memory, Hank 3 is releasing all of that material at once in the form of the 41-track countrified double set Ghost To A Ghost/Guttertown, the doom rock collection Attention Deficit Domination, and for good measure, Cattle Callin’, the brain-melting one hour-plus mash-up of auctioneers and thrash metal.
“It was starting all over from scratch,” Hank says. “Every day for five months, from the time I woke up to the time I fell asleep, I was writing, laying down tracks and mixing. I started with the country stuff on Ghost To A Ghost, and then started having fun with the b-sides on Guttertown. When I got sick of playing country, I’d play some doom, and when I got sick of that, I started getting the auctioneers together. It was just constant.”
Although Hank was diagnosed with ADD as a teenager, he maintains that the new releases are designed more to show how much Curb was holding him back. “Name me one person who’s ever released that much on the first day, and on top of that, tackled three different genres in the process,” he says. “That’s been my vision all along, and that’s how I feel I’ve carved out my own niche.”
Having now attained his long-sought-after freedom, it’s likely to translate into wider acceptance from the industry. Getting Tom Waits to guest on the Guttertown track “Fadin’ Moon” is a definite feather in Hank’s cap—their friendship began when Waits interviewed Hank for Mojo last year—yet, like Waits, remaining a musical iconoclast is the path for which Hank 3 feels he’ll always be best suited.
“I still play three-hour shows with everything included in the set,” he says. “Some nights we’ll start out with a thousand people and by the end half the audience has either gotten tired and left or is passing out drunk. I’ll keep doing what I do regardless, and to me that’s the Hank Williams bloodline of hard work and telling the stories of working people.”