Sex. Drugs. Rock ’n’ roll. It’s a regular laundry list of hackneyed exultations. Be that as it may, Hank Williams III is certainly no stranger to them. I know because I’ve seen his tackle box. He won’t catch many fish with what’s in it, but he could keep a gaggle of addled strippers and roadhouse lackeys entertained for a couple weeks. Think Hunter’s suitcase in Fear & Loathing.
“Oh, yeah, I’m always into the girls who like to do that. I got my little collection for sure,” Williams says smirking, talking vaguely about the toxic tackle box. He pauses for a moment when asked to share a particularly debauched road anecdote. There must be a ton to run over in his mind.
“We had fucking David Allan Coe and [the late] Dimebag [Darrell] come out to a show. Tons of coke, tons of strippers, making a lot of music and fucking, doing a lot of fucking. And doing a lot of singing, doing a lot of screaming. The sheriffs were asking us to leave after a lot of shit broke out. It’s hard to tell. I don’t know, man. I can’t go into all the details,” he says.
Williams’ drawl carries with it the unmistakable echo of his granddaddy, the first Hank, and like his father and friends such as David Allan Coe, Hank is the proverbial iconoclast who bleeds rebel red. While he has cashed in — to some limited extent — on his pedigree, he’s certainly done it, uh, his way. On stage, he follows up his crooning country sets (which are peppered with numbers by Waylon Jennings, George Jones and, of course, Hank Sr.) with loud aggressive, metal shots by his other band, Assjack.
“I could’ve taken the easy way, but I chose not to, man. My dad was a really rich man and I was only around him a couple times a year. You know, and it’d be like going to see Fantasy Land or something whenever I was around. My mom worked 9 to 5 every day, and I saw how hard my momma’s side of the family worked. Then I see how people were just trying to do music to make it a scheme and make their money, and that’s all they cared about. I don’t know. The real people who play music in the end do it for the sake of doing it. That’s kind of our thing,” he says.
“I could be the nice clean Wrangler-wearing guy trying to be George Strait or whatever. But that’s not me. I believe there needs to be a whole new generation of outlaws. The way I talk and the way I do my thing is not the easiest way to get by. I’ve been lucky enough to tour 10 years on the road until I had to file bankruptcy. And in 10 years I’ll probably be doing the same thing again,” he says with a morbid little chuckle.
The bankruptcy was Williams’ means of escaping his contract with Curb Records. Recounting the label shenanigans would take an entire chapter, but suffice it to say Williams has had very little creative control, and because of the legal stalemate with the label he has only two albums to show for his decade in the business. But after more than two years in court, the end seems near, and Williams will finally be able to release a new album, tentatively (and aptly) titled either Thrown Out of the Bar or Not Everyone Likes Us. Though, he has yet to sign a new record deal.
“We’re still doing some figuring out with the lawsuit. But it’s coming along, man. I’ve been working on the new record. It’s basically done. It should be out pretty fucking soon, though I don’t know who it’s going to be out with or any of that bullshit. But it should be here soon, the way we want to do it,” he says, before admitting, less hopefully, “I’ll believe it when I see it. That’s kind of the deal.”
Williams played in a number of metal and punk bands in his youth, primarily as a drummer, until he was 20. He might have kept on that way, but it seems Williams had himself a very expensive one-night stand in the early ’90s that came home to roost in the form of $45,000 in back child support. Curb Records, the label home to Tim McGraw and LeAnn Rimes, came to the rescue, putting out Three Hanks: Men With Broken Hearts, which, thanks to studio wizardry, brought together the Williams singing clan.
His relationship with the son he had to “sell out” to pay for hasn’t fared so well.
“She’s [the mother] remarried, and her dad’s a fucking cop, so I could go to court and try to get visitation rights, and they could make me look like the biggest fucking drug addict, alcoholic motherfucker in the world. But I don’t have basically anything to do with him because they’ve been totally uncool about it in every way possible,” he says. “I’m not in a good position to be any kind of a father right now; I can barely take care of my fucking self. It’s just one of them things, but I make sure they have what they need.”
Of course, as Williams readily admits, the band enforces a pretty hardy kick-up-yer-boots regimen. He tells of a fan who slipped him an acid Mickey Finn while in concert. He stayed up for nearly 72 hours.
“They just gave me a shot of whiskey that had fucking a lot of liquid acid in it. I got through it. I took like eight Xanax, still couldn’t go to sleep. Then at like 9 in the morning I was like, ‘Fuck it, I’m just going to start going back up,’” he says.
What’s a country-metal star to do on a brutal morning of gig? Why, get a tat, of course.
“I got drilled on for about four hours in the tattoo chair and then went and freaked out at CBGBs. Definitely that show is where I had planned on tripping. I was up a day later still feeling the effects of it. But, whatever. I was more concerned about the country voice and being able to sing because I was already hoarse.”
The condition of his voice is something to worry about with so much touring that sees nightly triple-shots of country crooning, guttural metal growling and enthusiastic debauchery.
“Nobody can do what we do, switching it up live between country and metal, or whatever the fuck I am. I can only do that for a while. When I hit 50 it’s over for me. That’s my deal,” he says. “Yep — gonna kill myself out here as long as I can. And then enjoy a little life on the other side.”
Appears Monday, Feb. 21, at St. Andrew’s Hall (431 E. Congress, Detroit; 313-961-MELT) with Assjack and Hazard County Girls.
Chris Parker is a freelance writer. Send comments to [email protected].