This is a reprint. We shared our last interview with Hank with you and this one appears in the recent edition of Steel Notes Magazine, http://www.steelnotesmagazine.com where we also do some writing.
We had the pleasure of meeting Hank III in the wee hours of Thanksgiving morning in 2011, after watching him play for four and a half hours in a small club. Hank always plays long shows. He presents it as three or four HANK 3different acts, each playing a different genre. It used to be said that James Brown was the hardest working man in show business but Hank3 is no slouch.
The true depth of his talent is not yet known to most since many prefer only to consider his country side. There is much more to him than that. After fronting metal bands Assjack and 3 Bar Ranch between his country and hellbilly (his own version of hard country), he decided to work on a project which was in the more traditional punk rock mode. In between these he works on various experimental forms of music, as on his 2011 release Ghost To Ghost.
We had the chance to speak with him again recently and started y asking about the new punk project, A Fiendish Threat.
~‘A Fiendish Threat’ sounds much more ‘punk’ than your past hardcore and metal bands. The live version I heard sounded like the Ramones.
There is definitely a lot of Minor Threat influence, singing-wise, and of course The Misfits, Jane’s Addiction, Violent Sound and to me, I didn’t notice the Ramones as much until I started playing more live with the band.
When I am doing the record that’s one thing – but officially doing it onstage is another. It depends. Some nights the voice is just fine and some nights it’s a little harder to get to.
There is definitely a lot of influences throughout the recording.
~The drummer in the new videos looks different from the usual player.
I am playing drums all through the new record and my main drummer that I‘ve been with for twelve years (Shawn McWilliams), he basically played the country, the hellbilly and the Attention Deficit Domination parts of the show. He had rotator cuff surgery and he just didn’t come back and he put the surgery off for so long that it’s taking him twice as long to heal from it. So there’s a chance this year he might be coming back but that’s always a real hard position to fill, after you’ve been with a drummer that knows over a hundred and fifty of your songs and not having a set-list every night. But we did it. We pulled it off last year but he was definitely missed and we’re always hoping everyday that he going to be coming back soon.
Right now I’ve got a pretty good solid crew for the road and time will tell. I’ll be getting into the road mode here soon. I’m almost one hundred and seventy days on my end, way deep off into a project, so I know the road is just around the corner for me. It’s a totally different mindset.
~The last time we talked, you said you had a plan to tour for ten more years. Are you still on target?
It’s just hard to say what’s going to happen. I always said that I was going to tour the road until I was fifty and even my people at my business management would say, “You sure do need to charge more money for your live shows.”
I’m like, “Well, I don’t want to go there yet.”
So who knows what’ll happen? Maybe at fifty, I’ll raise my ticket prices a little bit or else I’ll be hanging it up. I don’t know. When I look at guys like Lemmy (from Motorhead) and Willie Nelson and Iggy Pop, guys that have just kept on doing it…it’s a good inspiration. And if I can still pull off the shows I want to, who knows? Maybe at fifty, if I can’t really pull off the show that I want to, maybe I’ll just do more of a laid back set and be doing the acoustic thing a little more but right know I’m always just trying to put on the longest show for a very affordable ticket price.
I started with a crew on the road in 1995 at five and seven dollars and now I am able to keep it at seventeen to twenty-four max…with the economy and everything I’ve just always tried to be affordable, you know?
~You sure give more miles per ticket. You played for four and a half hours the last time I saw you. I can’t remember seeing anybody play that long onstage before.
It’s always a challenge. Every tour is different. Even in the back of my mind I’m thinking, even though I’m in studio mode, realyl soon I’ve gotta start riding the bike and getting ready to lift stuff and all that getting the cardio going for it.
~You have the partier image but you can’t do what you do every night without taking care of yourself.
It’s strange. On one hand I’m really strong and on the other hand, I’m really weak. I kind of have both happening. When it’s on the road a lot of the time I’m just thinking of the show, the performance and trying to keep a good team morale. We all pitch in. We all do our best. We all load the trailer together and set up the gear together and break it all down.
That’s a lot of it. The reason for the thing about partying so much is when people come out to see the show I try not to bum ‘em out too bad or sing too many slow songs because I want a lot of the folks to come and forget about all their problems and enjoy the show and feel the different moods. So that’s always in the back of my mind on the drinking songs and all that stuff.
~I like them, like ‘My Drinking Problem’.
The guy who wrote My Drinking Problem was Randy Howard and I saw him on public access tv…somehow I got lucky enough to track him down. He was staying at a hotel in Nashville. I’ve done two of his songs: I Don’t Know and My Drinking Problem. He has the great outlaw raspy voice and has a record out. He is one of the few guys who’s songs I’ll sing. He’s like one of the unsung heroes to me…a songwriter and just his sound. He had that Georgia rebel outlaw kind of thing going on and his sound just stood out. It had a lot of the Allman Brothers in it…the Johnny Cash feel in it…the old seventies sound.
~You opened your first LP, Rising Outlaw, with’ I Don’t Know’, right?
Rising Outlaw was pretty difficult. You’ve got to understand how young I was. There were producers and engineers I was having to go against. They were trying work with me as much as they could but on the other hand they were trying to do the ‘Nashville way.’
It was great to have Dale Crover from Melvins come in and pick out whatever drum set he wanted and get to record on Music Row.
That was one of the highlights for me. I did my research and picked out all the songs…the Kostas one, which had Eddie Pleasant on one (Devil’s Daughter) and a Buddy Miller song (Lonesome For You). Some of those guys are still writing songs and some of the guys who were engineers on that record are totally done with music so…a lot has changed since that record but it definitely had its own sound. It only takes a little while to get your ‘feel’ under you, no matter what you are doing.
(Sound of his famous dog, Trooper is barking and Hank opens a door. His dog has been the subject of mroe than one song – an old tradition and very much Americana.)
~Is that Trooper?
Yeah…If I’m pacing around a little bit and they hear something knocking, they think somebody is at the door.
~How did you extended world tour go?
The touring was great but unfortunately the routing was really bad so the next time I have to do that. I’m going to have to get a lot more involved. If I hadn’t have been selling merch I would have taken a pretty big loss. All of that is because of routing. That is the only thing I’ve got to check on. Most of the festivals were fine. Of course, naturally when I do the heavier stuff a lot of folks will leave.
We did some bar shows and I would squeeze it in. If we had an hour, I would do forty minutes of country, two hellbilly songs, a doom song and then two sweet, sentimental kind of songs. It would be just long enough to see the folks react to it.
We also got to play a lot of, what I would say are, our home shows, like the bars where we don’t have a time limit and get to do whole show. It went good. The help over there this time was okay, too
~Does your audience age have a wide range there, as it does in the US?
In London, it was a pretty mixed crowd. London was a lot like the states, where I would go a hundred miles down the street and we would get twenty to a hundred people out and they were more middle-aged. When we played Amsterdam, that was all over the age genre with all kinds of folks coming out.
I keep in mind, when we are in certain festivals, if they’re more catered to a certain type of music and don’t want the heavier stuff I keep that in mind as well. Mainly it’s kind of different. It’s sort of like starting over for me there.
~What is up with the Re-InstateHank petition to get your grandfather back into the Grand Ol’ Opry?
Basically, all we can do is talk about it.
Really…we talk about it and sign the petition – but one day a position might change ‘up top’ on who is in charge of what. Whenever that position changes, you never know who might just say, “Oh, okay. We’re going to do some things different and let’s include having Hank Williams be back in the circle.”
A lot of it nowadays…I am not in tune with it but I do know what is on the Grand Ol’ Opry is a lot of pop stuff, a lot of bluegrass and then you go straight to the older folks.
It’s more of the loophole that if you’re dead you can’t be a member of the Grand Ol’ Opry. That in itself, as I’ve said before, is like you are not preserving history.
If Hank Senior is not part of the Opry then why is he on your website from the forties and why are the pictures still hanging up? It’s hard to say. Holly, my half-sister, she does a lot of work down there and knows a lot of those people where I, on the other hand, haven’t been there since I went to Earl Scruggs’ funeral. That was about it. The last time I said I would play there was the fiftieth anniversary of Hank’s passing, live on TV.
It’s not like I’m this great star or anything but I won’t be coming here to sing my songs until the right thing is done., if they are going to keep riding on him.
Tom Waits summed it up the best way that you can, as far as politics behind it and everything. It just goes back to one day that position may change and then something will happen. Every so often I hear that something is going to happen but then it goes away. Who knows?
~How did Waits sum it up?
He basically did a lot of research on the Opry and on the individuals that are involved with it right now and they are…well, it’s the ‘living’ part that gets in the way.
They’re saying, “Well, if he gets re-instated then how come this other guy can’t be?”
If people want to do the research, Tom Waits got to edit the 200th issue of Mojo Magazine and there is a good read on it.
The ‘top’ is singing back home.
I am not asking for a $90,000 statue.
I’m just asking for a little bit of respect and a ceremony one night to sing and say that we respect Hank Williams and would love to have him back in our circle.
One thing he says – on their website you will find Hank Williams Senior’s name among the names from the forties. So if he isn’t a member, why does the Grand Ol’ Opry’s website list him as one? There was really no response to that question so maybe it’s a misunderstanding. It’s not like Nashville doesn’t recognize the contributions of Hank Senior. It goes on and on. For someone to be a musician with as much clout and knowledge as Tom Waits has – to have him write about it was an honor.
~You have a lot of devil and Satanist symbols in your record art and merch. We noticed that Garth Brooks came back recently and wonder if you think he could maybe be the Anti-christ?
Laughs…well, there is a lot to be said for Garth Brooks. He is one of those guys that coul have just been a rock star and not been hands-on and just walked onstage but he went way deeper than that. In general, he was a good businessman. He was a guy that knew how Music Row worked, knew how the business worked. He was always doing lunch.
Whenever he got his hit songs and after he got a few tours, he was hands-on. He was a rigger and he was setting up a lot of stages. He was keeping himself busy. Out of that mentality, I have respect for him. I’ve never seen Garth Brooks live. I know how big career that he has and his creativity. Really, his creativity. He stuck to his guns. He was a rock and roll fan as well. He’s done stuff with Gene Simmons and all that. I can understand that maybe he just got bored and maybe he didn’t feel productive anymore and just wanted to get out there and start doing the music again.
~Do you take a truck on the road with you so you can go off-road to relax?
When I’m on the road it’s constant work. Once I’m in that mindset, I’ll barely get away at all. Even if I did get away, I’m so locked into the road that I can’t enjoy myself. Every once in a while we get a show – like last tour we did a fundraiser for a friend of mine who survived a really bad crash and it was on top of a mountain, forty minutes up the hill on a dirt road to get there. We basically all pulled together and did it. Every so often we get to do something like that.
That’s the closest I get because when I’m in work mode I don’t snap out of it until I get home. It’s like I’ve got to keep my guard up constantly. That’s just how it is. When I’m at home and not on the road it’s different.
At home, I get to have fun. When I was growing up that’s what we would do. My friend had a mobile home and the front yard was a mudpit and it was all ‘who makes it through and who gets stuck’. We had a bulldozer there to pull people out.
We’d go riding trails, just cruising around in the woods where there’s not any traffic and you don’t have to worry about running a bicyclist over or anything like that. It’s more an an outdoor adventure in itself. You’re cruising. That’s how I take an approach at it.
~Even the slow songs have a strong beat on ‘Brothers of the 4×4’.
I think that’s my rhythm cutting through because I’m playing the acoustic and Im playing the drums on it. The fourth song would be Farthest Away and the really deep song that is more slow is Deep Scars and then you have Loners4Life. To me those are the more old-school, deep country songs on the record.
It’s a challenge – playing light and in time and then doing the side stick like that…or doing the marching beat on I’m Not Broken Down, I’m Just Broke. That, in itself, is a little more tricky than you would expect also. Johnny Hiland, he’s the lead guitar layer I have on the last few of my records, he said, “Man, Shelton, nobody like you in Nashville has this kind of rhythm!” I can only say that it goes back to me playing the drums and playing acoustic guitar on it and having just a little bit of a different kind of drumbeat as opposed to most traditional drummers who are studio players around Nashville.
~Didn’t your grandfather also get static for turning up his bass to loud so it would sound like a drum?
We all know that he was sick and a little too drunk when he showed up for a performance and they said, “Hank you got to get your act together but for right now we’re going to have to let you go but you’re going to have to come back and redeem yourself. So he never did have the chance to redeem himself – but the rhythm, he had that rhythm.
Marty Stuart, when he watched me play, he said, “You know, Shelton, that’s your thing.”
In the early nineties, when I was playing more of the ‘ma and pa circuits,’ I had an older gentleman come to me and he says, “That style of guitar playing, that rhythm you got – that’s your sound…your niche.”
That helped quite a bit and a lot of the gallops and fast strumming and stuff like that has kind of been my thing although I still don’t know guitar theory…or I can write songs and record them and do all that stuff but I just don’t understand theory so I think that, in itself, sets it apart as well.
~Speaking of rhythm, the story about your grandfather turning up the bass so that it sounded like a drum, is that true?
I would consider a true story on the basis that he was playing rock and roll before rock and roll was. They did have electric instrument that they were having to go against, like the lap steel and then you’d have a tin-topped guitar player back in there, so of course, I’m singing and I need to hear the bass and all I hear is the steel guitar and we need to even the stage out. Some of the places had a PA system and some didn’t.
Listen to the song Move It On Over. That’s basically Rock Around The Clock before it was. There’s a reason there is a picture of Hank Williams in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. I would probably say that’s true.
~Where is the best play to buy your music and merch?
Anything you want, the best place to get it is off of http://www.hank3.com . That’s the place to go. That’s where it’s family owned and operated and you know you are getting it out of Tennessee.
See the review of A Fiendish Threat in the CD review section and watch for a review of Brothers of the 4X4 in the next issue of Steel Notes!
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