Hank Williams Jr. On the Road
By Shout Omaha Staff
The Williams clan is huge. Country music legend Hank Williams began as the patriarch, had Hank Williams, Jr. and Hank Williams, Jr. had Hank Williams III and four more Williams children. The tribe just keeps growing and clearly it’s brimming with talent. Hank Jr. followed in his father’s footsteps and has a reputable career, which brings him to Council Bluffs’ Mid-America Center with Ted Nugent next Thursday, July 17. The road to stardom wasn’t easy, but his perseverance paid off.
Born in Shreveport, Louisiana, Hank Jr., he suffered a devastating loss when his father suddenly passed away in 1953, when Hank Jr. was just 4-years-old. Raised by his mother Audrey Williams, he was routinely exposed to popular musicians of that time, including Johnny Cash, Fats Domino, Earl Scruggs, and Jerry Lee Lewis. With music in his blood, it was just a matter of time before he picked up a guitar. Williams made his stage debut at the age of 8 and his first appearance at Nashville’s famed Grand Ole Opry at age 11. At age 15, Williams had his first Top 5 hit on the country charts with a cover of his father’s song, “Long Gone Lonesome Blues,” his recording debut in 1964. The songs he sang often mimicked his father’s style, but he eventually found his own style later on.
“I probably found it at around age 20,” Hank, Jr. said in an interview with Cowboys and Indians. “Yeah, it really started coming in there at 20, 21, right in there. And of course by 30. Oh God, yeah. You know, I had Johnny Cash and Jerry Lee Lewis and Fats Domino at my house when I was a little baby. I thought, I’ll take some of that teaching and use it. Oh yeah, they all had No. 1s on Daddy’s songs. That’s why they were there. Jerry Lee hung out there all the time.”
With the legacy his father left behind, he was able to live a very comfortable life. It’s a miracle he didn’t suffer the same fate as his father. Being the son and namesake of country music pioneer Hank Williams were tough shoes to fill.
“Oh my God, you know, I had the time and money to have some very fast automobiles,” he said. “One of the NASCAR drivers was making my cars as I was driving to high school. I was going 180 miles an hour in 1965. Yeah, and I had a lot of connections. I don’t know how I didn’t kill myself. I’d ride my Harley over to Earl Scruggs’ house and had banjo lessons from the greatest of all—and Sonny Osborne. He thought it was so neat a young guy wanted to play a banjo. Earl Scruggs — what a fantastic memory of that guy. He was great. What a stamp he put on the music business. I mean, come on, Earl Scruggs — that is bluegrass. If you’re sitting there with Keith Richards, or whoever, or Snoop Dogg, and I start playing his “Foggy Mountain Breakdown,” they know what that is.”
Hank Jr. suffered a near-fatal fall off the side of Ajak Peak in Montana in 1975 and after an extended recovery; he challenged the country music establishment with a blend of country, rock, and blues. He’s enjoyed much success in the ‘80s, from which he earned considerable recognition and popularity both inside and outside the country music industry. As a multi-instrumentalist, his repertoire of skills include guitar, banjo, steel guitar, bass, upright bass, piano, keyboards, dobro, harmonica, fiddle, and drums. His latest album, Old School, New Rules, came out in 2012. The title itself was simple. It was launched on his own imprint, Bocephus Records, a nickname his father used to call him.
“I got it [album title] from the song I wrote,” he explained. “The name of the song is “Old School.” But I made up some new rules. It was going to be “Freedom of Speech.
“Oh, that’s what Daddy called me [regarding the record label’s name],” he continued. “That was his name for me. Here I am crawling around, a rug rat, and he called me Bocephus. There was a guy on the Grand Ole Opry [Rod Brasfield] that had a little dummy and that’s where he got it from. The little dummy was named Bocephus.”
Fast-forward to 2014 and Hank Jr. is focused on his current tour with Ted Nugent. Just like his father, his legacy will live on for generations to come. Best served with a shot of Whiskey, Hank Jr.’s music apparently provides the perfect backdrop to getting drunk.
“Well, I know a lot of presidents of the United States who have [gotten drunk to my music],” he said. “And I imagine I have, and I imagine Shelton [Williams, aka Hank Williams III] has. And I know [Kris] Kristofferson told me that that was one of his favorite things. [Laughs.] Yeah, I imagine there aren’t too many people, no matter where they come from, that can’t agree with that.”
Hank Williams Jr. with Ted Nugent, July 17, at Mid-America Center, Council Bluffs, 8 p.m. Tickets are $45-$75/ADV and $50-$80/DOS. Visit www.midamericacenter.com for more information.