These days people like to say an artist has a “cult following” without really considering the true meaning of the term. It’s all about passion and dedication and if you’ve met a few fans of Hank III (Shelton Hank Williams) you have met some of the most sincerely passionate fans in the music biz. That’s probably because Hank III himself doesn’t treat them as “fans” and doesn’t even consider making his music while under the influence of worrying about the “biz”. Hank III spent 2012 touring has ass off and promoting his trio of albums that came out late last year. That’s right, Hank released three albums simultaneously (one a DOUBLE album) last year on his own label distributed through Megaforce Records and all of them are as distinctly unique as Hank Sr. is from Jr. and Shelton. I talked with Hank III about the grind of do it yourself touring, the disenchantment with the music industry and his sincere love for performing. Read on….
LRI: How was this year as far as touring
Hank 3: It went well. It was all a good turnout, some of the shows weren’t even promoted or posted at the bars but two or three weeks but still had a good turnout. We played nice long shows and it was another good run man. We do the country/A.D.D./ Three Bar Ranch show
LRI: The Three Bar Ranch stuff is crazy and heavy but also has a real emphasis on the live auctioneer vocal parts. Most people have never heard music like this, is that difficult to pull of live?
Hank 3: Right now, we are having to do it with samples. One day it would be nice to find the right kid who could actually do it live. For now, we just work around what we have on the record.
LRI: I’ve heard you talk about how you always respect your audience by playing the country set first and then the heavier stuff as the night goes on. Are you finding that more and more of the audience was staying around for the second and third sets?
Hank 3: It depends, but really that is what it is and that’s what makes it punk rock or makes it different. It’s not for the masses, it’s for the few. It doesn’t matter if it’s my band ASSJACK or now or ten years ago, most of the crowd leaves. It’s my way of not sellin out. As the back of the shirt says for Hank 3 records, “For the Few”.
LRI: Some of your A.D.D. “doom” stuff kind of has a TAD feel to it. Has TAD been an influence in any way on you in making your music?
Hank 3: Uh huh. Tad’s been great to us not only as an inspiration but just as a person to me, the band and the crew. The old Seattle sound that they had was a huge inspiration. I’ve got to be around Tad and Pig from Poison Idea, those guys have been great to us.
LRI: You make it a point to make a personal connection to your audience and shake hands, sign stuff and take pictures after the shows. I would think it would make sense for more acts these days to be accessible like that but you always have haven’t you?
Hank 3: Yeah, I’ve always done that, going back to 1994. That’s not just a recent thing that we’ve started doing. It’s something that marketing can’t buy. If you really do your homework, it’s the old country way, you do your show and say hello. That’s how you pay your respects to your fans and help them feel connected to ya. Your fans are the ones that are making you. Yeah you make your music and stuff like that but at the end of the day they’re the ones coming out supporting you and you need to make them feel wanted. Some people get it and some people don’t.
LRI: Beyond that common sense and respect aspect, do you find there’s any other benefits, do you find that you learn things by hanging out with the fans or anything like that?
Hank 3: I’ll get gifts or people will tell me about how the music helped them through hard times. A lot of nice artwork will come from the folks. You’ll always get some feedback, some good, some bad. A lot of offers. You mix in all the alcohol and a long night and I meet some folks who aren’t themselves after the whole show is through but it is what it is.
LRI: You’ve made no bones about drink and smoke and having a good time but at the same time a long year of touring can wear your body down even totally sober. Have you had to keep a close eye on your health and your voice these days?
Hank 3: It’s always been one of them things man, the road’s always there but whether you’re there for the road is a whole other thing. One of the reasons I sing so much about alcohol and smoking and stuff like that is cause I’m just trying to let people have fun and forget about their problems for a while. I always try to tell people to balance it out and if you start getting out of control or start to hurt people around you it might be time to check yourself. That is one of the reasons I do sing so much about the partyin theme is cause I do want folks to come out and have a good time and not be so bummed out when they come see me but if I drank every drink or smoked everything that was given to me the show wouldn’t be happening.
LRI: You’ve got your own record label imprint through Megaforce but your old label CURB is still cranking out cash-in compilations including one this past year. Are they runnin out of old material of yours, is that just more leftovers or B-Sides?
Hank 3: Yeah and that’s all that was, B tracks that weren’t good enough to make the record and stuff like that. They’ll try and figure out a million different ways to take away from my record sales and basically, that’s the deal with that one.
LRI: Does that kind of blow your mind that the whole time you were with CURB it was kind of difficult to get them on board as far as supporting the projects you were trying to do but now they’ll release anything with your name on it?
Hank3: No, I can’t say it’s surprising. It just shows you how they’re not interested in doing good business with artists. They’re into greed and they’re into bad business and they’re not in a position to be working with an artist, they’re only there to take away from an artist. It doesn’t matter if it’s me who didn’t make them that much money or someone like Tim McGraw who’s probably made them over 100 million dollars, the same problems are there legally. That just goes to show, they’re not working with musicians, they’re workin against em. Curb records operates more like a politician than a music guy.
LRI: Did you ever throw down with them about them trying to package you as more of a family legacy than a legitimate stand alone artist?
Hank 3: Well, the way they did 3 Hanks was definitely not cool. I told them wait ten years, wait till I’ve got a few albums out and this idea might have something unique about it but by you making it look like Hank Jr. is paving the way for me on this compilation record it creates an illusion when that’s not really the way it is. I mean, it was an honor to sing with Jr. and Sr. but as far as respect and the hard work I’ve done with my fans and my own work, they just didn’t see things like that. That’s why I’ve never been a fan of the “Three Hanks” record.
LRI: I know you also weren’t that into the final result of the “RISING OUTLAW” record either, a lot of the songs were not your own creation, was that a case of label or??
Hank 3: It was the producer. That was the one time I had to work with a producer. I know my sound, I know my songs, I don’t need someone telling me “You need to put this here and put that there in order to make this a good song”. I didn’t produce that record, I had to deal with a middle man and that’s what took away from that record. One of the good things was that Dale Crover of The Melvins played drums on that record which was a historical moment for me but all the stuff I had to deal with from the producer was no fun.
LRI: Thank god you took over the songwriting from then on. You definitely have your own distinct style and the Nashville cookie-cutter country writers don’t suit you. Is it true you had a lot to do with your dad having the guys from Suicidal Tendencies and Fishbone in his video for “Young Country”?
Hank 3: Yeah those bands and those records were very important to me growing up as kid, reading thrasher magazine. That was just the music that I listened to and my dad of course, didn’t understand. No parent is really supposed to understand the music their kid listens to. I’m also the person who introduced Hank Jr. to Van Halen back in the day and they did a video together.
LRI: How did you come to get involved with Van Halen?
Hank 3: Well, MTV was doing a special on them, this was back in the Sammy Hagar years when Sammy first joined the band and Eddie said “We go into Bocephus mode before we hit the stage”. So I go to Hank Jr. and I say “Hey, you know one of the biggest rock and roll bands in the world said that they listen to your music before they go onstage, you should check it out” and the next thing I know they were doing a video together. I never got to meet Eddie or Alex but I did get to meet Michael Anthony and he was just very cool, very humble. What an amazing voice and amazing bass player that guy is. It was a very special moment for me because I grew up on Van Halen and still to this day am a fan of what they’ve done for so many years.
LRI: Are you able to understand what your son listens to these days?
Hank 3: I am but I’ve made it a point to be open-minded and am still into other things, ya know. I’m able to pass all the old t-shirts down that I had and he knows what they are whether its Pantera or Misfits or old Alternative Tentacles Records shirts, he’s into that and I’m aware of the left of center stuff goin on nowadays. It is what it is and I’m still young at heart so if it’s the kind of music I am into and the scenes I’m into there’s not really much of a barrier between us.
LRI: I have to ask you because I grew up the biggest KISS fan. Is it true that KISS was one of the very first things you got into?
Hank 3: Yeah, that’s true for me, Phillip (Anselmo) and a lot of folks, that was our first introduction to rock and roll and I remember that KISS and a Walt Disney record were like two of the first and most important records to me so that was almost a mixing of the two worlds for me. I was a huge KISS fan and that was my first taste so that original 70s KISS is still very special to me. Old Black Flag, Queen, Misfits, KISS, that’s how I learned how to play guitar and drums and all those instruments. I’d put my headphones on and try to play along with it.
LRI: This sounds like a really stupid question but when did you start getting into country?
Hank 3: It was later. I mean, it was always around growing up, I always had my Waylon, Willie, Charlie Daniels and Johnny Paycheck albums laying around but in my mind I always thought that I wanted to rock out first and then grow old with my country fans and I kind of had that reversed on me somewhere along the line when I had papers served to me while I was onstage during the whole incident with my kid. I had a judge tellin me “Playing music ain’t no real job boy, you need to get a job” and that’s when I had to make a transition and decision to not be a deadbeat dad and step up to the plate and deal with what was in front of me.
LRI: In your unique situation that pretty much makes playing country music a sound business decision.
Hank 3: Pretty much. When you’re making 25 dollars a week playing in a punk rock band and then all of a sudden you owe 60,000 dollars and have to come up with 400 dollars a month, that’s a huge blow. It became a question of how I was gonna still do what I love but keep the money coming in so I thought I could get into country in order to get back into rock and roll.
LRI: I realize you don’t want to sell out at all but the fact remains that if you DID sell out even a little bit you could probably be one of the biggest mainstream country artists out there. Are things infinitely easier on your own label and dealing with Megaforce for distribution?
Hank 3: Oh definitely. I’m only going through my lawyer and that’s it. I’m not having five different lawyers shoot me down. I met with Megaforce and I explained to them what I do, how I’m not “too big” and not “too small” and how I work hard and hit hard in the underground and explained that’s what they could expect from me. They got it and they respect it and so far, so good. They know that I am gonna work hard to break even on all the releases and I wasn’t gonna just get some money in the bank and chill. I’m gonna go out there and promote and play and do a good job because I’ve got a good work ethic.
LRI: Do you think some of those original Megaforce thrash bands also shared that work ethic, underground attitude?
Hank 3: Yeah, they totally had it but it’s totally different. Some of those old bands on Megaforce rose to huge, huge levels, levels I haven’t gotten to and never will. I mean, bands like Metallica and Anthrax became arena bands and I’ve always been a bar band. I’ll probably always will be a bar band and not going to rise to an Anthrax status but I was mesmerized by their drums and guitars growing up. Charlie Benante is one of my top five all time favorite drummers and again, is another example of how many different inspirations I had growing up. I was open minded enough to like Black Flag but also like hair metal even though I’m sure you remember back in the day, that wasn’t really accepted by either of those worlds. It was either you were “this” or “that” but I always liked a little bit of everything.
LRI: You not only grew up loving Jello Biafra and the Dead Kennedys, Henry Rollins and Black Flag but you ended up being friends with them as well. Does that experience help guide you? It seems like you can build a long, steady career outside the box or a massive, short career inside and you’ve chosen to remain outside.
Hank 3: It is nice that I have been able to do what I do and do okay at it and be not too big and not too small so I can enjoy the respect or friendship of guys I have always admired, my heroes, that is cool to me. It’s weird, it kinda comes down to what you’re in it for. I’ve always been in it just because I really like playing drums, like playing guitar and like hanging out with friends and making people happy, making people forget about their problems for a while.
LRI: So if you can do all that and keep the lights on, you’re doin pretty damn good?
Hank: Yeah man, that’s basically it. Well, that and take care of my mom and take care of my son. Right now I am just doing what I can to keep it rolling. I’ve had to file bankruptcy before and these things but right now I’m very happy with what I have and very happy with my audience, my crew, my band. We’ve been bringing along the most gear I’ve ever pulled, the longest show and it’s a lot easier having people like Jello come up to me afterward and say “Hey man, after 15 years of watchin you that show was maybe up in the top 2”. That makes it a lot easier to keep that spark and I just wanna keep on goin. If you really look at it, in a way I’m a young one compared to Lemmy or Willie Nelson or guys like that so it’s weird how to look at it. I always said I would retire from the road when I’m 50 but right now I’m not sure that’s the case or not, it’s hard to say. If I can still do a good show and deliver a strong show the way I want then I will keep doing it but if I’m too sick to be up on that stage and I can’t hold a guitar pick then it might be time to reassess a couple things.
LRI: The Ghost to a Ghost album is obviously country and some have seen the second disk, Guttertown as country but you being from Louisiana set out to have a strong creole feel on “Guttertown”. There is a difference in your mind isn’t there?
Hank 3: There’s always been a strong connection in this family. Hiram Hank Williams Sr had a strong fascination with Louisiana music, the Louisiana Hayride was very good to him for many years and he had a lot of very good friends down there and would relax down there a lot. My father was born down in Louisiana, most people don’t realize that and for me, Mardi Gras was a big deal from a very early age and spent some time back in the swamps and made some great friends down there in some great bands. So it was kind of a natural progression although it was one that I don’t think people would expect but most people don’t realize how intertwined and in-tune honky-tonk and cajun is. It’s really cool and it’s a really spiritual music that soothes my soul when I wanna listen to something which is one of the reasons I had such a strong connection with it.
For more information on Hank 3 including links for purchasing Hank’s music visit