Interview: Hank Williams Jr.
Country music's prodigal son proves that breaking away from the status quo is a family affair.
Photography: Courtesy David McClister
Cowboys & Indians: How did you come up with the title of your new album, Old School, New Rules?
Hank Williams Jr.: I got it from the song I wrote. The name of the song is “Old School.” But I made up some new rules. It was going to be “Freedom of Speech.”
C&I: I guess that’s kind of what you’re known for — blending the old with the new?
Williams: How old are you?
C&I: Well, I’m 26.
Williams: [Laughs.] Yeah, you could say I blend the old with the new, my boy. You know who Kid Rock is? And Justin Timberlake and those kinds of people? Well, Kid Rock was on my bus. Me and Bobby [Kid] Rock, we’re about the closest friends there are. Timberlake was on my bus about three weeks ago and he said, “I just want to relive my high school days, man. This is a ball.” And I said, “Don’t bother Bobby with this. He could care less about that. Man, you know we’re up here on a different plane.” Bobby Rock said, “Thank you.”
Yeah, I play the old with the new. I definitely play whatever the hell I want to play. If you look around you’ll kind of learn that I do about 20 shows a year for six big figures and have probably the most loyal, hard-core fans that there are.
C&I: This is the first album you’ve released on your new label, Bocephus Records.
Williams: Oh, that’s what Daddy called me. 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.
Williams: Well, I know a lot of presidents of the United States who have. 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.
C&I: How does your son, Hank Williams III, compare to the first two Hanks?
Williams: Well, he can play anything he wants to play. Let me put it this way: He can be as good as he wants to be. Yeah, let’s face it, he’s got it all. He has got it all. I mean, I can virtually play anything with a string. And he’s the same way.
C&I: And he’s diverse. He goes from traditional country to heavy metal.
Williams: That’s true. I mean, when you think of it, look at his old dad. People told me: “You can’t play that rock-and-roll! You can’t! Get away from them! Get away from that horrible Marshall Tucker Band! Those stinkin’ slobs!” Yeah, if you knew anything about my history ... maybe you’ll get educated one day. They said, “What’s wrong with you? Quit hanging around all those damn Allman brothers.” It’s easy to laugh at that kind of stuff. They say country’s not country anymore. Well good, I’m glad I had a lot to do with it. [Laughs.] I’m glad I had a lot to do with it ’cause I don’t exactly run around here listening to country radio.
C&I: That’s about when you really started to get out of your dad’s shadow.
Williams: Absolutely. And you know Rolling Stone — I don’t know what year that was — when they said, “Where else would the son of a god turn? Where else would he go? He’s got to do his own thing.”
“Go out there and imitate your dad,” people told me. Nuh-uh. “You’re 15 years old. Go out there and imitate your dad. Don’t do anything different.” Well, I did something a little different, ladies and gentlemen.
C&I: How long did it take for you to find your own style?
Williams: Probably at around age 20. 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.
C&I: Not a bad way to grow up.
Williams: Oh my God. You know, I had the time and money to have some very fast automobiles. 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.
Well, I’m gonna rot now, brother.