Born Shelton Williams on December 12, 1972, in Nashville, TN; son of Hank Williams, Jr. (a musician) and second wife Gwen Williams; grandson of Hank Williams, Sr. Addresses: Record company--Curb Records, Inc., Nashville, TN 37203, (615) 321-5080. Publicity--Deborah Keyes, Rogers & Collin Publicity, (310) 201-8842. Website--Hank Williams III Official Website: http://www.hankthree.com.
Hank Williams III, born Shelton Williams, is the son of outlaw country music pioneer Hank Williams, Jr. and the grandson of Hank Williams, Sr., the "hillbilly Shakespeare" who is considered country music's best songwriter and performer. On his own, the younger of the three Williamses blends elements of his grandfather's honky-tonk and his father's outlaw country music with hard rock and punk elements to create a music that some critics define as alternative country, punkabilly, or cowpunk. He has also performed and recorded versions of his grandfather's songs, as well as the music of such traditional country acts from the 1960s as Bobby Edwards and Johnny Cash.
Williams's gaunt physical features and vocal phrasings in which he bends notes from one octave to another have caused him to receive favorable comparisons to Hank Williams, Sr. His tendency to emulate such country music genre-defying performers as Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, and David Allen Coe have caused other critics to compare him to his father and the 1970s outlaw movement. As part of that movement, country songwriters and performers expanded the lyrical subject matter and instrumentation of their songs and opted for a simpler style of studio recording than Nashville's major labels normally allowed in the late 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s. While asserting that Hank Williams III does not possess the vocal qualities of his grandfather nor his songwriting gifts, Time critic Benjamin Nugent stated: "The exquisite gift the youngest Hank has inherited is a stone-cold ability to create music about the battle between Saturday night and Sunday morning that rages in the mind of the drinker who wants to stop."
Born in 1972, in Nashville, Williams moved to Atlanta with his mother after his parents' divorce. The third-generation Williams began performing with his father's band in 1982, when he was only ten years old. While continuing to play drums with his father, Williams began focusing on punk music, playing in such bands as Buzzkill and Bedwetter. "I listened to my grandfather's music when I was four years old, but at the same time, by the time I got to ten, I was listening to Kiss, Black Sabbath, AC/DC and Ted Nugent, too," he is quoted on the Curb Records website. "Back then, I was just screaming my head off and playing drums. I was into anger and chaos. I'd never tapped into melodies, touching people's souls and making them cry." Williams played shows with his punk bands, sometimes earning $50 per night, before the necessity of a $24,000 child support suit against him forced him to find more economically substantial employment.
In 1996 Curb Records released Three Hanks, which features three generations of Williamses: Hank Williams, Sr., Hank Williams, Jr., and Hank Williams III. As the eldest Williams had been dead since New Year's Day 1953, his voice was digitally inserted into the recordings made by the father and son. The recording earned the youngest Williams a contract with Curb Records, and he began recording Risin' Outlaw in the same year. The album was not released by Curb until 1999, however, because the label was not satisfied with Williams's original master recordings. The record company exercised control of Risin' Outlaw and released it in a significantly different form from Williams's original intention. He openly spoke of his dissatisfaction with Curb's handling of the affair, believing that the released album sounded overproduced, but critics still responded positively to the release. Explaining that he was aware that Williams expressed his disapproval, Curb Records director of marketing Jeff Tuerff told Billboard magazine's Ray Waddell: "We know he's not happy with it, but we're getting a tremendous response out of the alternative and college markets. He has a vision of going into country music, and we want to do that, too. But we believe he will appeal to a broader market outside of country."
Only two of the album's 13 songs appear in their original recorded form, a live version of Wayne Hancock's "Why Don't You Leave Me Alone?" and Williams's composition "Blue Devil," which he recorded on a four-track recorder in his home. Critics noticed similarities in the latter song to the Hank Williams, Sr. song "Lost Highway." Other songs on the album include a remake of the 1960 Bobby Edwards's country hit single "You're the Reason," as well as three Wayne Hancock songs, "Why Don't You Leave Me Alone," "Thunderstorms & Neon Signs," and "87 Southbound." He also includes the Buddy Miller and Julie Miller composition "Lonesome for You" and a remake of the standout track from Johnny Cash's classic country album At Folsom Prison, "Cocaine Blues"; Williams's version of that song includes the lead guitar signature from another Cash tune, "Folsom Prison Blues." Production credit for Risin' Outlaw is shared by Chuck Howard and Bob Campbell-Smith.
Risin' Outlaw drew many favorable comparisons to the music of Hank Williams, Sr. The album features instrumentation from Nashville studio veterans Jason Brown on upright bass, J. T. Corenflos and Brent Rowan on acoustic guitars, and Dan Dugmore, Kayton Roberts, and Paul Franklin on steel guitars. To bolster sales for the album, Williams toured as a supporting performer for such alternative-rock acts as Beck and the Reverend Horton Heat, and he opened shows for country music stalwarts Ray Price and George Jones. For the tours, he formed the Damn Band, which also featured Brown on bass, Michael McCanless on fiddle, Sean McWilliams on drums, and guitarist Duane Denison, the latter a former member of the punk band Jesus Lizard.
For Lovesick, Broke & Driftin', his 2002 follow-up to Risin' Outlaw, Williams served as producer. With the exception of the Bruce Springsteen song "Atlantic City," all the songs were written by Williams. The songs on this album feature such additional instruments as dobro and mandolin, which, combined with Williams's sparse production, result in an album that sounds more like alternative and traditional country music than the more boisterous and punk-accented sound of Risin' Outlaw. In such songs as "One Horse Town," Williams displays the same vocal techniques employed by his grandfather, underscored by the same fiddle, upright bass, and steel guitar instrumental backing that Hank Williams, Sr. popularized. Additional musicians on the recording include electric guitarist Billy Gibbons, mandolin player Chris Scruggs, and Kayton Roberts, a former stand-up steel guitar player for Hank Snow, Randy Travis, Ricky Scaggs, John Fogarty, and the Cox Family with Alison Krauss. Roberts's contribution in particular resulted in Lovesick, Broke & Driftin' prompting further critical comparisons between Hank Williams, Sr. and Hank Williams III.
by Bruce Walker
Hank Williams, III's Career
Made first stage appearance with Hank Williams, Jr. as a drummer, 1982; signed to Curb Records, 1996; released Three Hanks: Men with Broken Hearts, a collaboration with Hank Williams, Jr. and the digitalized voice of his deceased grandfather, Hank Williams, Sr., 1996; released debut album, Risin' Outlaw, 1999; released Lovesick, Broke & Driftin', 2002.
- Selected discography
- Three Hanks , Curb, 1996.
- Risin' Outlaw , Curb, 1999.
- Lovesick, Broke & Driftin' , Curb, 2002.
September 2005: Williams' album, Straight to Hell, was released. Source: Billboard.com, www.billboard.com/bb/releases/week_7/index.jsp, September 14, 2005.
- Billboard, March 4, 2000, p. 10.
- Time, March 4, 2002, p. 73.
- Washington Post, October 17, 1999, p. G12.
- "Hank Williams III," All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com (April 30, 2002).
- "Hank Williams III," Curb Records, http://cf.curb.com/artists/artistbio_T1.cfm?ID=81 (April 30, 2002).