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Artist Interview: Hank 3 on earning respect in doing what he loves

Tuesday night, Hank 3 opens up his spring 2014 tour at the Mercury Ballroom in Louisville, Ky.
Tuesday night, Hank 3 opens up his spring 2014 tour at the Mercury Ballroom in Louisville, Ky.
By Jessica Blankenship

Tonight at the Mercury Ballroom in Louisville, Hank 3 will bring his own blend of country and rock music to the stage. We got the chance to speak with Hank 3 in regards to his spring tour, new music, life on the farm, family, and more. Be sure to get to tonight's show before 8:00 p.m. as it will start promptly at that time with no opener. Bring a little bit of extra cash to spend on merchandise and music directly from Hank 3.

Jessica Blankenship: I have to say that a lot of fans are looking forward to this spring east coast tour. Are you and the guys ready to get back out on the road?
Hank 3: We are doing everything we can to figure out what's broken, what's working, and getting the crew back together. A lot of my guys are from out of state. It takes a little bit to get everyone here at the house. We're all looking forward to it.

Jessica: Of all places, why did you decide on Louisville to kick off this spring tour?
Hank 3: Basically, I'm trying to hit everywhere that I didn't get to play in 2013. In 2013, I kind of got a late start because of the record releases and all of that stuff. I did Texas and the west coast run. It's just been a while. Whenever I route the shows, I try to not have a drive that is over 500 miles. We try to keep it right at 500 miles. I've had a lot of crew people and myself that have lived in Kentucky; worked with a lot of musicians out of Kentucky. The fans there have always been good to us. We've always had a great time there since the early '90s.

I think this is the first show this venue [Mercury Ballroom] is having with us. That's little bit of a challenge, but we're all looking forward to it. We're trying to get everyone on the same page of what to expect from our show. I'll always meet with security and tell them that sometimes it can be a little bit rowdy and to just do your best at respecting the fans. There might be some movement in our show, or they might just stand still. Sometimes it is hard to say. I always try to make it point to tell them that we do allow videotaping and pictures and what to expect. It is a pretty long show. We will always pay our respect to country music for the first hour and a half. Then as the show goes on, we'll go into a few different styles of music.

Jessica: Having attended a show of yours before, it seems to work when you do talk to security on what to expect. It is about respecting the fans and they respect you.
Hank 3: Yeah, it is always tricky. If there is a mosh pit, I always tell folks that if you can tell there is going to be some movement or a mosh pit during the country part of the show, people that don't want to get pushed around need to just step back from the first 25 feet. Then usually everybody's okay. It's a fine line on security guards that know how to understand what a mosh pit is and looking for people throwing cheap shots and trying to hurt people. That's a big difference. A lot of security guards get it, but a lot don't. We always do a security briefing before the show. That way it doesn't put me in a bad position or them in a bad position. I've been around some security crews that's thrown out over 150 people for not really doing anything. Those are the kind of situations that you can get upset and are really unprofessional. Just like what they're doing with their job, I'm up there watching the crowd. It's not like I'm standing up there with my eyes shut. I'm always keeping an eye on the crowd. If someone's getting overheated or someone is getting too uncomfortable we stop playing. It's not like we're oblivious as to what is going on in front of us. We've kept a pretty good track record for as long as I've been on the road. Most of the Hank Williams' have had an energetic rowdy kind of crowd. That's what I try to tell most security guards. You never can tell what it's going to be like tonight, but just keep in mind usually it can be pretty energetic.

Jessica: You are pretty well known for your four hour shows. Do you plan on doing that for this tour?
Hank 3: I hope to keep doing the four hour shows. That's what I want to do personally if my body will agree to doing that. I still don't know yet. I won't know until I'm officially on the road and doing what I do. Last year I was able to do it no problems and everything went fine. Hopefully that will continue. Basically I'm wanting to keep my work ethic until I'm 50. I'm 41 right now and if I can keep doing that until I'm 50 then I'll be satisfied and then I might kick it back a couple of notches and not be as extreme over the top. Those are just some of my personal goals that I want to do. Every year is different. I'm not getting any younger trying to keep it going. It's always a challenge. It's like a boxer going into a ring. You never can tell what's going to work and what's not going to work until you're in action and everything is going on around you. It's very intense and always a challenge and always a thrill.

Jessica: You are very hands on with fan interaction, with merchandise to shows to social media. What amazes you the most about your fan base?
Hank 3: Basically it's the drive and respect with the fans. I've had a very die hard loyal fan base for a long time. A lot of it goes back to being humbled and respectful to my fans. Of course, not everybody is going to like what I do or get what I do. With as much positive, you always get the negative to deal with. I get that as well. Most of the time, I'm very honored to have a fan base that they react to my songs. My songs speak to a lot of them.

The best pay off in the world is when someone comes up to you and says, 'your music has helped me with some pretty rough times through life. I don't know if I would still be here if it was for your music whether it be country music or heavy metal has done for me.' That's ultimately the biggest payoff for me. I hear it from young kids to military guys and military women to older folks. Just all around - we have a pretty wide genre. You know 18 to 80 is kind of our fan base. That's really the biggest payoff. I get a lot of interesting art and contacts. I get to play some farms for folks every now and then. I've always done my show and met with fans. It's kind of the old country ways. It makes the fans feel a bit more connected in what you do in my eyes.

Jessica: It is rare to hear of musicians taking the time to meet with fans these days. Anymore it seems like you hear even newer artists wanting to charge for a meet and greet and call it a VIP experience.
Hank 3: The only time I've ever charged anybody for a meet and greet is only during charity work. That's just for the charity and that's only happened two times in my career. Everyone knows that they can bring their video cameras and cameras and bootleg or record all of our shows and say hello for nothing. That's something I've always stayed true to and always will. That's a big deal to me.

Jessica: You can also be respected for the fact you truly live the songs that you wrote and sing up on stage. With "Brothers of the 4x4" album, what would you say is the most important song for you off of it?
Hank 3: I think I've got a couple of pretty serious songs off of "Brothers of the 4x4" where the emotions go a little more deep. When you look at songs like 'Deep Scars' and 'Loners for Life,' in my eyes those are more real deal official country songs. I don't get to play as many slow songs in my set for now, but in time I will. For now I try to keep the fans hyped up and not get too bummed out. I always have a few songs that during the country show that are more laid back and have the old school kind of country. Every song I write has as much thought as the others on the record. Some are really I guess you could consider more painful and others would be considered more happy go lucky. It might just be a Friday night weekend kind of song or something to drive around on a trip somewhere. I try to even it out on some sad ones, happy ones, old school songs, and some that might not be too new sounding or too old sounding. A lot of work goes into the way I make records. Every song is basically from start to finish I'm writing it and doing it too. As David Allen Coe would say, 'you know every country song is about emotions if it is a good country song.'

Jessica: With the "Brothers of the 4x4" and "Fiendish Threat" albums being released later in 2013 and having time off, have you been writing and recording new material?
Hank 3: Well I've been working on a side project. I wasn't planning on making a record this winter, but that's what happened. I basically started in November working on the side project. Keep in mind, it's not a country record and it's not my rock stuff. It's something totally different. I thought I was going to do my leather work this winter, but things changed. Once it starts, you got to see it through. In general, most of my career I've usually stayed a bit closer to home during the winter time mainly just because I've had a few times of getting strep throat. With as many hands that I shake and many people that I meet during flu season, it's just a little harder for me to do it. I've done shows with flu and strep throat, but I try not to spread it around or get it as much. That's one of the reasons why I shut everything down in the winter. I have been creative and productive this winter, but I can't start making another country record until I break even off of "Brothers of the 4x4" and "Fiendish Threat." Once I break even off of those two, then I will start diving back into what my next adventure might be.

Jessica: Your music reflects a lot on your influences in life. Recently when I interviewed Marty Stuart, he spoke highly of you. Who else in the music industry have supported your music that others might be surprised?
Hank 3: With Marty, he's been like a father figure. I've been around him and he's watched me grow up. Aside from all of the other stuff, he just seen me go through a lot of changes. He gets to offer me some advice and stuff like that. Let's say someone like George Jones. I got to be around George Jones. I got to sing with him on stage and got to go over to his house, stuff like that, but I never really had a full on connection where he could say, 'anytime you want to pick up the phone, just call me.' The only guy that has really ever been like in the country music world is probably David Allen Coe. He's also watched me grow up. I've also seen him go through many phases. He's seen me go through many phases. As he would say, 'any time you need advice or just need to talk to me, I'm here out of love. I never want nothing from you. I just want you to know that I've been around the block quite a few times and just know that I'm here.'

Then there are some other people like Alamo Jones. He worked behind the scenes with Johnny Cash for twenty five years. There's some guys in the metal world like Phil Anselmo. I could call him and he would give me advice. Since I've been more of a bar band most of my career, that's kind of limited me in some ways on meeting some other people. I've gotten to play with Johnny Paycheck and George Jones, David Allen Coe, ZZ Top, and Waylon. I've got to tour with a lot of the legends in the younger part of my career. But when I went to full-on bar circuit, I'm not around anyone that be like Alan Jackson or someone like that. The only newer act I've ever met was George Strait and that was a long, long time ago. He's always been true to what he is and thank God there is a George Strait still out there since most of the pop stuff is just choking itself out beyond ridiculous, more in the country world. George keeps it real.

Jessica: Seems like you hear more people complaining about the pop country stuff than promoting anyone who is actually good. I know anymore I try to promote those that are good at what they do and perhaps struggling to get the word out.
Hank 3: Absolutely, you can tell the people who really try to keep the roots of country music involved in their sound and in their records. And then you can hear the people that don't. It is what it is. A lot of that is the music business and that's just one of those things. Most people know that if you really listen, you can find records out there that have a little bit more meaning to what they do. It's not just the whole money thing. It would be nice to see the music business be a little more well-rounded and respect some other folks a little more and not be so one way about it. It is what it is, but that fad will come and go. Unfortunately the pop thing has stuck around for quite a long time. Eventually it will be changing and it will be going back to a different sound and a more unique sound I'm sure soon.

Jessica: Earlier you mentioned Waylon Jennings and in a recent interview you said that you somewhat wish Waylon was your dad at times. What about the suppose feud between you and Shooter Jennings? Has that settled down or was there nothing really to it in the first place?
Hank 3: Oh, I was very hard on him when he came out. I knew Shooter back when he just wanted to be a rock guy and that's it. Then after his dad passed on, I had to hear him and see him change and 'Putting the O in Country' after 'Dick in Dixie.' Him with his 'O in Country' song just kind of irked me enough to start busting his balls a little bit. That's kinda all it was. When you're signed to a major, you're going to be a little green and it takes a while for you to know what you're going to do. So I was definitely hard on him in the beginning. There's no questions about that.

But as ten years passed, all that's kinda water the bridge. He's stepped up to the plate. He's come out to a show and said hello. All that in itself took a lot of guts compared to all of what I was saying. He did the right thing and came out where a lot of people would have been like, 'naw screw that.' So it's all good. I'm glad to see that he's at least got a career and he's able to do his thing. That's kind of why I was like that because I got to see the transition of him being the clean shaved kid. Then all of a sudden he started growing a beard and wearing glasses after Waylon passed. It just bugged me at first. Everybody has their thing that they have to go through. And the 'Put the O in Country' put the nail in the coffin. I'm like, 'alright if you're going to do that, then well I've got to say something.' That's a long time ago and things have changed a lot since then.

Jessica: There are a lot of other children of country music lineage, from Georgette Jones to Jesse Keith Whitley, and others in the business. What is something about the Williams family that others may not know?
Hank 3: Well I mean, honestly I've always been the lone wolf. If you compared Shooter to me, it's two different worlds. When I was saying that I wished Waylon was kind of my dad, that's just because Waylon was always super cool to me and would talk to me and be humble towards me and ask me questions that he actually seemed like he was interested in my career. And if you look at how Shooter and his mom have always had a very close connection, even if Waylon was still around, Waylon would be supporting Shooter in every way possible. Well if you look at my career, I've never really had that. I've had my mom in my corner, but someone like Hank, Jr. who's had all of the experience and been out there and could offer me a bunch of advice and stuff like that, never has.

The only advice he ever gave me when I was ten years old on stage he said, "oh this is Hank Williams III and when he grows up he's going to come out here and tell them to kiss your ass just like I did." And that's about it. You know there's not been much of a, you know, just not much there. Even with Hillary and Holly, I knew them a little bit when I was younger, but it's not like I hang out with them on a regular basis.

I'm always more geared towards my mom and my son right now. Those are the two big things that I do my best to make sure they are situated, taken care and that he gets to go to school and do what he wants to do before life really kicks in. My mom nor my father never pushed me into the music business. I always did it because I wanted to. If you just looked at the whole awards shows and all that stuff, the only awards show I ever went to was when Hank, Jr. was winning an Entertainer of the Year. He invited me out to go see that with him and that was just a ploy because they were concerned about me listening to heavy metal music. It was just a trick like they were saying "ok, you're going to be out with the CMA tonight with Hank, Jr., but tomorrow we're going to be locking you up in Texas because we're concerned about you listening to some heavy metal music."

I have definitely stayed away from the big business part of country music. Never done as Hank III to an awards show. Never done any of that red carpet stuff. And to me, I've just kept it more real. To me that is more corporate, you never can tell they're getting big because it's a good song or if it's because everyone's being paid to play that song that's really not that good of a song. I've always had hope in music, hoping that a good song will go a lot farther down the line than a marketing scam. That's just my own little ways of being punk rock and being a rebel, or being an outlaw in keeping and staying true to myself as an artist. Willie had to go through it from Nashville and he had to go to Texas. Waylon had to do the same thing. Dwight Yoakam had to do the same thing. He came to Nashville and went to L.A. But I love Tennessee. There's just a couple of streets in town that are just kind of hard for me to deal with, but I've never left it. I've never gone and lived in L.A. I've never left for New York. I've stood my ground here my whole career and hopefully will be able to until the day that I die. All of those things to me are important. If you look a little deeper, those are just some areas that how my career is different than some of those others careers out there. And part of that is because Hank, Jr. is still in that bigger limelight the more commercial side of it so it's more a natural thing for me to not want to be a part of that world. He's five time Entertainer of the Year and he's done an incredible job with his country music, but I have to find other outlets to do my thing where it doesn't look like we're both in the same arena. If that makes any sense.

Jessica: You've managed to keep your own son out of the spotlight over the years. Has he indicated an interest in music? Does he choose to not be in the spotlight per say, or did you decide to keep him out of it?
Hank 3: He does it. He does all kinds of stuff. I keep supporting him no matter if it’s music or no matter if it's a trade where you're learning something with your hands. He was wanting to be an English major and a teacher for a while. I just keep telling him that while you are in college, once you stop it's really hard to go back. So he does all kinds of different stuff. He's very active. He's still trying to figure out what he's going to go full throttle on. All in all, I keep supporting him and making sure he has a little bit of time to try to figure out what he wants to do. it takes a little bit to get your niche. He does play music. He is very active, very smart; it's just hard to say what direction he's officially going to go.

Jessica: Education is always important. I know personally I set out to be an agriculture teacher, but ended up doing business management and marketing. You never really know until you get into the working world what you will become.
Hank 3: Exactly and that's what I keep telling him about learning a trade with your hands. You would be surprise how important that can be. You never know and he's been doing a couple of side jobs that's more trade work. I told him that when you are on that job-site, make sure you watch all of those other trades that is going on around you. That's some stuff that will never go away and those jobs will never go away. He understands that and I've seen him go through a couple of changes where he's shifted gears a little bit. Time will tell and he's got a little ways to go. He enjoys the sound side of music; the recording side of it. He plays and sings and I think he's just going to wait until the school is done before really taking it up a notch.

Jessica: For years you have done the Reinstate Hank campaign and at one point a video or movie was to be released. I know that you still sell the stickers and shirts at shows. What ever happened to that project and will the video ever be released?
Hank 3: Unfortunately that was a case where I had a couple of good guys and they were working and we're on the right page. They got a taste of the corporate world and it ruined them. Once that happens, I pulled the plug on it and never looked back. We always pushed the Reinstate Hank campaign, but because the path that they chose and all that stuff, I just let that project be. They were dialed in for a while, but then their tune changed and it happens a lot in the music industry. Sometimes in the film industry, it just depends. It's a shame that it had some good legs underneath it, but for now Tom Lakes was the last best article written about the campaign and that was under the 200th edition of "Mojo Magazine" and he was calling out the big wigs and telling the real story of what really happened there.

You never can tell. That CEO person in the high up position at Gaylord might lose his job tomorrow and all it takes is someone to take that position over and say "yeah I think it is time to have a little ceremony where we're going to sing a little Hank Williams tonight and say we're proud to have him be a member of the Opry forever in history." That's all it's about. The Country Music Hall of Fame does a great job of it, but the Opry has unfortunately a pretty ridiculous rule that if you're not living you cannot be a member of the Grand Ole Opry. That's just a slap in the face to people like Little Jimmy Dickens, Grandpa Jones, and Minnie Pearl. All of those people that dedicated their whole life to that stage and whenever they pass way, they [Opry] is going to act like they're not a member and they don't exist anymore. Even though they will ride their name. That's unfortunately some shady creepy politics that a lot of people have to deal with if you're around here.

Jessica: The Opry is an interesting place, but it is a shame that a lot of acts that are members never show up, whereas a lot of others will show up at any given time and are not members.
Hank 3: No doubt. Absolutely there's a lot of politics there. The last time I got to play on that stage was the 50th Anniversary for Hank. That’s when I at least got to say on national tv that it’s not like they care, but I will never play on this stage again until the right thing is done with Hank Williams. The last time I at least got to walk in was to pay my respects to Earl Scruggs. That was when they had to have his ceremony to say goodbye to him and that’s it.

Jessica: One of the things several have asked lately is your relationship with Jesco White and family. Have you spoken with him lately? How are they doing?
Hank 3: I hear that he has a place in Tennessee. Unfortunately, a friend of mine named Scott called me up and Jesco was wanting to come by and have a little ceremony at the house, but I had something. I had something that was pretty big hard hit in life that I had to deal with and the emotions just weren't right. It seems like Jesco is doing great. He’s got his girl and he’s hanging in there so far so good. I might be seeing Mamie on this tour as I’m going through West Virginia. Time will tell. I’m hoping this time next year I get to do the ceremony that I had to pass up on and get together and see him. It’s been a while. Sometimes he’ll show up when I least expect it and he has all kinds of images, but all in all every time I've been around him at home in West Virginia or just in general for doing work, he’s always just trying to make people feel happy and comfortable. He’s got songs pouring out of him left and right. He’s quite an interesting guy.

Jessica: Being out on the road, do you think you’ll ever settle down? You mentioned earlier that when you turn 50 you will know what you’re going to do.
Hank 3: It’s hard to say. I was in a relationship for fourteen years with a lady and it’s hard finding someone that understands what I do. That has a lot of a big part of it as well. It’s just hard to see. It really depends on how I’m feeling if I can put on a show that I want to put on. When I look at people like Kris Kristofferson or Bob Dylan, it kind of makes me wonder. Or people like David Allen Coe, or Hank, Jr. who is still doing his thing. I just don’t know. I know that I might kick it back a little bit. If I find someone that really understands how I operate and what I do, that’s kind of hard to say. It’s really strange. I have a straight up Jekyll and Hyde life. When I’m out on the road, it’s full on Hank 3. And when I’m back at home I might write songs and make records and all of that, but it’s not nearly as intense. I do my best to really keep up with the land and work with my dogs, and to enjoy the south. It’s a pretty extreme shift. Some people that have been over to where I live, and see how I have to go back and forth, it’s pretty extreme. I’m very thankful to have it.

Jessica: I know where you're coming from. Being from a farm family, it is hard work, but satisfying at the end of the day.
Hank 3: I needed that land just to look at and work on some days where some days I just need to be able to move when I get back home. In a way, being raised on the farm and doing chores and stuff it’s a natural thing for me to want to work outside. It’s almost kind of like a rehabilitation for me with doing that. I rent a place that’s 40 acres just about 10 minutes outside of downtown Nashville. It’s got a house on it and it’s just enough to keep me where I need to be. So I somewhat have a little bit of balance in my life. Balance is always tough with the kind of shows and my work ethic and all of that, but that definitely helps me do what I do in the big picture.

Jessica: At the end of the day when the last note has been played, how do you want to be remembered best by?
Hank 3: I think they can always know that people will always say, ‘well he definitely did it his way and he stuck to his guns. He could have took the easy way, but he sure took the long hard road.’ Of course, you will always wonder, ‘are they going to love me more when I’m not here?’ You never can tell. It’s just one of those things. I think most fans will know that I was always respectful to them and humble to them and so thankful to have the gig of being up there and doing what I do. When it’s all said and done, I approach every stage, every show as if it is my last one. And every record. In the back of mind, it’s kind of lingering back there because of what happened to [Hank], Sr. at such a young age. It’s always there.

Be sure to follow Hank 3 online at www.hank3.com, as well as on Facebook at www.facebook.com/hank3.