Hank Williams Jr. is simultaneously one of the most important and polarizing figures in the music business. He was one of the most important artists in the original outlaw country music movement, breaking free from a career of covering songs by his late father and releasing the country-rock masterpiece Hank Williams Jr. & Friends in 1975. He’s a wizard on multiple instruments, the purveyor of stone-cold honky-tonk classics like “Stoned at the Jukebox,” “Family Tradition,” “Whiskey Bent & Hell Bound,” and “Dixie on My Mind,” and, along with Waylon Jennings, he’s responsible for dragging a raw and ragged brand of country back into the commercial limelight in the late ’70s
His streak of hits continued into the 1980s, and ultimately he sold over 70 million albums, scored 10 No. 1 hits, and won six Grammys. He also developed a seriously outspoken conservative streak that culminated in him comparing President Barack Obama to Adolf Hitler on Fox & Friends in 2011.
So that’s gotta be an interesting guy to talk to, right? When I found out that Williams was doing some interviews in advance of his upcoming tour date on Daniel Island, I jumped at the chance to talk to him.
There was a caveat, however. Bocephus, as he came to be known in the ’80s, was only doing email interviews.
Just to give you a bit of an inside look at how the City Paper likes to work, when we’re trying to do an in-depth feature, we hate email interviews. When sending off questions to someone who will have plenty of time to shape their answers rather than hearing them in the moment, we can’t really follow any interesting tangents that a face-to-face or phone conversation might create, and the answers are typically too abrupt to really use.
But it’s Hank Jr., so I figured I’d give it a shot. I worked on a list of questions that I thought would be a good mix. I asked about his setlist these days, about modern country radio, about his views on the new crop of country rebels like Chris Stapleton and Sturgill Simpson, about the new Nashville, where it’s not just about country anymore.
And to be honest, I got some initially decent answers, particularly about Stapleton.
“Well, last year Chris Stapleton and I had one of the biggest tours of the year and, even Rolling Stone magazine called it that,” Williams wrote. “So, yes, I see what artists are doing and there are some that I really like and others that I don’t give a damn about. Chris is a good guy and we understand each other.”
But gradually the answers got shorter and more perfunctory, just as I feared they might.
On modern country radio:
“I don’t listen to the radio unless I am driving, and even then I have a disc in the player. But there are a few great artists and some I have done shows with like Chris Janson, Justin Moore, and Jason Aldean.”
On whether or not he’s spending any time in Nashville these days:
“Hell no! I stay in Paris, Tennessee, where I live, or I travel to Montana in the summer or Apalach, Florida, or Alabama. Nashville is not my first choice of places to be, that’s for sure.”
On his outspoken political views, and whether or not someone without his pedigree could get away with saying some of the things he’s said:
“It’s a different time now from when I was in the height of my radio career. But, everyone needs to be who they are and never let anyone tell them what to sing or say. I really don’t pay attention to what other people are doing or saying.”
And to finish things off, the answer to what artists he was listening to these days:
“Already answered that.”
So there you go.
And along with those answers, we received a note from Hank Jr.’s publicist, telling us Hank was irritated that we hadn’t asked any questions about the show.
We typically don’t do that because, honestly, what is the performer going to say? “I can’t wait to get this show done and get out of that shithole?” No, of course not. They’re going to say they’re thrilled to be coming back to wherever the hell it is they’re playing, and everyone should come out to the show.
So, for the record, Hank Williams Jr. is indeed coming to town. Our guess is that Hank, who says he swears off setlists, is going to play a lot of hits, some old favorites, and maybe a few newer tunes from his most recent album, last year’s It’s About Time. The show info is below.
We wanted to talk to him because of what he’s done and who he is. I came up with questions I thought might engage him and that he might have some salient opinions on. And apparently, I pissed him off.
My bad, Bocephus. Stay cool. Support City Paper.
Stay cool. Support City Paper.