Hank Williams Jr.
has been a walking embodiment of American music for three generations of fans. As a youngster, he sang his father's songs, carrying forward country's richest legacy. As a young adult, he forged his own million-selling, award-winning path, becoming an icon of Outlaw country and Southern rock, helping bridge the gap between Johnny Cash
and Lynyrd Skynyrd
. Today, he is seen as a founding father of both genres, serving as inspiration for musicians ranging from Montgomery Gentry
to Kid Rock
Along the way, Hank Jr. has become a living icon, an American original whose accomplishments are as legendary as his persona. Five-time ACM and CMA Entertainer of the Year and long-time musical voice of Monday Night Football, he is a Grammy winner as well as the first country performer to win an Emmy, something he has done four times.
With a catalogue that includes modern classics like "Family Tradition," "Whiskey Bent and Hell Bound," "Dixie On My Mind," "All My Rowdy Friends (Have Settled Down)" and "I'm For Love," Hank has established one of the most important and acclaimed legacies in all of modern music. He continues to bring honesty and an Outlaw edge to country, setting the standard for his contemporaries on stage and on record. Just as importantly, he remains a champion of the blue-collar man and woman, someone whose music reflects their hopes and fears and gives voice to their patriotism and fierce independence.
With the release of "127 Rose Avenue", Bocephus brings all those elements together to forge one of the finest albums of his storied career. The project's first single, "Red, White & Pink-Slip Blues," deals squarely with the loss of America's ability to create and sustain good jobs for working men and women. Hank is also as current as the headlines with "Sounds Like Justice," dealing with crime and punishment in a troubling age, and "Forged By Fire," a drama of friendship among those who have fought the country's wars through the years. He pays tribute to musical friends and family, legends all, with "Mighty Oak Trees," a look at the titans whose examples have sustained him, "Last Driftin' Cowboy," a tribute to steel guitar great Don Helms
, and the title track, which deals with the ghostly presence of Hank Sr. Hank also brings one aspect of his career full circle with a hauntingly evocative blues version of "Long Gone Lonesome Blues," one of his father's classics and the first song Hank Jr., at 14, released as a single. He indulges his love of bluegrass with "All The Roads," featuring the Grascals
, and partakes of a little "country boy rap" in the leadoff track, "Farm Song." He engages the relationships between the sexes in the light-hearted "High Maintenance Woman," and closes the album with as lovely a mood-setter as he's ever done--"Gulf Shore Road," a tribute to his seaside getaway and the ability to slow down and savor life.
All told, Hank says, "127 Rose Avenue" is "one of the most special albums I've ever made. I don't think I've ever had a whole album where it came together this well and this quickly. A lot of the songs got written when I was out with my two Labradors and a hickory stick at 7:30 in the morning. It was, 'Here's the melody, here are the words--bam! There it is.' There's a lot of magic here."
Those he found from outside writers had that same ring of truth he demands of his own writing.
"You know me," he says with a grin. "If it ain't real, I don't do it."
The result, produced by Doug Johnson, is an album in the best Hank Jr. tradition, with top-flight musicianship and lyrical honesty meeting that one-of-a-kind voice.
There few people in whom life and art have blended as interchangebly as in Hank Jr. Born in 1949, he was just 3 when Hank Sr.
passed away. He was raised by his mother, Audrey Williams, and learned music of every style from the legends who passed in and out of his boyhood home. He sang with Johnny Cash, picked up piano tips from Fats Domino
and Jerry Lee Lewis
, and took banjo lessons from Earl Scruggs
. He was performing his father's songs at 8 and made his recording debut in 1964, a year that also saw him record the soundtrack to Your Cheatin' Heart
, a film about Hank Sr.'s life.
By the early 1970s, Hank Jr. was ready to step out of his father's shadow and chart his own musical course. Collaborations with Southern rockers and the first of the country Outlaws helped him forge a style that would make him a superstar. Along the way, he battled drug and alcohol addiction and a near-fatal fall from a Montana mountainside, emerging from both with his iconic status solidified. The 1978 release of Family Tradition
led to a 15-year stretch in which he released 18 straight gold and platinum albums, a streak few artists in any genre can match. He had nearly 30 singles reach the Top 10 in that period, and he became one of music's top concert draws. Despite the fact that he limits his concert appearances to two dozen or so a year, Hank maintains a huge fan base and remains a major influence on young artists in rock and country.
Known for his love of the outdoors, he is an avid hunter and fisherman. An active follower of current events, he is keeping open the option of running one day for political office, although he is well aware that he might be a little too straightforward for the political class.
"You'd better not ask old Hank Jr.," he says with a laugh, "unless you want a real straight answer."
In the meantime, his views on life and love, his respect for tradition and the legacy of his forbears, and the preciousness of life and freedom, continue to be poured into his music, which, 70 albums on
, still resonates with fans like that of few artists ever has.