My Kind of Country

Country music from a fan's point of view since 2008

Spotlight Artist: Hank Williams Jr.

hqdefault-3The life story of Hank Williams Jr. is a familiar one. Hank was born on May 26, 1949 in Shreveport, the son of the legendary Hank Williams. Although referred to as ‘Hank Williams, Jr.’, Hank was born as Randall Hank Williams and his father was born as Hiram King (Hank) Williams. After his father’s untimely death on January 1, 1953, he was raised by his mother, Audrey Williams, who essentially forced Hank into the life of a singer, attempting to mold him into a clone of his father. Williams made his stage debut singing his father’s songs when he was eight years old. In 1964, he made his recording debut with “Long Gone Lonesome Blues”, one of his father’s classic songs.

The idea of Hank as a clone of his father became a more awkward fit as Hank grew older. Physically much sturdier that his father, Hank also did not have his father’s thin reedy voice. Hank could yodel but it was an effort. He also had a broader musical education since his mother Audrey could count various musical titans as friends and acquaintances. Hank himself has mentioned Fats Domino and Johnny Cash as strong musical influences.

At some point Hank rebelled against his mother’s efforts to turn him into a clone of his father. While Hank has always sung his father’s songs, he started to develop into a major mainstream country artist and remained there for over a decade.

His initial record label, MGM, had been his father’s label, so for much of Hank’s tenure with MGM the label would push for Hank Sr./Hank Jr. projects. Some of them, like Father & Son and Hank Williams/Hank Williams Jr. Again are gimmicky projects with Hank Jr. grafted onto his father’s recordings (if the masters still exist for these recordings, modern recording technology could make these sound far better than they do). Others like Songs My Father Left Me (unfinished songs completed and set to music by Hank Jr.) are first class efforts. There are two soundtracks, three duet albums (Connie Francis, Lois Johnson), two Luke The Drifter Jr. albums, a live album plus hit collections. Along the way there are at least fourteen albums of Hank Williams Jr. developing into a first rate mainstream country artist.

If you are fifty years old or younger, Hank Williams Jr. probably came onto your radar in 1979 with the release of “Family Tradition”. At the time was thirty years old, emerging from a transitional period in which he had not had a top ten single in over five years. From this point forward Hank would have a dozen year run of gold and platinum albums, with his 1982 Greatest Hits reaching quintuple platinum status. During that same stretch Hank would have an endless string of top ten singles with eight Billboard #1s. After a near fatal accident in 1975, Hank set out find his own muse and get his producers off his records, finally developing his own country/rock R&B hybrid.

The January Spotlight will focus on the early efforts of Hank Williams Jr., a period which saw Hank emerge from his father’s shadow and develop into a very successful artist in his own right. It was a period in which the ‘Nashville Sound’ dominated country production so there will be records with strings and choral accompaniments, but Hank’s voice is strong enough and distinctive enough to cut through the clutter. Many of my favorite Hank Williams Jr. singles come from this period, so kick back and enjoy.

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3 responses to “Spotlight Artist: Hank Williams Jr.

  1. Ken January 4, 2016 at 10:39 am

    I agree that Hank Jr’s best work came during his MGM tenure. Though not as satisfying to him personally as his later rock-edged recordings those who appreciate traditional country find them to be enduring examples of the country genre at it’s best. It is refreshing to hear those early recordings before he shifted his focus to the self-indulgent country/rock southern anthems that permeated a lot of his post-MGM output. For fans of real country music songs like “It’s All Over But The Crying,” “Cajun Baby” and “I’d Rather Be Gone” sound vibrant almost 50 years later.

  2. luckyoldsun January 5, 2016 at 3:05 am

    Based strictly on his musical accomplishments–length of career, recordings, concert performances, songwriting credits, influence on other artists–Hank Jr. certainly merits a spot in the Country Music Hall of Fame. But he’s in that group of polarizing figures–along with Jerry Lee, Paycheck and a few others–where Hank may have to be 75–or gone from this world–before he gets into the H-o-F.

    • Ken January 5, 2016 at 1:01 pm

      Hank’s biggest obstacles to a place in the Hall Of fame is his overwhelming arrogance which has alienated him from many in Nashville for the past 40 years. More recently this unfortunate display of his redneck ignorance will haunt him for the rest of his career: Even the news anchors were shocked by his comments! ESPN dropped him when they realized he was a loose cannon.

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