Interview Hank Williams JR (september 2016)
Hello Hank, first thanks for accepting this interview for Road to Jacksonville, webzine dedicated to Southern Rock.
RTJ : What are your musical influences? And how did your early stages go?
Hank : Well, I had lots of great musicians over at mother’s house when I was a little boy. Everyone from Fats Domino to Jerry Lee Lewis to Earl Scruggs and Little Richard. I had lots of great teachers showing me how to play and I learned greatness from them. You have to remember, when daddy died, I was only 3 years old and when I was only 8, mother had me on the stage of Grand Ole Opry and everywhere she could performing daddy’s songs. That is what the fans wanted to hear. So I did it. All of those other musicians that came over to the house had recorded one of daddy’s songs.
RTJ : Nearly forty years ago, you had an accident climbing the Mont Ajax, what did it happen exactly? What were the consequences on your life and your career?
Hank : It was 40 years ago actually. I was out with a friend Dick Willie and his son and I stepped off a snow bank and fell on the Idaho/Montana border. I thought for sure that my career was over and that I would never sing again. When I woke up in the hospital, Johnny Cash and my Godmother June Carter Cash was right by my bedside along with my best friend and manager Merle Kilgore. It was after that fall that I shifted my music style and career direction.
RTJ : That was a shift in your career, with a more « Southern rock » orientation, was it the meetings that headed you toward this music?
Hank : I just decided at that time that I needed to make my own image and create my own sound, and that is exactly what I did. I was told by so many that I was making a big mistake and that my sound is not what people wanted to hear from the son of Hank Williams. Well, history has proven that they were wrong!
RTJ : You toured with the Marshall Tucker Band and other bands, have you some anecdotes to tell us?
Hank : I toured with so many people from Charlie Daniels Band to Marshall Tucker Band to Lynyrd Skynyrd and every time we hit the road together it was just a big ole party. We all knew each other so well and understand what each other did, that it never felt like we were out working. We just all shared so much in common.
RTJ : Let's go to your new album It’s About Time, what does this title mean?
Hank : It’s About Time is the first album I did for Scott Borchetta and Big Machine/Nash Icon Records. I wasn’t sure that I wanted to record any new music for any of the labels since the music business had changed so much. My daughter Holly has told me for several years that music gets stolen and it's free everywhere so I thought, well how are you going to make any money making a new album ? I had just put out an album on my own label Bocephus Records and we sold about 200,000 copies and everyone seemed really happy with the results. Well, then a call came from Scott Borchetta to my manager Ken Levitan. He said he wanted me to make a record for their label and I could record anything that I wanted and make the record that I wanted. And that is exactly what I did ! It debuted at #2 on the Billboard album charts and this album has me charting in 6 decades on the billboard chart. And it was about time!!!!
RTJ : Where and how was it recorded?
Hank : We recorded the album at Blackbird Studios in Nashville.
RTJ : What are the guitars and amps you use in studio and on stage?
Hank : Well, if you have not seen a show, you will surely be entertained. I play everything from piano to fiddle to electric guitar to dobro to acoustic guitar. I have Gibson’s, Fenders, D’Angelico’s, and an assortment of others.
RTJ : Your cover of God and Guns of Lynyrd Skynyrd is a cocktail of swamp rock and country that bolt in the end with white hot guitars and a Charlie Daniels like fiddle, is it your current style?
Hank : It didn’t record it because it’s a style, I recorded the song because I liked the lyrics and the overall vibe and feel of the melody.
RTJ : About what « Just call me Hank » is it talking? Is it a tribute to old friends who deceased too much early?
Hank : I wrote that song while driving down the road. It just came to me one day and I had to pull over and write down the lyrics and it was done in like 5 minutes.
RTJ : You invited Justin Moore in duet on « Born to Boogie » (a boogie exhumed from one of your albums from 1987), who is he?
Hank : Justin is a good ole boy. He did shows with me several years ago and he is also on Big Machine Records so when the label asked me to rerecord that song, I was like I am not just rerecording the song. If we are going to rerecord it, then we have to add something special to it. So we invited Brad Paisley to lay down some guitar tracks and I had Justin and Brantley add some vocals to it. The fans really seem to like this version too.
RTJ : « The Party’s On » is a Southern Rock tune, will we get one day a 100% Southern Rock album?
Hank : I don’t know. I record songs that I think will connect with my fans. I am blessed that I have very hardcore loyal fans that come to all my shows and buy all my albums. I have no idea when I will record another album or put one out. Right now, I am enjoying the success of this one.
(Questions Philippe Archambeau and Y. Philippot-Degand and Olivier Aubry
Translation of the questions Y. Philippot-Degand)