The two faces of Hank III 

Outlaw music

Hank Williams III is cursed by expectation. The progeny of two country music legends — yeah, those, Hank Williamses — Hank III hasn't yet crawled from under his family's heavy shadow. But one wonders whether he really wants to.

The first widely-released album on which III appeared was 1996's Three Generations of Hank, a collection of digitally arranged recordings of his trios that called "one of the strangest and most unnecessary tributes to that legacy yet recorded." That was released by Nashville heavyweight Curb Records, the label home of both Hank III and his father.

And the fact that III bears a striking resemblance in both voice and visage to his iconic grandfather can't be overstated.

It would seem that Hank III's success is at least partially due to his name.

And so he rebels. And he makes sure to indicate as such with his every move. If it weren't enough for III to build a career on traditional honky-tonk, shot up with punk intensity, and delivered as profanity-ridden sinners' anthems, maybe naming his most recent album Damn Right, Rebel Proud, or playing as a sideman for Superjoint Ritual, the side-project with former Pantera frontman Phil Anselmo is.

And if he still hasn't proven his point — that this ain't your (or, for that matter, his) grandaddy's country — there's Assjack, the psychobilly riot of a metal band fronted by Hank III.

Curb — which released all of Hank III's records since 2002's Lovesick, Broke & Driftin' under a pseudonym imprint to preserve the label's wholesome image — has historically treated Assjack as the bastard son of a bastard son. But not anymore.

On August 4, Assjack's self-titled debut will see a formal release on Sidewalk Records, the same Curb imprint that Damn Right, Rebel Proud bears. Sounding something like a mud-caked Motörhead would in a world where early metallers found more inspiration in the music of Charlie Pool than Robert Johnson, Assjack's speedball fury is as far from traditional country as a Hank Williams could go.

And it's been met with some disdain, not only from the Nashville suits, but from III's country-purist fans. In an interview on his website, III explains, "It's pretty surprising how the power of music can piss some people off ... I can't make everyone happy, and it is what it is.

"It doesn't matter if it's the redneck that gets upset and thinks I'm pissing Hank Williams off, or the young kid that thinks I'm selling out by playing hard rock ... if I was selling out, I would be doing what a producer tells me and dressing up all pretty and only be doing country music, that's how to make money."

Still, he soldiers on with his two-headed hybrid of outlaw music, finding that for all the outlaw/loner imagery he puts into his songwriting, he's not so alone in his tastes.

"Nowadays, there's a whole group of people that love Waylon and David Allan Coe, and love Pantera and Slayer ... there's a whole breed of them out there," he says in the same web interview.

It's for that whole breed, and to promote the disparate Damn Right, Rebel Proud and Assjack albums, that Hank III is bringing both his personalities on the road. On his current headlining tour, which stops at the Music Farm on Tuesday, Hank III is performing two sets, one with his countrified Damn Band, and a second with Assjack.

This dual-personality does raise a crucial question about the entirety of Hank III's oeuvre. How far from the tree has this apple really fallen? Hank Sr. is the prototype of honky-tonk, a style of country music with themes built around the same (or similar) type of hard livin', hell raisin' characters Hank III keeps alive in his songs. Hank III adds weed to his whiskey and women, but there's not so much different. And Hank Williams, Jr. was known for blending country and rock — not country and speed metal — which draws its own parallels to the third-generation troubadour.

One is clear to point out, too, that the outlaw country stars of decades ago weren't averse to their share of drugged and drunk recklessness — if there's a more prodigious and unapologetic weed-smoker in country music than Willie Nelson, I've yet to hear him. And Hank III's staunch traditionalism (with the Damn Band) matches neo-traditional reactions that pop up throughout the annals of country music — whenever Nashville gets too shiny.

And with Assjack, Hank III is aligning himself with a legacy of Confederate flag-waving hard rockers like Pantera and Antiseen, both subversive in their own right, but both equally reverent to the outlaw image that country music proffered decades before punk was a genre and not an insult.

But Hank III knows this. He's been known to cover both his father and grandfather in concert. And as much as his family's legacy is a burden, it's a blessing, and even, perhaps, a raison d'être.


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