Originally published April 21, 1985 under the headline: “Hank Jr. Claims He’s No Rowdy”
By Mark Newman
Hank Williams Jr. would like it known that he’s not quite the hellraiser people say he is.
“You can feel trapped by your reputation,” said Hank Jr., whose father was responsible for popularizing country music before his untimely death on New Year’s Day, 1953.
But with such songs as “Whiskey Bent and Hell Bound” and “All My Rowdy Friends Are Coming Over Tonight,” it’s no wonder Hank Jr. finds it impossible to live down his reputation.
“(It’s always) rowdy this and rowdy that. And continuous drinking and parties and opium dens in Dallas and…you know, all these things people love to hold on to.”
Fact is, he probably wouldn’t be alive today if he did everything people say he does.
“No way, noooo,” he said. “I would have probably been dead about 1972. Somewhere around there would have been my epitaph, I guess.”
But Hank Jr. is still on the move. The country superstar, who worked hard to carve his own niche in music, will be here with his Bama band for an 8 p.m. concert Tuesday in DeVos Hall.
Tickets are $18.50 and $16.50 and are available at the Grand Center box office, Believe in Music stores or by calling TicketMaster.
Williams laughs at some of the stories about his reputation.
“I had my son with me on one show and I had an awful cold and I’d taken a decongestant that makes you sleepy,” he said. “We played this place where you couldn’t hardly breathe. They don’t want to believe you have a cold. ‘You are drunk, we want you to be drunk, you will be drunk.’
“That kind of thing can follow you along a lot.”
He admits he’s been no saint.
“When I was a teenager and in my early 20s and all, I got as wild as any of them. I was searching and looking for things: who I was, what I was supposed to be doing.”
But he insists he’s changed.
“I wish that everybody that had their mind made up about me could go with me up in west Tennessee and on Kentucky Lake or out to Montana or whatever. They would find out it’s not one continuous party like they think it is.”
He does admit he’ll take time out to have fun.
“Well, I work hard, but I play hard,” he said.
“In ’83 I was in Zambia on a safari in Africa in August. I was in the Yukon in September sheep hunting, in Montana in October and duck hunting in Louisiana in November.
“I was goose hunting, duck hunting, deer hunting in Paris, Tenn., in December. I was in south Alabama doing a lot hunting deer in January. So I like to keep a balance.”
Obviously, his favorite form of relaxation is hunting.
“I guess I like that tingling of excitement to be in the out-of-doors,” he said. “There’s a writer I know with one of the magazines who has a nice big set of claw marks right across his arm and his chest from a grizzly in a national park. I guess it’s that kind of thing. I like the danger.”
If Hank Williams Jr. likes to live dangerously, he’s ready to pay the price. In 1975, his career was interrupted by a near-tragic fall off the face of a mountain cliff along the Continental Divide in Montana.
He says he’ll never forget those mountains.
“They’re beautiful, but I know how cruel they can be. They nearly killed me once. But that’s the way they deal and life is a lot that way. The music business can be that way, too.”
In recent years, though, things have been going beautifully for him. In 1981 he had three No. 1 songs and in 1982 eight of his albums were on the Top 50 country charts at the same time, an unprecedented achievement by any living artist.
Besides his own songs, such as “Family Tradition,” “Women I’ve Never Had,” “Dixie on My Mind” and “A Country Boy Can Survive,” Hank Jr. has recorded a number of tunes written by other acts.
Among them are Lennon and McCartney’s “Norwegian Wood,” the Ozark Mountain Daredevils’ “If You Wanna Get to Heaven,” Ronnie VanZant’s “Made in the Shade” and ZZ Top’s “La Grange.”
Lately his music has taken on an increasingly harder rock edge.
“I would rather play ‘Le Grange’…than I would ‘the sunny side of the mountain where the rippling waters fall’ on the fiddle or mandolin,” Hank Jr. said.
Such diversity comes from the fact that he prides himself on being an exceptional musician as well as a singer and songwriter. “I like playing as much as I do singing,” he said.
Another thing Hank Jr. is proud of is his father.
“Daddy plays such a large part in my songs because he is the prototype country music superstar. He’s it. Because I am his son, I’m kinda proud of that fact. I was not going to change my name to Frank Willis or whatever as they wanted me to do a few years ago.”
He admitted that he’s saddened the hellraising reputation remains a part of the Hank Williams legacy.
“You can’t write the songs that he wrote and be drunk all the time,” he said. “It’s like Ernest Tubb said: if Daddy had had a drink and gone to school with everybody that said so, he’d have been the most educated alcoholic in the world.”
Originally printed in The Grand Rapids Press.