Today is the release date of Hank Williams III’s album Rebel Within. This is his sixth and final album with label Curb Records, meaning that he is now a free man, finally done after a 14 year battle with Curb over creative control and timely release of his music.
And Hank III isn’t the only one from the most famous bloodline in country music that is jumping ship. Hank Williams Jr. announced he was leaving Curb Records last July, saying:
“You want to know the bottom line? This is my last album, and he’s (Mike Curb) history. . . We will move onward and upward, You just wait. We’ll have a lot to talk about. I’ve had some recording ideas that they didn’t care for. Well, there’s a lot of other labels that do care about it….We’re going to get off this old, dead sinking ship…They were going to [use] a picture of me from seven years ago when I was 25 pounds heavier. That was going to be the cover. It was ‘Ho hum,’ basically. Well, we didn’t ho-hum this one.”
When Hank Williams III was born, there were two men in the room: Hank Jr. and Mike Curb. Mike Curb wrote Hank Jr.’s first #1 hit in 1970, All For The Love of Sunshine. After Hank Jr. fell off Mt. Ajax in Montana 1975, an accident that took him two years to recover from, he returned to music with his current “southern rock” approach on the Curb Records label, and after over a quarter century partnership, has become Curb’s biggest selling artist of all time.
Hank III signed to Curb after being served papers in 1998 for owing $60,000 in back child support from a one night stand three years before. A judge told Hank III who at the time was playing drums in a punk band for $100 a night to “get a real job.” Hank III’s version of a real job was going down to Music Row and signing with Curb.
At that point Mike Curb had a monopoly on the most famous name in country music, and maybe in American music period. But years of attempting to exude heavy handed control over the music and image of the country music’s royal family has left Curb Records as a footnote in that legacy instead of a current day power player, and Hank Jr.’s 40+ year friendship in shambles.
Hank III has expressed his desire to become an independent artist now that he is done with Curb, but has left open the idea of returning to a label in the future if it makes sense from a business standpoint. And as Hank Jr. said, “…Well, there’s a lot of other labels that do care.” My guess is the line will be long and strong and form to the left of labels willing to pick up the Hank Williams lineage that Curb’s short-sightedness has squandered; a short-sightedness that seems pervasive with Music Row’s major labels as we work into the second decade of the 21st Century.
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This website grew out of an organization called Free Hank III. This day marks the end of that organization, though really the battle was won when Curb announced the release date of Hank III’s previous album Damn Right, Rebel Proud, and Curb Records had a “change of heart,” that was illustrated in the lightning fast release of Rebel Within.
I want to thank ALL the supporters and fans of Hank III for making this day possible, and let’s remember this victory. This is one battle in the war of the people to take back their music. If any of the other battles ever feel hopeless, just remember this victory, of how we stood together, and the grass roots rose up and effected action on a grand scale. We can only celebrate for so long, because there is so much more work to do.