When Hank Williams III’s album Damn Right, Rebel Proud went to #2 in the charts last year, this was a significant development in the movement to Reinstate Hank Williams to the Grand Ole Opry because of the first track, “The Grand Ole Opry (Ain’t So Grand),” was a song protesting the Grand Ole Opry’s stance.
But believe it or not, this wasn’t the first song to call out the Opry for firing Hank and never reinstating him. That honor belongs to Hank Jr. and Waylon Jennings in the song, The Conversation. The chorus goes:
“Well back then they called him crazy, now days they call him a saint
Now the ones that called him crazy, are still ridin’ on his name
Back then they called him crazy, now a days they call him a saint
Most folks don’t know that they fired him from the Opry
And that caused his greatest pain
I’ve heard some criticize Hank Jr.’s music because it seems like he evokes his daddy’s name at nausea. On that point I would defend Jr., because you might talk at nausea about your daddy if he was Hank Williams too. But my question is if Hank Jr. feels like The Opry firing Hank Sr. caused him his greatest pain, and that the Opry is still riding off his name, why wouldn’t he at the least lend his John Hancock to the movement to reinstate him?
And where is the signature of Hank III’s half sister Holly, and Jr.’s sister Jett? I know the answer is simple: the politics of Nashville. Hank Jr., Holly and Jett all have reputations and careers to protect. But don’t they owe at least some, if not most of their career success to the Hank Williams name? There are over 42,000 signatures on the Reinstate Hank Petition and more on the physical petition, and only one from Hank Sr.’s immediate family.
And to do themselves one worse, on January 8th, Hank Jr. and Holly performed at the Grand Ole Opry; the place that “caused his (Hank Sr.) greatest pain” in Hank Jr.’s own words. This was against the wishes of Hank III, who has been boycotting the Opry since he started Reinstate Hank on the Opry stage during a Hank Williams tribute.
In some ways the Reinstate Hank movement seems stronger than ever. The signature numbers keep growing, and the word is spreading through a rabidly strong grass roots network. However to some Reinstate Hank means something more that just getting Hank Williams back in the Opry. It represents an element that is rife with swear words, drug references, and disrespect towards institutions. There are thousands of Hank Sr. fans who’ve probably never uttered a curse word, and would never be caught dead at a Hank III concert. The same reason Hank Jr.’s signature is not on the petition is probably the same reason theirs aren’t.
Hank III himself has said himself in interviews that his “Grand Ole Opry” song is “immature” and “may not be very helpful.” I think it helped greatly in some circles, but probably hurt in others. But the movement to Reinstate Hank is about something that everyone should be able to get behind, regardless of who started it. This movement is not about Hank III, it is about Hank Williams, and I think the movement would benefit from delineating that, and respecting any and all people whose common thread is a love for the music of Hank Williams.