Those who know Hank Williams Jr., they know that he’s always considered the blues as the ultimate foundation to his sound, not dissimilar to his famous father, who was taught to play guitar by a local blues performer named Rufus “Tee-Tot” Payne. Well now for the first time, Hank Williams Jr. will fully immerse himself into the blues side of country in a new album called Rich White Honky Blues produced by Dan Auerbach of The Black Keys.
Out June 17th via Easy Eye Sound, this will be unlike any of the other Hank Williams Jr. albums we’ve heard in his 56 previous releases, including later in his career. Even with previous albums like 2012’s Old School New Rules and 2016’s It’s About Time, Bocephus still seemed to be chasing the idea of elongating or rekindling his mainstream country career.
But this album is strictly a passion project, and will be full of fundamental blues songs, articulated by authentic blues pickers, released on an independent label. “The blues is where it all comes from,” says Williams. “It’s the start of everything musical in my family; everything starts with Tee-Tot and flows from there. I’ve always flirted with this stripped back blues—all the way back to the ‘80s. But I finally made an album that’s just that, and I like it.”
Joining Hank Williams Jr. in the studio were R. L. Burnside’s “adopted son,” electric slide guitarist Kenny Brown, bassist Eric Deaton known for backing up T-Model Ford and Paul “Wine” Jones, and drummer Kinney Kimbrough, son of North Mississippi blues legend Junior Kimbrough. This album is basically a Fat Possum blues revitalization project, performed by a Country Music Hall of Famer from the most famous bloodline of country artists.
“If you wanted to play this kind of music, you couldn’t have better players,” Dan Auerbach says. “The first time I ever saw Hank Jr. on TV, I was a kid raised on Robert Johnson and Hank Williams, Sr. records, and those things came through so clearly watching him. So, I tried to assemble the right parts to just sit in that piece of who he is.”
After first floating the idea of making this album back and forth, Hank Jr. reportedly got cold feet when he first walked into the studio. “First thing he said to me when he walked in was, ‘I don’t really feel like fucking with this shit!’ And he walked into another room,” Auerbach reports. But soon, Hank Jr.’s bluesman alter ego nicknamed “Thunderbird Hawkins” emerged, and they knocked out the sessions in three days.
As you can see from the video of “.44 Blues” below, Hank Williams Jr. has always been an underrated guitar player and musician, and takes to blues as easy as country, if not easier. He did release another blues album in 1966 called Blues My Name, but it still had country inflections and songwriters. Rich White Honky Blues will be an entirely different ballgame.
The news of the album comes at a strange time—less than 24 hours after it was revealed that Hank Jr.’s wife Mary Jane Thomas died unexpectedly on March 22nd. According to Hank Jr.’s publicist, “While Williams considered delaying the project’s announcement, time with his family led to one conclusion: music offers solace in the most difficult times,” pointing out that the new project ends with a “prayer for redemption,” which perhaps makes the announcement poignant.
Rich White Honky Blues is now available for pre-order.
Rich White Honky Blues Track List
- .44 Special Blues
- Georgia Women
- My Starter Won’t Start
- Take Out Some Insurance
- Rich White Honky Blues
- Short Haired Woman
- Fireman Ring the Bell
- Rock Me Baby
- I Like It When It’s Stormy
- Call Me Thunderhead
- TV Mama
- Jesus Will You Come By Here