Happy 50th Birthday Hank Williams III, Wherever You Are

50 years ago today on December 12th, 1972, Randall Hank Williams Jr. and his wife Gwyn Yeargain welcomed their first and only child into the world. Keeping with the family tradition, they gave him the middle name of Hank, with his full christening taking shape as Shelton Hank Williams III. Five years later, the couple would be divorced, and Hank Jr. would mostly be out of the life of Shelton, except for occasional hunting trips and visits. But a new member of the Hank Williams legacy was born.

First making his way in punk bands and installing garage doors to make a living, it appeared perhaps the third—and at that time—final member of the Williams clan who could indisputably adopt the “Hank” name may not perform country music at all. But when a paternity suit had a judge telling him to “get a real job,” Shelton acquiesced, and signed a deal with Mike Curb of Curb Records who’d been in the hospital when he was born.

Just like his father Hank Jr., at first they tried to dress Hank3 up as a Hank Williams tribute act and had him playing tourist shows in Branson, MO theaters, covering his grandfather’s songs and refining his chops. He opened for Charlie Louvin, and appeared on an episode of Crook & Chase with Mel Tillis and Glen Campbell. The first time Minnie Pearl saw the young Hank she remarked, “Lord honey, you’re a ghost” from the striking resemblance in both sight and sound to the original Hank Williams.

But shortly thereafter, Hank3 rebelled, finding his inspiration in punk music and from modern day throwback hillbillies such as Wayne “The Train” Hancock. Similar to Hancock, Dale Watson, and the throwback band BR-549, Hank3 embraced the roots of country music in a neotraditionalist approach, while also pursuing a harder style of “hellbilly” music on the side. He ran afoul of Mike Curb and Curb Records, who tried to restrict both his creativity and output, and through that action, Hank3 sowed the seeds of a country music revolution.

After the release of his 2006 magnum opus Straight to Hell, Hank Williams III inspired an underground in country music that previously had only existed in spirit. Turning thousands of punk and metal kids onto the virtues of country, and establishing a DIY attitude that stood apart from the Music Row industry, the legacy Hank3 forged and the doors he opened directly resulted in this massive success independent country artists such as Sturgill Simpson, Cody Jinks, Tyler Childers, and Zach Bryan enjoy today.

But Hank Williams III has been mostly dormant since 2014. After finally breaking free from his contract with Curb Records, he released a succession of independently released and produced albums, including his last full country album, 2013’s Brothers of the 4X4, and toured behind it into the following year. Then after he was forced to move out of his home/headquarters/recording studio called The Haunted Ranch, and shortly thereafter his favorite pooch Trooper died, Hank3 was forced to regroup, and since has been almost completely out of the public eye, and has not released any new music or performed publicly.

There has been some signs of life recently though. In 2018 he participated in a DevilDriver tribute to Outlaw Country. Just over the last few months, Hank3’s been releasing a ton of demos, scratch tracks, alternative takes, and other bits of audio on YouTube, including an entire experimental album called Grandiose Delusions.

Many are hoping that the recent activity is a sign that Hank3 is clearing the cobwebs out, getting the creative juices flowing once again, and is getting ready for a return in 2023. He also was recently spotted running sound at a Joelton Jamboree organized by Scott Levi Jones. It was one of Shelton’s first public appearances in years.

There has also recently been a new addition to the Hank Williams clan of performers. The son that Hank3 had, and that resulted in the paternity suit against him has now emerged under the stage name “IV and His Strange Band,” and released a debut album. Coleman Williams is now officially part of the Hank Williams clan and musical lineage, taking a somewhat similar approach to his father of mixing a Gothic version of country music with punk and metal influences.

Saving Country Music was started as a Hank Williams III blog called Free Hank III to help the 3rd generation performer during his tumultuous period on Curb Records. Over the now 8-year (mostly) dark period in his career, efforts have been made to get more information on what’s been happening with Hank, to interview him, etc., all to no avail. An open letter was also drafted to Hank3 to try and coax him back into the public in 2018.

But as that open letter stated, even if he never releases a lick of new music again and never plays another live show, Hank Williams III’s contributions have been critical to the country music resurgence we’re enjoying today, and his contributions to the Hank Williams legacy are undeniable. His 50th birthday is a good time to reflect back on all we owe to Hank Williams III as independent country music fans, and to say thanks.

Happy 50th birthday Hank3, wherever you are. We’ll be patiently waiting here for whenever you’re ready to return.

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