By Minta Pavliscsak
We all have that certain song or artist that takes us back to a special place or time as soon as the notes start to play. For me, one of my clearest musical memories is listening to Hank Williams Jr. with my daddy when I was a little girl. My father was my world, and I lost him this past October after a short battle with Leukemia.
Yet, over the last several months, memories have continued to flood my mind of riding the four-wheeler together, hunting for arrowheads around the lake, and learning how to drive a five speed. And then there is one of my favorite musical memories, tied to Hank’s 1982 Greatest Hits album. Always a daddy’s girl, we would dance together, me standing on his feet, spinning around in our living room while that album blared from the speakers in our house out in the Georgia countryside. That very same album has accompanied me on road trips, sitting around campfires, and is still with me today.
To be able to interview the man responsible for so many of my fondest memories with my father was truly an honor. From a musical position it is inspiring. From a journalistic position it is a great achievement. And from a personal experience, beyond rewarding. The same Southern values of family and tradition that I grew up with can be found at the heart of Hank’s music.
Never a stranger to music, Hank Williams Jr. started his singing career at the age of eight, singing his daddy’s songs. He performed at the Grand Ole Opry at age eleven. The country, blues, and a little bit of rock-n-roll sound we know today emerged with his 1976 release of Hank Williams, Jr. and Friends album.
As a 2007 Inductee into the Songwriters Hall of Fame, Emmy Award Winner, Academy of Country Music Entertainer of the Year, and recipient of CMT’s Johnny Cash Visionary Award, Hank Williams Jr. has been honored by his peers and fans and continues to be an unstoppable force. We are thrilled that he has included Charleston as one of the stops on his current tour, scheduled to roll into the Volvo Car Stadium on July 22nd.
This is my candid conversation with Hank Williams Jr. His words, like his music, speak for themselves.
CD: “Country music has evolved so much over the past decade, and there has been so much crossover genera in music. Which artist(s) do you feel is pushing country music to new beginnings? Who are you
listening to these days?”
HW JR.: “Well, I don’t listen to much radio unless I am in the truck. I really like Eric Church, Justin Moore, Jason Aldean, and Chris Janson. All of them have done shows with me and I think they are doing some great things.”
CD: “You have meet so many “greats” in your life, and so many from an early age. Who were you most nervous to meet? (Do you still get nervous when meeting people?)”
HW Jr.: “Remember, when mother put me out on the stage at 8 years old, I really didn’t know anything else but to perform. We had everyone from Fats Domino to Carl Perkins to Earl Scruggs to Little Richard over at mother’s house. I never really looked at them as anything but people, so to me they just taught me how to play instruments. So, I guess I really don’t get nervous around people like that, since I have known nothing else.”
CD: “With a musical career that started at eight years old and has encompassed sold out shows, multiple #1 hits, 6 platinum albums, a shelf of Emmys -and a Grammy-, many, many country music awards, and not to mention overcoming the hardships of everyday life, what is the one particular moment in your life that you are most proud of?”
HW Jr.: “I really appreciate all of the awards, but the biggest thrill is seeing that little boy or girl when they catch their first fish or get their first deer after I take them on the first fishing or hunting trip. I really enjoy those moments more than anything.”
CD: “You performed in the shadow of your father for so many years of your career. When you made the transformation into THE Hank Williams Jr. it was a risky one, and one that came with mixed emotion from your fans at the time, some of which you lost. What would you say is the key to being able to let go and going your own way?”
HW Jr.: “You know when I first hit the stage everyone wanted me to do daddy’s songs and when I tried to do other songs people really didn’t want to hear them. It was after the accident that I decided that I just needed to do what I wanted to do and really not overthink what people thought as they either needed to accept me for me or just not listen to what records I was making. In the mid 80’s it seemed that people started to really pay attention and I have never looked back!”
CD: “We all have our top five all-time favorite Hank Williams, Jr. songs. What are your top five all-time favorite Hank Williams Jr. songs?”
HW Jr.: “Whichever one I am performing last at the shows! Not really, but I really can’t say what is my favorite. When you write as many songs as I have and have been fortunate enough to have some of them become hits naturally people think those are your favorites, but really there are some album cuts that meant more to me than just the hits. Songs are also like your children, each songs has its own special meaning or story behind it. So I really can’t pick one over the other.”
CD: “Aside from your musical interest, what do you enjoy doing on your down time?”
HW JR.: “You can catch me in a deer stand or out on the lake fishing. I am fortunate that I have the most loyal hardcore fans, so I only do about 25 shows a year. The rest of the year, I am in the woods somewhere.”
CD: “What’s next for you? Is there a new album in the works?”
HW Jr.: “Not working on any new albums, but got some news coming soon that I think lots of my ‘rowdy friends’ will be excited about. Stay tuned on Monday night!”
CD: “Sure, we all go through our ups and downs, but you have overcome the kinds of obstacles that most of us could not even imagine one of them happening in a lifetime. For our final question, could you leave us some words of wisdom from the great Hank Williams Jr.?”
HW Jr.: “Be who you are. Don’t be someone or something that others want you to be!”
In 2008, my daddy gave me a snowflake necklace for Christmas. It was to remind me of how unique I am and how being so makes me amazing. “Be who you are.” I can’t think of any better closing words.
Hank Williams Jr. is a humble man who enjoys the simpler things in life: Family, friends, traditions, and maybe some Monday night football is all anyone really needs to survive.