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Hank Williams III
Hank Williams III is the biggest ripoff in American music since Hank Williams Jr. His name isn’t even Hank. It’s Shelton. He adopted the name–"Hank III," his album reads, like a movie sequel–late in his youth for the sole purpose of capitalizing on a valuable trademark. His songs are weak. And he doesn’t even write most of them. At least his estranged father can say that he writes music, even if that means the theme to Monday Night Football. And then there’s the matter of his grandfather, a founder of country music as well as its last real survivor before the style was transformed into modern pop. Hank I’s music, following in the tradition of Jimmie Rodgers and the black blues singers who instructed him on how to play the guitar, painted a grim portrait of America as a lonely, desolate, purgatorial highway with predators and hellhounds around every turn.
Hank III’s songs are just about getting fucked up and hootin’ and hollerin’. Shelton Williams, 26, reportedly spent his early years with little or no connection to Bocephus or the rest of the Williams clan, raised by his mother. He hung out in Georgia and eventually played in some punk bands. Then he got the idea to masquerade as the scion of the Williams family of country music. His debut was The Three Hanks, released by Curb records in 1996, a piece of exploitation matched only by "There’s a Tear in My Beer"–Bocephus again.
Tonight the Rodeo Bar is packed with people just dying to get one glimpse of the grandson of Hank Williams, and who can blame them. But there’s nothing to see, or hear. The guy looks a little like Hank I. So do half the guys in here, minus all the arm-length tattoos. So he has a voice that sort of sounds like granddad. So what. Pinch your nose and you can do the same. On the Rodeo Bar’s p.a. system, the low end of Hank’s mic has been cut out to make his voice more closely resemble the thin whine of Hank I’s old records. His songs are harmless ditties that chug along, a pantomime of his grandfather’s music that is only half alive; what life it has is due only to its essential deviousness.
I would like to hear what the real Shelton Williams sounds like. He’s got to have some real emotions. He grew up without a father and has a $300-a-week pot habit. Why this elaborate disguise? Why drop punk? If that’s what he loves, and if that’s where he’s found his voice–not the voice of a relative he never knew who died nearly 20 years before he was born–then why not stick with it? I can think of no American musical descent more fascinating or telling than a line that goes from the proto-country of Hank I to the bloated glitz of Hank II to the punk rock of Shelton, the prodigal grandson. Come on, Shelton, let it out.
Just how long did Ben Sisario hang out for the Hank Williams III show on Feb. 27 at the Rodeo Bar ("Live Dates," 3/15)? Did he stay for the full two and a half hours of balls-out music? Did he pop in and listen for a song or two until the crowd got to be too much for him? Without benefit of actually watching the entire show (during which Hank/Shelton did, in fact, "let it out"), did Sisario decide to write a review of live music based upon the dudes moniker? I dont really see what the dudes name has got to do with anything. Question is, can he do it? Can he deliver? Can he create that vibe that makes going out for music worthwhile? Does he have any chops? Is he just another Nashville refugee in a big-ass hat? Is he just trying to cop his grandpappys style? Is he doing anything new with music, with live music in particular? If Mr. Sisario had actually seen the show, the entire show, he could answer, or at least address, these questions. If he split, if he couldnt handle the crowd, well, shit, I guess hed have to dismiss Williams altogether and whip up some word salad on the dudes name.
According to Ben Sisario (if thats his real name), "Hank Williams III is the biggest ripoff in American music since Hank Williams Jr. His name isnt even Hank...his songs are weak. And he doesnt even write most of them."
But if Joe Ely does a Tom Russell song, does that mean that Joe Ely is any less of a songwriter? When Jimi Hendrix did "All Along the Watchtower," did people say, "Shit, thats not even his song"? While its true that Wayne Hancock (whose name and lineage are, Im pretty sure, legit) wrote a bunch of tunes on the album, I dont see what the fuck that has to do with a review of a live date.
On the subject of Hank taking on his moniker, I have only this to say: George Sand, Tennessee Williams, David Bowie, Mark Twain, h.d., Elvis Costello and Bob Dylan.
Harlan Longstreet, Brooklyn