Hank Williams Jr. wrote nearly every track on his new album, Old
School, New Rules, yet in spirit, there were hundreds — if not thousands — of co-writers.
During a recent conversation
about the new album, Williams told CMT.com, “I can’t wait to play it for anyone. I don’t care whether they’re in Georgia
or Massachusetts. I’m proud of it, and I love it. It’s those fans out there and all of those emails — I put a lot of their
thoughts in these songs.”
Of course, Williams doesn’t mince words about Washington, D.C., yet the album runs deeper
than that. With his mighty baritone, he sings about wild women (“Three Day Trip”), beer-drinking buddies and — in true Bocephus
fashion — his own musical history.
The rowdy first track, “Takin’ the Country Back,” mashes up modern country with
the voice of his father. When Hank Williams unexpectedly chimes in
with a few lines of “Move It on Over” and “Mind Your Own Business,” the generation gaps are seamlessly fused together.
was a religious experience,” Williams says. “That’s his band! That’s not us today. That’s his original! Oh, talk about special.
I said, ‘Man, the stars are lined up right on this project.’”
This isn’t the first time they’ve sung together, thanks
to the wonders of technology and overdubbed recording tracks. In 1989, they earned a Top 10 single, a CMA Award, an ACM Award
and a Grammy for the enduring duet, “There’s a Tear in My Beer.” (The elder Williams died when his son was 3.)
Williams Jr., who was born with the name Randall Hank Williams, was raised by his mother Audrey Williams to essentially portray
a younger version of his famous father onstage. The young singer was just 14 years old when he charted his first solo Top
10 hit, a cover of his father’s “Long Gone Lonesome Blues,” in 1964.
During the interview, Williams recalls a funny
conversation with Merle Haggard about how Audrey was always trying to
add her son to the lineup of those early tours, while Haggard was always wondering how much it was going to cost him.
and Williams have been friends since the 1960s and share the spotlight on “We Don’t Apologize for America,” which samples
Haggard’s “The Fightin’ Side of Me.” Williams beams when he recalls how Haggard personally called him to say thanks for sampling
the song. Then they reunited to record a fun duet version of “I Think I’ll Just Stay Here and Drink.”
to be learned from that, folks, about artists,” Williams notes. “Not that I run around and listen to myself a whole lot. Because
I don’t. I listen to old blues and all. But when I plug this thing in, I’m going to ‘Stay Here and Drink,’ ‘Three Day Trip’
and ‘We Don’t Apologize for America.’ I wear those three out pretty good.”
One of the most poetic songs on the album
is “Old School,” in which Williams recollects his early encounters with Johnny
Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and Dolly
Parton, as well as one special night when he jammed with the Marshall
Tucker Band. He says one of his employees that’s been with him for 30 years bawled when he heard the song because the
dusty memories came right back to life.
“Who else can say in the opening line: ‘I remember a young Johnny Cash waiting
in the wings/Because he’d hand me a cigarette when he’d go out and sing’? Buddy, that opening does it,” Williams says. “And
I get to play my piano on there — my Jerry Lee imitation. … I don’t write too many fantasies. Most of them happen.”
on his economical writing, he invokes his father’s legacy: “That’s so important. I mean, look at daddy. Talk about every word
counting, my gosh. Wow! Yeah, that ‘Old School,’ see I’ve had that a long time. I wasn’t going to waste it. Now’s the time
for that one!”
Between 1964 and 1975, Williams notched 13 Top 10 singles. But in 1975, a fall from a mountain nearly
ended his life, not to mention his career. After the accident, Williams fully embraced his Southern rock influences and stormed
back on the charts in 1979 with the now-inescapable “Family Tradition,” one of the most autobiographical anthems in country
A member of the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame, Williams’ self-penned classics also include “A
Country Boy Can Survive,” “All My Rowdy Friends (Have Settled Down)” and “Born to Boogie.”
Asked who gets to hear his
new songs first, Williams says it used to be Merle Kilgore, his late longtime manager, then animatedly acts out a typical
“What do you think of this brother?”
“Fantastic! That’s a smash!”
Now, Williams says, “You
always go to a friend. Someone maybe in the business because when it’s birthed and finished, it has to be sung to someone.”
does he like the feedback?
“Absolutely,” he insists. “Then the next thing I’m going to do is sit there for a live audience.
Boy, when you hear that ‘Aahhh!’ when they’ve never heard it before, that’s a good time.”
He still tours occasionally
if it doesn’t interfere with hunting season. Although his presence at country radio has been scarce since the 1990s, he popped
up every autumn shouting “Are you ready for some football?!” through TV screens nationwide. Because of a political flap last
October, in which he compared President Obama to Hitler, he’s been benched from the gig.
That doesn’t mean he’s lost
his most dedicated followers, though. Brad Paisley and Bocephus jam on
“I’m Gonna Get Drunk and Play Hank Williams,” one of the album’s liveliest tracks. Williams also says he’s proud to write
back to kids whose parents consider him a role model for speaking his mind. And he remains actively involved with wounded
veterans because they fight for freedom of speech.
While he pulls no punches about his politics on Old School,
New Rules, he’s unconcerned that people with an opposite viewpoint will be turned off by his candid approach.
don’t want to hear that side,” Williams says, “but they’re going to hear it on here.”