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There's always baggage that comes with being the child of a legend, including the endless shirking of comparisons from just about everyone who knows your last name and lineage. In theory, a tattooed, gravelly voiced Shelton Hank Williams III (a.k.a. Hank III) has particularly big shoes to fill. His grandfather truly was the king of his craft. Of course, it's hard to wear the shoes of a man who passed away almost 20 years before you were born. He knows the legend just like everybody else—through his music.
"There's only one king of country music: Hank Williams, and he's come and gone. I'll never [be him]," Hank III says. "As much as you want me to be, I gotta be myself."
Reporters are always comparing the Williams men. But those who measure his grandfather's plaintive Alabama croon and immaculate white-brimmed hats against Hank III's gristly, moonshine brew of punk, country and metal are missing the point. He says if people take the time to listen to him on his own terms, they'll see he's not riding anyone's coattails.
"Some people hear Hank Williams' grandson, Hank Jr.'s boy, and then just make assumptions and don't realize that I try to go the extra mile to do what I do," he says. "Some people judge, some people don't, and I try to be as true as possible to my vision."
He has no manager, handles his own gear, loads his trailer, runs the merch, puts the band together, plays three-and-a-half-hour shows, and always takes the time to say hello to fans. The goal, Hank III says, is to always stay connected to the working-class fans and offer relief from their worries during his rollicking, sweaty, sentimental stage show. "I always try to tell the security guards, 'Let 'em have as much fun as you can,'" he relates. "Everyone has enough people telling them what to do and who to vote for and how to act and all that."
The shows are split into two parts: an hour and a half of roots music, hillbilly and the like, then a second half that gets "into some weirder stuff," with a more heavy-rock sound. "That's my way of not selling out or keeping it real or however you want to call it," he says.
In addition to taking care of his fans, Hank III gives back to charity. Right now, he's focusing on organizations that rescue animals, a cause he's vocally passionate about. "Not everyone is cut out to have a husband or a wife, and a lot of people are cut out to work with animals. It's very therapeutic. It keeps you a little more active. There's a lot of love there," he says. "Some people have problems showing emotions to other people. Animals can offer a lot. You can save a life by getting a rescue or one off the street [rather] than spend a thousand dollars on a certain breed. There are a lot of amazing breeds out there that need homes." Hank III has three rescue dogs of his own: Trooper, Mama and Royal.
He's also known to play shows to benefit wounded veterans.
Occasionally, Hank III comes to the aid of causes that are a tribute to his wildman DNA. His gig on Tuesday at the Observatory doubles as Johnny's Saloon of Huntington Beach's 10-year anniversary party. There's no one more fitting to celebrate the divey, punk-rock bar than Hank III. You could credit their shared appreciation for outlaw country and old-school punk, charitable veterans donations, or even his iconic grandfather. But mostly, the two share the ability to entertain us on their own terms and hopefully give people a place to soak up some spirit and escape their daily troubles for a few hours.
This article appeared in print as "Not His Grandfather's Country: Hank III embodies his own punk-rock style of outlaw music."