It’s a face no serious country music fan can behold without feeling a chill. Witnessing the tall, angular, deep-set eyed Hank Williams III perform at the State Theatre in downtown St. Petersburg in 2001 amplified the sensation. The reaction didn’t diminish as I talked to him outside his tour van after the show.
Hank 3, his nomenclature of choice, returns to the State Theatre on Saturday. He remains, at age 41, lean and looking like the reincarnation of his legendary grandfather. He sounds like Hank Sr., too, especially during the country music portion of his madcap marathon concerts. There’s a connection between the two Hanks despite the youngest being born nearly two decades after his grandfather died from an overdose of morphine at age 29 on the way to a show in 1953.
Like his grandfather and country star dad Hank Williams Jr., with whom he has a rocky relationship, Hank 3 has never been shy about speaking his mind; and he’s not happy about the recently announced biopic “I Saw the Light.” “The Avengers” star Tom Hiddleston will play Hank Williams and sing the Hillbilly Shakespeare’s songs, according to various media reports issued last month. Main problem? Hiddleston is British.
“It’s not like I have anything to gain, I don’t see a dime from the Hank Williams estate, so it doesn’t matter, it’s just me offering my opinion so the movie has a good foundation, so it starts off with stronger legs, it’s just a personal preference,” Hank 3 says during a recent phone interview. “I have nothing against Tom, I just think to make a movie about an iconic American folk singer like Hank Williams Sr., who has been as important to country music as anyone, who is one of the most important legends from the South, it just seems a more natural fit to have someone who can identify with that role, who has eaten with, and breathed, the Southern air.”
Citing his performance in “Dallas Buyers Club,” Hank 3 thinks Matthew McConaughey, a Texan, would be ideal for the role.
“Hank Williams was pretty sure of himself and had a somewhat arrogant personality and McConaughey has that,” Hank 3 says. “Dwight Yoakam might be a little old but might have been a good candidate, too, with his voice and love for acting.”
Following in the footsteps of his mentor, original Nashville outlaw David Allan Coe, Hank 3’s “Straight to Hell” collection became the first major-label country music CD to warrant a parental advisory warning for "explicit content." In October, Hank 3 self-released the double country album “Brothers of the 4x4.” On the same day, he issued the punk album “A Fiendish Threat” with his new project “3.”
At the State Theatre on Saturday attendees can expect a wild show, replete with mosh pit by evening’s end, divided into several different sets all featuring Hank on vocals and guitar. The Damn Band will start things off by playing about two hours of Hank 3’s “hellbilly” brand of country. It’s music marked by pedal steel, fiddle and lyrics about hard partying and suffering, often with the help and hurt of booze and pills and powders.
Next, audiences will get approximately 30 minutes of Hank playing punk with “3.” After those two sets, the room will darken and Attention Deficit Domination (A.D.D.) will play about an hour of punishing doom metal. Finally, 30 minutes will be dedicated to Hank 3’s “Cattle Core” project, which on his 2011 album “3 Bar Ranch, Cattle Callin” melded live speed metal with recordings of actual livestock auctioneers.
“I’m glad to do the shows we do,” Hank 3 says when asked about the physical demands of his epic performances. “There’s no opening band and if we say we go on at 8 (p.m.) we go on at 8 (p.m.), and it’s a pretty intense four and a half hour show.”
But Hank 3 can also perform traditional country music, especially his grandfather’s songs. On the Hank Williams tribute “Timeless” he delivers a moving, timeless, rendition of “I’m Long Gone Daddy.” Also featuring performance by Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash, Keith Richards and Lucinda Williams, the Mercury Nashville Records release won the Grammy Award for Best Country Album in 2002.
“I’m real proud of what Mercury did on that project,” Hank 3 told me a couple weeks before the album came out in late September of 2001. “They did a real, real good job.”
Back in 1964, MGM released the musical “Your Cheatin’ Heart” starring Tennessean George Hamilton as Hank Williams. The movie had the blessing of the country star’s widow Audrey Williams. Her son, Hank Jr., performed Dad’s hits, which were lip-synched on screen by Hamilton. Hank 3 would be open to doing the same for the upcoming film “I Saw the Light.”
“But no one has approached me,” Hank 3 says. “I got my own record label, I don’t have a manager. I don’t have a major label holding me back anymore. I get to do what I want 100 percent creative-wise, and if I did the soundtrack I could pull it together and get the right players and officially give it that traditional sound as opposed to what they might do. It’s a shame, though, they just can’t use the original recordings and lip sync to that; that would be the ultimate way to do it.”
Hank Williams III
8 p.m. Saturday; State Theatre, 687 Central Ave., St. Petersburg; $20 in advance and $25 day of show; (727) 895-3045; statetheatreconcerts.com