- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 2, 2001

Hank Williams III never wanted to be a country-music singer, but financial hardship changed his tune. The 27-year-old former punk rocker has embraced his grandfathers music.
Mr. Williams brings his country-rock sound to the 9:30 Club Wednesday.
"I listened to my grandfathers music when I was 4 years old, but at the same time, by the time I got to 10, I was listening to Kiss, Black Sabbath, AC/DC and Ted Nugent, too," Mr. Williams says in his press material.
That grandfather would be country legend Hank Williams Sr., who left behind a treasure-trove of honky-tonk hits such as "Your Cheatin Heart" and "Ill Never Get Out of This World Alive." Mr. Williams Sr. died at the age of 29 in the back of a Cadillac on New Years Day 1953 from complications related to alcoholism.
His extraordinary body of work and the tragedy of his death helped enshrine him in country-music lore and were the platform from which his son, Hank Williams Jr., launched his own music career. Mr. Williams Jr. followed a path similar to his fathers — leading a life of wild drinking and partying while his young son, Shelton Hank Williams III, was raised by the boys mother. Mr. Williams IIIs parents divorced when he was young, and while he was growing up, he barely saw his father.
Mr. Williams Jr. at first labored under his legendary fathers shadow but soon branched out into Southern rock and country. That made him nearly as well-known as his father during the 1970s and 1980s.
Tradition seems to follow the Williams family. Although Mr. Williams III originally wanted nothing to do with country music, he soon gave in after discovering that he had fathered a child in his early 20s. The childs mother sued him for back child support and won, ending his days as an aimless punk rocker.
"I didnt really start listening to country music from a singer-songwriters point of view until I was 20 or 21. Back then, I was just screaming my head off and playing drums," he says. "Id never tapped into melodies, touching peoples souls and making them cry."
His striking physical similarity to his grandfather and a voice to match started him on a gig covering his grandfathers tunes every night in Branson, Mo.
Before long, his act as a one-trick artist bloomed into a unusual music career that alternates between honky-tonk tunes and vicious hard rock.
"I dont want to have to try to write for the radio," he says. "If you play good songs, thats all that should matter."
After an exploitative album called "The Three Hanks" that matched his grandfathers voice to live tracks from him and his father, Mr. Williams III recorded his first solo album, "Risin Outlaw." Disputes with his label kept the project under wraps for two years until its release in 1999, a still bitter subject for the young singer, who disowns much of the album.
"My first album doesnt even begin to describe all the things I got going on," he says.
Though some of the tracks have a bit of a polished feel, Mr. Williams IIIs voice harks back so much to his grandfathers day that it spooks some longtime country fans. A stunning rendition of "Cocaine Blues," famously covered by Johnny Cash, recalls the days of older, folk-driven country, a far cry from todays Nashville of Shania Twain and the Dixie Chicks.
Mr. Williams III promises that one of his next albums will focus more on the rock side. His live shows attract tattooed twentysomethings hoping to headbang but also clean-cut grandmothers dying to catch a glimpse of the grandson who looks like a ghost of the legend.
"Im in it for as long as my voice will hold out," Mr. Williams III says. "One day the revolution thats trying to happen will happen. The Grand Ole Opry will realize when they were really happening, most of the people on it were under 25, just like us. What fuels me, more than anything, is heartbreak and being broke."

WHAT: Hank Williams III
WHERE: 9:30 Club, 815 V St. NW
WHEN: Doors open at 7 p.m. Wednesday
TICKETS: $15
PHONE: 202/832-SEAT



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