- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 21, 2002

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Hank Williams III has become accustomed to seeing a concerned look when people realize he is 29.

That was his grandfather's age when he died of a drug and alcohol overdose in the back seat of a Cadillac in 1953. Hank Williams Sr., whose country hits included "Cold, Cold Heart," "Hey, Good-Looking" and "Your Cheatin' Heart," was on his way to a concert in Canton, Ohio.

Hank III has a reputation for drugs and alcohol, hence, the concern. But Mr. Williams says he isn't headed to an early grave.

"Compared to those guys back then, I'm a choirboy, man. George Jones, Johnny Paycheck all them dudes they're respected and they were twice as crazy as I'll ever be," he says.

Mr. Williams takes pride in his family's musical legacy, which also includes his father, Hank Williams Jr. But he is working hard to make his own mark.

His excellent new album, "Love-sick, Broke & Driftin'," is a solid step in that direction. It's politically incorrect country that embraces the style of Hank Sr. without lapsing into imitation. All of the songs were written by Mr. Williams, except for a cover of Bruce Springsteen's "Atlantic City."

"I was dealt with this voice and look for some reason," Mr. Williams says. "I'm glad I sound like him instead of Brad Paisley or someone like that."

Country isn't his first love; it's punk rock.

Born Shelton Hank Williams, Hank III is the son of Hank Jr. and his second wife, Gwen Yeargain Williams. He grew up in Atlanta and Nashville without seeing his father for years at a time.

"He paid the child support, and that's about it. He gave me a couple of cars, and I'm thankful for that. But it's not this Richie Rich life."

Mr. Williams, who hated school and says learning disabilities made it impossible for him to learn, would sit in on drums whenever his dad's band was in town.

"I was like Beavis and Butt-head, loving Black Sabbath and playing drums. Growing up and going to my dad's shows and seeing the excitement of all these people, the cigarette smoke and all the drinking, girls running around with their shirts off. At 12 years old, 11 years old, that was like, 'Wow, look at that.' "

He played the drums in punk-thrash band Buzzkill, and was content playing clubs while making $20 a night.

"That's all I wanted to do," Mr. Williams says. Things changed when he lost a paternity suit.

"I'm living with my mom, playing drums in Buzzkill, and all of a sudden I have to pay $24,000 on top of $400 a month?" he says. "Am I going to put my high school education to work with a job at McDonald's?

"I've got the name Hank Williams III, and I can go out and tour and still be involved with music."

He turned up in Branson, Mo., where he played Hank Sr. songs two shows a day in a theater, then headed to Nashville's Music Row.

"I was pretty green, trying to figure out which style of country I was wanting to go with," he says. "Then I was lucky enough to start hanging out with guys like (alternative country singers) Wayne 'The Train' Hancock and Dale Watson.

"They were showing me, you can still be punk-rock and hard core in a more old-school way."

He was signed to Curb Records. His 1996 debut album, "Three Hanks: Men With Broken Hearts," paired him with his father and used Hank Sr.'s recordings.

When solo album "Risin' Outlaw" was released three years later, Mr. Williams was in full revolt against the label.

Mr. Williams doesn't want to be marketed with his father, and he wants Curb to either release his punk music or allow him to record it elsewhere.

"(Curb) can't look at me as my own artist," he says. "They did it … again this time (with the new album). … There's the promotion poster of Hank Jr.'s album, then you flip it around and it's Hank III. They keep smacking me in the face with that, acting like that's supposed to be cool. It's absolutely not."

Liz Cavanaugh, a spokeswoman for Curb Records, said executives have become accustomed to barbs from Mr. Williams and still believe his career holds great promise.

"We stand behind his career," Miss Cavanaugh said. "We're very supportive of him. We've done a great deal of marketing for the new project, and we have high hopes for its success."

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