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Susan Masino's Family Traditions: Three Generations of Hank Williams profiles a country music dynasty
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Three generations of Hanks: Country to country rock to country punk.
Three generations of Hanks: Country to country rock to country punk.
Credit:GAB Archive / Redferns / Getty Images

Apparently, Hank Williams III checks his MySpace messages regularly.

Madison author Susan Masino sent him one in 2009. He replied 20 minutes later.

Masino asked Williams if she could interview him for the book she was about to write. That book, Family Traditions: Three Generations of Hank Williams, was published in March. The 226-page narrative chronicles the musical triumphs and personal tragedies of country legend Hank Williams Sr., second-generation country star Hank Williams Jr. and Hank III.

It's Masino's fourth book. A previous book, Let There Be Rock: The Story of AC/DC, turned out to be the reason Hank III replied so fast to Masino's MySpace message.

"His manager told me Hank III had been approached by over a dozen writers asking him to cooperate with a book," says Masino.

"He turned every one of them down until he heard from me. I was in shock until I realized he was an AC/DC fan."

Since he began writing and recording songs in the mid-'90s, Hank III has blended his country influences with large doses of punk and metal.

Family Traditions is the first Williams biography to narrate the lives and careers of all three men.

It depicts the Alabama childhood of Hank Sr., the boy born with a spinal cord disorder who hated school but loved to sing. It describes his frequently sad 29-year life, including his rocky marriage to Audrey Sheppard, his debilitating alcoholism and his astonishing gift for songwriting.

The book's most riveting passage probes Hank Sr.'s mysterious demise on a road trip. Like Michael Jackson, Williams fell under the care of an unscrupulous doctor who medicated him to death.

"It took me weeks to make sure I had the story straight, because there are no easy answers for what happened to him," says Masino.

In equally vivid language, Masino describes the disfiguring injuries sustained by Hank Jr. in 1975, when he slid 442 feet down a mountain in Montana.

"It was a very gruesome and horrific accident to have to describe in detail," says Masino. "The fact that he survived at all is a miracle in itself."

The book finds common ground in the musical approaches of all three men.

Hank Sr.'s country became Hank Jr.'s country rock, and that became Hank III's country-punk.

All three men have relished making music that stands tall in its rebellious vibe. Their songs are drenched in a raw and restless energy.

Masino spent two days in Nashville interviewing Hank III for the book last year.

She thought she would interview him by phone, but Hank III invited her to fly down and meet him.

"I wasn't about to pass up that opportunity," says Masino.

"Hank III picked me up at the airport, took me to my hotel, carried my bag up to my room, and then we went straight to his house to talk. When we got to his ranch, we recorded four hours of conversation."

Masino says she was struck by Hank III's humble hospitality.

"At one point he offered to make me a sandwich, but I opted for a banana instead. Having him make me something to eat kind of freaked me out."

The experience was surreal for Masino, who grew up listening to Hank Sr.'s music.

"Most of our conversation was in the living room with me in a chair and Hank on a barstool staring down at me," says Masino. "An oil painting of his grandfather's face hung across the room above his head."

The interview got personal, and Masino decided not to include all of what Hank III told her in her book.

"My fear for him was some things could be taken out of context and used against him," she says. "I didn't want that to be his experience after he was so honest with me."

Family Traditions is available at local bookstores and major online booksellers.

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