When Minnie Pearl, star of the Grand Ole Opry and Hee Haw, first met Shelton Hank Williams - a.k.a. Hank Williams III - she thought she'd seen a ghost. Not only is he the spitting image of his grandfather, Hank Williams Sr., but he conjures the country music legend's voice, spirit and tendency toward excess.
Like his granddad, Hank III has struggled with alcoholism and marital strife, as well as the suits who call the shots in the recording industry. He's also made a name for himself as a honky-tonk artist, just as Hank Sr. did, but his up-yours attitude isn't just genetic. He got his start banging drums and bucking authority in punk bands, and he never exchanged his hardcore roots for cowboy boots. He manages to have both.
At his shows, after one set of honky-tonk and one that features a countrified version of heavy metal known as hellbilly, Hank makes mayhem with his uncouthly named punk-metal band Assjack. He also drums for Arson Anthem, a hardcore group that includes Pantera guitarist Phil Anselmo. In other words, though he's got country in his blood, he also owes some of his rebellious spirit to Cowboys From Hell and Henry Rollins, whom he's looked to for inspiration and collaboration.
Country in the blood is a powerful thing, though.
Despite rejecting what mainstream country seems to be about these days - pop melodies and expensive producers rather than hard living, hard drinking and hard-nosed responses to heartbreak - Hank III's songs still land on the country charts among hits by Carrie Underwood and Taylor Swift.
Following a showdown, the über-mainstream Curb Records released Assjack's self-titled first CD this August, after making money off Hank's honky-tonk for 13 years. Filled with screaming, swearing and a ton of adrenaline - stuff that's out of the question for labelmates like Amy Grant - it's metal through and through, and the first major-label country album to earn the coveted parental advisory warning. Hank Sr. would be proud.