An Institution Called Hank Williams Jr (From His Father’s Shadow To Monday Night Football)
Eclipsing his legendary Father may not have been what Hank Williams Jr set out to do, but in his struggle to make his own way with his own music, he did just that. Through the many phases of his career he has somehow transformed into an institution of such magnitude that the shadow he casts rises above an entire establishment which had once sidestepped him at times but eventually came to realize he was indeed a force to be reckoned with. He commanded the loyalty of an army of Bocephus fans both young and old long before his determination of doing things his own way was accepted by the industry in general.
The well-documented career of Hank Williams Jr reveals a progressively unfolding attitude towards human rights and a growing displeasure with the politics surrounding the rights of the working class and freedom of speech. The controversy stemming from his not-so-candid comments he made on Fox & Friends which prompted ESPN to drop him from Monday Night Football (For which he received four Emmys) has thrown him into the most controversial situation of his career. Will he back down? Anyone who has closely followed Williams’ career will bet that he won’t. He immediately fired back with “Keep The Change” a song about the event which can be downloaded free from his official website.
The saga of Hank Williams Jr is well documented recalling the early days of singing the songs of Hank Sr. The shoes of his famous father fit quite well and he was eagerly received by those who could still vividly recall the elder Williams. “Standing In The Shadows” is an echo of where he was at that time. As he struggled to move out of that shadow into his own space, his own songs began reaching impressive positions on the charts on a regular basis. “I Wouldn’t Change a Thing About You”, “All For The Love Of Sunshine” and “Eleven Roses” were typical for the late 60’s and early 70’s. But in 1979 you could almost smell the rubber burning from the slamming of brakes and shifting directions. Things began to heat up in the Bocephus camp with songs like ” Whiskey Bent and Hell Bound” and “Women I’ve Never Had.” He wasn’t phased by the jaw-dropping doubletakes of industry tradionalists or the fact he was branded an outlaw.
The 80’s became his proving ground. He tapped into a massive fan base most probably didn’t know existed with songs like “Country Boy Can Survive,” “Family Tradition” and “If Heaven Ain’t a Lot Like Dixie.” It was amazing how these fans who ranged from hard rockers to hard core country responded to him. During that time, he was the first country artist to enhance his stage show with hi-tech special effects, something unique to rock at the time. Speaking volumes, the charts tell it all. Before the decade would run it’s course, he would win CMA Entertainer of the Year two years in a row. Altogether the awards to date include six Academy of Country Music Awards (three for entertainer of the year), seven Country Music Association awards,(Two were Entertainer of the year) four Emmy Awards for “Monday Night Football,” and a Grammy Award in 1990 for “There’s A Tear In My Beer.” In 2006 he was awarded the Johnny Cash Visionary Award by CMT. Among his most avid fans are famous fellow entertainers, some who were themselves influenced by him on their way up. The attitude towards him today is one of deep respect. Without conforming, Hank Williams Jr became a firmly established institution that no one could repudiate.
In 2009 Hank Williams Jr. hit the stages across the country to promote “127 Rose Ave.” The album featured “Red, White and Pink Slip Blues,” a song which addressed the brutal reality many face in places hard hit by today’s economic woes. Although Hank Williams Jr never had to experience any of the problems in the song, in reality many are living them and can identify with some part of it. The situation in this song, which has now escalated to new heights, is far reaching and not limited to country radio listeners.
Williams is not the only entertainment icon to use music to raise awareness. Last year John Schneider echoed similar sentiments with the release of his video, The Promise. Jimmy Wayne tirelessly continues to use his music to raise awareness for young people aging out of the foster care system, a problem which could be solved with government support and intervention. The Bellamy Brothers also used their famous voices to express their opinion of a few elements of society in their song and video “Jalapenos”. Although the song “Keep The Change” appears to be for the most part, a venting of frustration, it also draws a line for a man who is passionate about his country and all aspects of freedom. – Jackie Rowe
(This is an update for an article previously published on Neon Universe)