Hank Williams, Jr. Gets Revved Up for 'It's About Time' With Eric Church, Brad Paisley's Support

David McClister
Hank Williams Jr.

Hank Williams, Jr. has never lacked for confidence, but he's got the accolades to back up his swagger. Over the past 50 years, the country star has been named both the ACM and CMA's Entertainer of the Year, racked up more than 75 top 40 country records and has sold 70 million records worldwide. After a career like this, you might expect him to be a bit worn out. But talk to Williams about his new recording deal with Nash Icon and the singer sounds as motivated as he's been in years.

"It's been a very uplifting experience being involved with Scott Borchetta and everyone at Nash Icon (Big Machine Label Group)," he said. "Everyone here has been so supportive and is so excited." 

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Williams worked with Julian Raymond on the project and feels his fans are going to be equally excited, adding, "When we got in the studio, everything just came together -- almost heaven-sent."

His first release for the label, It’s About Time, will hit stores Jan. 15, 2016, with appearances from Brad Paisley, Justin Moore and Brantley Gilbert on a modernized version of "Born To Boogie." Eric Church also joins Williams on the set's first single, "Are You Ready For The Country." Williams said he has developed a strong bond with Church.

"We actually go out and do things together -- like look for civil war artifacts with a metal detector," he said. "I took him and his wife on a search one day and he said, 'I'm going to have one of those detectors tomorrow.' He ends up getting a belt buckle and a bunch of bullets."

Interest from other artists about the album was so strong that Bocephus, as his late father nicknamed him, had to turn some away. He said, "My manager, Ken Levitan, said 'You know, we've got the whole world wanting to be on the record. Everybody has been talking around town and the buzz is this record is rockin' and smokin'.'"

One key element that Williams is excited about at Nash Icon is getting a chance to work with Borchetta, of whom he paid the ultimate compliment -- coming from him.

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"He's a musical maverick too. As a matter of fact, he wouldn't leave the studio. He just shook his head and said 'Wow. I defy anyone to tell me that this is not great.' That was fun. His wife, Sandi, is from Baker, Mont., and all she wanted to talk about was Montana at the photo shoot," he said with a smile.

The state is one of Williams' favorites to go hunting, as he just returned from a bear hunt there with his son-in-law. He has also recorded songs with Montana ties in the past -- the Western story song "Cut Bank, Montana" from 1992's Maverick, the title track of his 1986 disc Montana Café and "Montana Song" from his landmark 1975 album Hank Williams Jr. and Friends, to name a few. 

There are two nods to his late friend Waylon Jennings on the new disc. The first single -- penned by Neil Young -- was a No. 7 hit for Jennings in 1976 and the Mel Tillis-written "Mental Revenge," was one of Jennings' early hits, peaking at No. 12 back in 1967. The singer cast a huge shadow on Williams.

"He was very special to me," he said. "You gotta realize, this guy is opening shows with 'Are You Ready For The Country' and closing the shows with 'Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way,' and I remember standing off the stage singing along with him. This is a labor of love. Waylon was very special. I'm grateful for all the good times, the smiles and everything he ever said about me."

Jennings actually produced Williams' 1977 album The New South and he fondly remembers the country icon's support through it all. "I never thought of him as my producer -- just as a friend, from musician to musician," Williams said. "There's not enough that I can say about him. The things he did for me, getting me on the shows -- I remember him telling me 'Hoss, you're about to blow wide open."

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When he's not on stage or in the woods, Williams can still be found watching football -- but he’s now more of a fan of the NCAA than the NFL.

"I'm not as huge of a fan as I used to be, with all the problems they had last year -- 'So and so is in jail or on parole.' I’m a lot more college than pro," he said. "There's a pile of mediocre teams and about four really good teams. Green Bay and New England both come to mind on that list."

He said that the public's interest in his music remains as strong as ever. "I do about twenty five shows a year and every single show is either a record on attendance or a record on merchandise," he touted. "That’s a pretty good feeling. The audience has just been blown away and me and the band have really had fun. It's pretty obvious that I'm having a ball out there."

When Williams is on stage, you can expect to hear a multitude of different musical styles. He likes a little of everything and when asked about his favorites, he said, "I love it all from the Delta Blues to Flatt and Scruggs to Lynyrd Skynyrd and Merle Haggard."

Of his 36 previous studio records, how does It’s About Time stand up? Pretty high, said Williams. 

"I'm dead serious. The new record is loaded. I was kind of stuck like flypaper to a bad situation that four other artists couldn’t stand," he said, referring to his previous recording deal with Curb. "I'm what you call a motivated icon, so people better check it out."

Williams and Church will perform "Are You Ready For The Country" on the 49th Annual Country Music Association Awards on ABC-TV Nov. 4. And beginning Nov 1 through Dec. 1, fans are encouraged to visit hankanderic.com for a chance to win a guitar signed by Williams, which he will play during the CMA Awards performance. The winner of the #HANKandERIC sweepstakes will be announced on December 4 via social media.