Hank Williams, Jr. Talks New Album 'It's About Time,' Friendship With Kid Rock & More
Hank Williams, Jr. felt like a man renewed as he got ready to release his first album for Nash Icon Records, It’s About Time. After spending the last few years unhappy with his stint on Curb Records, the iconic performer told Billboard that he was ready for something new.
“I’m right at 70 million in sales, but I’ve not been in a good place for a while when it comes to recording," he said.
However, the tides began to turn for Williams when manager Ken Levitan brought exec Scott Borchetta out to Nevada to capture the ‘Bocephus’ live experience. “That all changed when they came to the Las Vegas show, and I’m wearing a hat on stage [picks up his cap with the word “Icon” on it] ... which goes back to [lifelong friend and former manager] Merle Kilgore, which was kind of an inside pun thing. There’s Scott and Ken over there, and they’ve got smiles just like that, and Scott’s telling him, ‘That’s the name of the label!' That’s how it got kicked off.”
Williams had observed the success that Borchetta has enjoyed with veteran performers such as Reba McEntire and was very much intrigued by the idea of a recording partnership. “I kind of realized what was going on, and what they had done with some other people, which was pretty amazing. I became a motivated icon.” He admitted that hasn’t always been the case. “Like Jimmy Bowen said 30 years ago, ‘If he didn’t write it or isn’t into it, you can forget it.’"
One of the highlights from It’s About Time is his version of the Mel Tillis-written “Mental Revenge.” The track was also an early hit for Waylon Jennings, and it served as the initial spark that set Nashville buzzing that indeed, Bocephus was back!
“That was the one that flipped the switch. I think that was either the second or third song that we did," Williams said. Between his memories of Jennings, as well as the Dickey Betts-inspired guitar work on the track, he said the recording studio felt like home again from the start.
“That brought back some really good memories. Scott said that was the one that flipped the switch. It’s new, and yet ... There's that connection -- just like when Waylon would open his show with ‘Are You Ready for the Country,’ he’d bring me out, and we’d close it out with ‘Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way?'” It’s a full circle on this record.”
One track the singer says was a first take in the studio was the exhilarating “Wrapped Up, Tangled Up in Jesus (God’s Got It),” which allowed Williams to bring up his bluesy alter ego of 'Thunderhead Hawkins.' Williams' daughter Holly says, "That’s who Dad really is when you get down to it. He’s ‘Thunderhead Hawkins.’" The song was written by a man whom Williams became a fan of through Kid Rock.
“I introduced Bobby Rock to Fats Domino, and he introduced me to Reverend Charlie Jackson. He said, 'I want you to listen to something.’ I said ‘Who in the hell was that?’ He said he was a preacher that played the guitar. When I heard that, he said, ‘I can’t do this, but you can. This is in your wheelhouse.'" The cut features the dynamic McCrary Sisters, who made a similar impression on the singer. “They came up and told me, ‘We would love to make a whole album together, and I responded, ‘Me too.’ Scott said, ‘Man, that really is your thing.’ We looked at each other after it and said, ‘Is there any reason to do it again?’ I’ve made records for a long time, and the kind of stuff that has happened on this record is from [pointing above his head] up here.”
That friendship with Kid Rock is something that has been a creative and personal spark, says the singer. “I remember we were going to make this video, and I remember thinking, ‘Who is this guy, Kid Rock?’ Holly was saying, ‘Good Lord, Dad, he’s sold millions of albums.’ I told her that I don’t keep up with things like that. I’m too busy fishing. She kept on: ‘Good God, Dad. You’re going to do this video together, and he talks about you all the time.’ He told them on The Tonight Show that he loved Hank Williams. And, then he has four songs that have my name on it on an album that sells 10 million, and then he has one called ‘Jesus and Bocephus'? I don’t think I would have believed that one in 1980 -- not hardly.”
When asked about the changes in music since his first hits in the 1960s, Williams says things aren’t quite as different as some would have you think.
“Something hit me like a ton of bricks the other day -- Daddy still has new stuff. You know, all these ‘Mother’s Best Radio Shows.’ I plugged in this thing, and he was on stage in Pennsylvania, just talking to the audience -- and people talk about how things are pop or country and that stuff. I thought, ‘There ain’t a damn thing different.’ He says, ‘Here’s one that has done better in the pop field than it has in the hillbilly field’: If you only loved me half as much as I love you.’ I just thought, ‘Your father just talked about having a song in 1951 that was No. 8 in the pop field. Tell me what’s new! Zero. That’s what’s new. Nothing -- not to the Williams’ baby!”"
Watch Williams talk to Billboard about recording It's About Time in the video below.