by Jonathan Williams
Photos by Frank Mullen
From the March 2006 issue of Prick Magazine.

He's known to most as Hank III, the grandson of country legend Hank Williams, Sr. But the pale, reserved guy with the sincere handshake introduces himself as Shelton. Based on the boisterous outlaw persona he portrays onstage while tearing through sets of country, hellbilly and metal songs each night, the shy, contemplative guy you meet offstage seems like a different person altogether. But that doesn’t mean Shelton will hold anything back when it comes to talking about his tattoos (his Grateful Dead piece on his back is the result of lots of time spent dropping acid with hippies), his ongoing problems with his label, Curb Records, or anything else for that matter.

He'll tell you about how he has to sell bootleg copies (burned CD in a Ziploc bag with hand-drawn artwork on the disc) of his Assjack metal songs because Curb, a traditionally country label that also puts out stuff like Ultimate Christian Hits and Ultimate Hymns of Faith, doesn't want to release what some would consider to be Satan's music. And he doesn't hide the fact that he had to record his latest CD, Straight To Hell, on a machine in the back of his tour bus in order to do it on his own terms.

"I just want to put out records, man," he says. "They just want to build it up so much and that's what goes back to making bootlegs and selling them at shows. You can stay with Curb for two or three more years and be completely done with them or you can leave right now as we are and every time you try to release something, it's going to put you in court. It's a real hard fucking call.

"Even just this album, Straight To Hell," he continues, "that is a huge fucking issue with somebody like that. Even if it's a simple cover of just having a goat-looking dude playing a guitar, for Wal-Mart, which is 40 percent of country sales, that ain't gonna happen. But you can have a DVD there that says every fucking cuss word in the book and people's brains getting blown out and all this shit. It don't make sense, man. It's that Bible Belt, clean country thing rising up a little bit."

But it seems that Hank and Curb were able to come to a compromise with his latest release. Released on a new imprint called Bruc Records, it not only includes songs like "Country Heroes" and "Thrown Out of the Bar" that have become staples of his live shows, but it also features plenty of drug-and-alcohol-fueled sin-fests like "Pills I Took," "Smoke & Wine" and "Dick In Dixie." It also comes with a second disc of stripped-down country tunes and experiments that sound like they were recorded while he and his band were tripping on shrooms near train tracks and playgrounds.

"It's not as gritty as I could have made it," he says. "You only get so many opportunities to try to make a record sound a certain way. The way we went about recording it was pretty hands on, but the way it sounds in the end, it's still a little clean. I definitely was able lyrically to say what I want to say and do what I want to do. I had control of the art and control of the lyrics and we'll see what happens with it."

While the self-destructive behavior that comes across in these new honky tonk songs likely comes from what Hank was going through at the time the album was recorded, his emotional pain not only inspired a rocking batch of new country tunes, but also some new ink.

"Everybody goes through their highs and their lows and ANTiSEEN has always been there for in my lows," he says, referring to the tattoo of ANTiSEEN's Jeff Clayton on his ribs. "In December [2004], some heavy-duty stuff happened in my world and just cranking those CDs, listening to those lyrics and jamming to those songs is what gets me through every time. Cranking them up and getting drilled on for two days.

Assjack singer Gary Lindsey.

"My old lady for six years, she was wanting to get married and I'm married to the fucking road," he continues. "There are some girls – just like Dimebag [Darrell] for instance, Rita was with him for 17 years and they were never married – but they know. So my shit went bad again right in the middle of my recording and trying to finish up our country record. I warned her previously, 'This next month is going to be really fucking rough. So if I'm a bit weird and I'm sketched out and I'm fucking freakin', don’t trip on me because making an album takes a certain part out of you a little bit.' It's almost like doing time in jail. So she chose to kick me when I was fucking as low as I could be.

As a member of Superjoint Ritual with Phil Anselmo, Dimebag's death hit pretty close to home for Hank as well.

Joe Buck on bass.

"Then a couple of other friends passed on, man," he says. "One of them was an unexpected death before she was even 24 years old, the other one was a friend who had some issues healthwise and he just went ahead and went for it. Just a lot of weird stuff, so I've been trying to halfway stay positive because I'm around a lot of negative and into a lot of negative."

With all that behind him, Hank is ready to take his country and metal show on the road again. And even though he would like to see Assjack get a proper release by a record label, he admits that he has two distinct audiences as different as Hank and Shelton and putting the country and metal stuff together probably wouldn't go over so well with some of those fans.

"I've always kept is separate for a reason," he says. "There are those older folks out there and then there's those kids out there that hate the fucking country music and dig on the other side. I've got tons of tapes that have been sitting around for years. Maybe in the bootleg box set one day [I'll release them together]."

Hank III will be on tour in March and April.

For more information, go to www.hank3.com or www.curb.com.

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