Last year, Hank Williams Jr. was very deservedly inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame, alongside Dean Dillon and Marty Stuart.
And he had an extra special guest there that night to honor him during what was one of the biggest night’s of his entire career.
Eric Church took the stage to deliver a kickass cover Hank Jr.’s classic “A Country Boy Can Survive,” but before he did, he shared a story from early in his career when he was on tour with Bocephus back in 2010:
“I came to this town many years ago, um, to try to catch some dreams. And, uh, I caught most of mine. And I caught ’em because of Hank’s music. We’ll get into some of that here in a minute, but I want to tell you a quick Hank story.
Hank was kind enough to take me out at a time in my career when the industry wasn’t as kind to me. And, um, I’ll never forget, we were in Cajundome, Lafayette, Louisiana. I had a song at that time called ‘Smoke A Little Smoke’, and it was doing okay.
And I went out feeling my oats, had ’em going, you know, and I remember being side stage ‘cuz I’m always watching Hank’s show. And I was sittin’ there and Hank come up, you know, I’m still feeling pretty good, the crowd, you know, it’s my crowd, they sang ‘Smoke a Little Smoke’.
And he comes up and he goes ‘Heard you had ’em goin’, cousin.’ I said, ‘Yeah.’
He goes, ‘watch this…’”
And of course, he showed a young Eric how it was done, immediately belting out the first lines of his signature hit “Family Tradition”:
“He proceeded to follow ‘Watch this’ with ‘Country music singers…’
And holy shit, I’m a dead man.”
Ya gotta love it. ‘Ol Hank is one of a kind.
Then, Eric proceeded to speak a little bit about just how much Hank’s music has meant to him for a long time. Specifically, how he would listen to it with his late brother, Brandon, and how it impacted them in their formative years growing up in Granite Falls, North Carolina:
“But, um, I wanna talk real quick, some of my favorite memories of my younger life was listenin’ to Hank’s music. I had a companion I would always listen with, that was my little brother. Later on in our teenage years, it involved alcohol, but we would go listen to Hank.
I don’t have my brother anymore, and what music matters to me, that journey, is being here tonight. I mentioned catching dreams and getting them, this is one of my favorite nights I’ve ever had in this town. And it’s because that’s what music is.
It’s about here and it’s about passing that on. So when I sit here tonight, it’s all about honor. But it’s also, I think, about my brother.
So, um, I’m gonna take some liberties here a little bit, hope that’s okay. Thank you.”
The song was a solo write by Hank, and was released as a single in January 1982. It eventually peaked at #2 on the Billboard U.S. Hot Country Singles a few months later and became one of his most well-known songs.
And Eric even opened it with a few lines of his own about his journey to Nashville, and how Hank’s music inspired him to chase a career in country music:
“Remember where I was and when First time I heard ‘Whiskey Bent’ With a brother I ain’t got no more Now he plays guitar on that heavenly shore
So I took off on my own Packed up my guitar, left my home Rolled my dice, tried my hand, shoot my shot, take my chance But there ain’t no way this church boy Would have made a stand If I never heard a preacher man Preacher man”
The entire performance is such a beautiful story that encompasses what country music can do for people and how important music really is to life.
Though Eric can no longer listen to Hank with Brandon, he can sing the songs that defined important, special parts of their life together and that ultimately led him to a career in country music…
And that alone is pretty damn special for a country boy from North Carolina: