“Hank Williams Jr., that name gets you started real good in some ways and it also closes the door in some other ways.”
That’s the way Bocephus described the complicated relationship between his own independent start and being tied to the legacy of his late father, the legendary Hank Williams.
For many years, the two seemed to be closely combined due to the lineage, namesake and common abilities. But after awhile, Hank admittedly grew out of playing his father’s covers and wanted to do his own thing.
And it was especially hard for people to let go of the father-son association when he did.
In an interview with David Letterman in 1982, Hank Jr. shared that he first hit the industry when he was 8-years-old and started recording for MGM at fourteen.
As a boy, it was Hank’s idea to play his father’s hits, but as he matured the desire to branch off and make his own music grew. And it was a fistfight to ever get to do his own thing, something that likely swelled the Hank rebelliousness we know today.
Hank described this musical transition to Letterman:
“It was fun for the little boy to do Hank Williams, but it was hell for the man.”
Letterman clarified that because people loved Hank Sr. so much, Bocephus was used to just “fill in,” essentially, and the “Family Tradition” singer affirmed as much:
“Ya know they wanted any part of him they could get back.”
And getting Hank back left Junior paying the price by ensuring that the legend stayed resurrected.
He went on to explain that as he had his own personal experiences and matured over the years, the desire to write his own things grew, and he no longer felt called to strictly cover the work of his late father like he did when he was a young boy. He also admitted that he took his father off the pedestal he’d had him on for many years.
This juxtaposition of the fans wanting the original Hank Williams from Hank Jr., and the industry’s inability to let Hank Jr. evolve ultimately led to what the singer labeled exploitation:
“…I had a manger later on where it was exploited to the point of like, daddy’s original band and make records with his voice over mine, and it got a little out of hand there.”
Letterman went on to inquire if the act of mimicking his father was something crowds enjoyed back then:
“Yeah, it did then… [But] it didn’t satisfy this person!”
The contradiction of his own pursuits versus that of what the industry wanted later led to Hank Jr. responding to crowds with:
“Ya know what daddy would say, he’d say, ‘kiss my butt!’”
He would then go on to play his own original songs.
The battle for his own music showed crowds the gritty side of Hank Jr. that they fell in love with, and it’s hard to imagine that anyone ever tried to derail the success we saw from it.