Hank Williams, Jr. was meant to be a superstar from the day he was born. His father, the legendary Hank Williams, and mother, Audrey Sheppard, both played an intricate part in his early stardom. Hank had to overcome many obstacles in his life including escaping from his father's shadow and a near death experience in 1975. Hank's many triumphs, and his ability to overcome setbacks, have propelled him to a legendary status.
Born May 26, 1949, in Shreveport, Louisiana, Randall Hank Williams, Jr. was destined to become a star. Tragically, his father died on New Years day, 1953, at the young age on twenty nine («Official Home Page,» Biography). However, his mother, a country singer in her own right, helped Hank Jr. start one of the earliest, and most successful, childhood careers in country music history.
Hank appeared on stage for the first time at the young age of eight. Hank appeared on the Grand Ole Opry at the age of eleven, singing his father's songs in his father's style. At the age of fourteen Hank recorded his first album, a hit rendition of his father's «Lone Gone Lonesome Blues.» At an age when most young boys are playing Little League baseball or football, Hank was learning the piano from Jerry Lee Lewis, appearing on the Ed Sullivan Show, and performing before crowds of up to twenty thousand.
In 1969, Hank teamed up with Johnny Cash to perform in the largest country concert to date. In 1970, Hank signed the biggest recording contract in the history of MGM Records. As proud as he was of being the son of Hank Williams, Hank got tired of being in his father's shadow. In high school, known as «Rockin' Randall,» Hank played contemporary rock, however, that had to be kept secret from all his traditional country fans. He also liked to listen to rhythm and blues, however, these types of music were looked down on by many in Nashville. Later in his career, Hank even released a couple of rock singles under the name Bo Cephus on Verve Records, a subdivision of MGM. The split between what he wanted to do and what he was expected to do, along with his long-term alcohol and drug abuse, developed into a downward spiral of his career that led to a 1974 suicide attempt.
In early 1975, Hank recorded «Hank Williams, Jr. and Friends,» his first true step to escaping his father's shadow and the past. Although the album was a success, MGM wanted him to return to the style that would keep his longtime country fans happy. An angry Hank told MGM that he was though with the company («Bosephus Background,» MGM).
Hank then signed with Warner Brothers («Bosephus Background,» Albums) and decided to take a vacation before an upcoming tour. While mountain climbing with friends in Montana, Hank fell five hundred feet down Ajax Mountain. The fall split his head open, shattering his face and exposing his brain. During his recovery and numerous reconstructive surgeries, Hank's mother passed away.
Hank then went through a musical rebirth. It all started with some words from his doctor:
You've been taught to act like, walk like and
Talk like Hank Williams all your life,» he told
Him, «and if you don't get your act together,
You're going to die like him, too, only you'll
Get there long before he did»(qtd. in «Bosephus
Background,» The Top Ten Reasons).
After hearing those words, Hank set out to continue following his musical dreams.
It was not until the 1980's that Hank Williams, Jr.'s music became extremely popular, however, it still was not what traditional country fans wanted. In 1987, Hank was finally recognized for his musical talent. That year Hank won the first of five straight Entertainer of the Year awards voted to him by fellow country artists. His also won his first ever Grammy.
In the early 1990's, Hank was well known to not only country fans, but also to the millions who had watched him perform the opening theme for ABC's Monday Night Football. Hank won Emmy's in 1990, 1991, 1992 and 1993 for the theme that he wrote. This gave him the distinction of being the first country music artist to ever win an Emmy. Hank also performed at the pregame show of Super Bowl XXIX in Miami.
Hank's best known for his legendary concerts. His concerts have been compared to parties instead of concerts, with thousands invited. Hank is a mixture of a Southern rocker and a «pure» country artist. He has recorded with various artists from Willy Nelson and Johnny Cash, to Huey Lewis and Tom Petty. Hank pioneered the new standard for country music concert tours by making them both an audio and visual experiences.
It was once said,
When music historians reflect on country music
In the 20th century, two names will, no doubt, stand
Prominent. Both of those names will be Williams:
The father who created a legend and his son who
Took the legend, continued it and then molded
It to fit his own formidable talent-subsequently
Blazing a path and opening doors for a whole new
Generation of platinum-selling country performers(qtd. in
«Bosephus Background,» The Top Ten Reasons).
There is no doubt that Hank Williams, Jr. will always be considered one of the greatest country singers of all times. He has proven time and time again that he has the ability to overcome even the worst setback, and only become stronger because of it.