Tag Archives: Hank Williams

The Set List — Hank Williams, Jr., .R.E.M., and others.


The Set List

Hank Williams, Jr.

Hank Williams, Jr.
Though he first appeared on the Grand Ole Opry at age 11, performing his late father’s tunes, Hank Williams, Jr., later chose to rebel against the expectations heaped upon him as the son of the greatest country music singer of all time by cranking up the electric guitars and extolling the virtues of smoking pot while sipping Jim Beam. Never mind that his dad had been shooting up morphine long before Hank, Jr., puffed his first joint. Maybe the real reason he chose to rebel was that his father nicknamed him Bocephus, after a dummy used by a Grand Ole Opry ventriloquist. Regardless, Hank, Sr.’s devout legions didn’t quite know what to make of Junior’s version of a hillbilly, but his undying allegiance to the Confederate flag had them in his corner in no time. Originally viewed as an embarrassment by hardcore country fans, Williams Jr.’s, crass songs were merely caricatures of the plaintive, stark beauty of country music. For the past decade, however, he’s been more or less a saving grace in a world where Shania Twain and Tim McGraw are revered more than Loretta Lynn and George Jones, though he’ll never live down those jingles that promote “Monday Night Football.” (Saturday, September 13, at Oak Mountain Amphitheater, 7:20 p.m.; $10-$39.75. R.S.) —Ed Reynolds

Jay Farrar
It’s been hard times for those who prefer Son Volt to the suddenly-sanctified Wilco. Jay Farrar didn’t even rate a mention in the Wilco documentary I Am Trying to Break Your Heart (despite his long history with Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy in Uncle Tupelo), and then Farrar’s first post-Son Volt project got swamped in the wake of Wilco’s lousy Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. Fortunately, this bought Farrar the time to record ThirdShiftGrottoSlack, an EP on which he finally ditched Americana and started exploring his avant leanings. Now, all of his visions have come together with Terroir Blues, a 23-track collection of gorgeous, quiet compositions augmented by noisy interludes and assorted reprises. Neil Young couldn’t have come up with a better mix of ambitious indulgence and genuine talent. The critics, naturally, aren’t pleased. Farrar probably couldn’t be happier. (Wednesday, September 17, at WorkPlay, 10 p.m. $20.) —J.R. Taylor

Hayseed Dixie/The Kerosene Brothers
Or Bill Dana opening for Jose Jimenez. Hayseed Dixie has been more successful than they could have hoped by playing bluegrass covers of AC/DC and Kiss. Now it’s time for the Kerosene Brothers to tour on Hayseed’s coattails—and those are mighty short coattails since The Kerosene Brothers are Hayseed Dixie in their purest form, before an indulgent side-project kinda took over their careers. Choose Your Own Title shows the Kerosene Brothers bringing that Hayseed energy to their own fun originals, with no hint of any deep insight having been buried by their successful alter-egos. It’s simply one good joke after another, and it’s not their fault if the joke has become more believable than most acts’ sincerity. (Wednesday, September 24, at The Nick.) —J.R.T.

They should be calling it the “Sorry About the ’90s” Tour since Michael Stipe can no longer tell the executives at his record label that questions about sales performance are “mean-spirited.” There have even been rumors of advance money being handed back, although that remains unconfirmed.


Let’s concede that some people out there are looking forward to buying R.E.M.’s recent best-of compilation, even after hearing the crappy new single. Meanwhile, the vast majority of fans haven’t really cared about anything R.E.M. has recorded since 1992. The fans haven’t missed a thing, either. Pete Buck still drinks and plays too much, Mike Mills remains the only talented member, and none of them know how to produce a rock album. The Michael Stipe co-produced American Movie, however, was a pretty cool film.

Sparklehorse, incidentally, is an R.E.M. tribute band, in that leader Mark Linkous’ rote sound collages—occasionally containing a good melody—are a tribute to how so many lame art-rockers have been able to limp along thanks to R.E.M.’s support over the years. Thankfully, that’s pretty much over, too. (Wednesday, September 24, at Oak Mountain Amphitheatre, 7:30 p.m. $15-$60 R.S.) —J.R.T.

The Polyphonic Spree/Starlight Mints/Corn Mo
Redefining both cult-rock and the cult of Mitch Miller, Tim Delaughter’s (former singer for Tripping Daisy) traveling band of white-robed glee clubbers sounds like an honest big deal on Beginning Stages of the Polyphonic Spree. They also do a fine job of burying the lame Sunshine Pop scene that came skipping out of the 1960s. Unlike their hippie forebears, this 24-piece ensemble plays off orchestral arrangements and fun synth touches to create truly entertaining pop masterpieces.


Corn Mo

There’s also the occasional artistic misfire. But the only real problem is that nobody seems to remember how to actually produce a record by a big choral group nowadays. You have to see the band live to appreciate some of the delicate touches that are wiped away in the album’s traditionalist rock mix.

Starlight Mints are a proudly trippy act in their own right, getting past their dull power-pop roots and now indulging in a lot of privileged quirkiness on Built for Squares. And it’s left to Corn Mo to represent the Great Spirit in his role as the Heavy Metal/Prog-Rockin’ God of the Accordion. (See feature, this issue.) (Thursday, September 25, at WorkPlay, 8 p.m. $15) —J.R.T.

Caitlin Cary/Mimi Holland
College begins, and this former Whiskeytown girl stays on the road, and that’s pretty good news for fans of both country-pop and spoken word. There’s simply no live act that better captures the simple charm of a witty Southern gal—except maybe Rufus Wainwright. And the band plays up the jangle-pop subtext that makes I’m Staying Out such an impressive recovery from Cary’s lousy debut album. (Cary only, Friday, September 12, at Laser’s Edge CDs, 5:30 p.m. Free admission; Cary and Holland, Friday, September 12, at WorkPlay, 9 p.m. $15.) —J.R.T.

Blue Rodeo
Remember how stupid those Brits looked battling it out between Oasis and Blur? Canadians were reduced to taking sides between Blue Rodeo and The Tragically Hip—two interesting, brooding bands that each took their time compiling an album’s worth of decent live material. Blue Rodeo gets some bonus points for being a lot more Canadian, though, slowly compiling an epic farmland rock opera. In the process, they managed a few masterpieces and a lot of pleasant minor tunes. They’re still a big deal back home, but it’s always enjoyable to see Blue Rodeo working small clubs and pulling out greatest hits for an audience that’s never heard of them. (Friday, September 12, at The Nick.) —J.R.T.

Leon Redbone
It’s funny how quickly Leon Redbone has been forgotten in the midst of the continual O’ Brother mania, despite his having a long-standing set list that could’ve passed for a rough version of the film’s soundtrack. He’s certainly contributed to his own low profile, too. A night at the local public library seems like a step up from touring kiddie shows, but at least it’s one less tax dollar being spent on a professional storyteller. And though his Panama Jack routine was thoroughly tired by the ’80s, he’s spent his old age priming himself as a blues guitar god capable of replicating lost artists. Redbone’s death will be like losing Tiny Tim, taking a good section of the Great American Songbook with him. (Friday and Saturday, September 12 and 13, at the Hoover Public Library, 8 p.m. $15.) —J.R.T. &

To Hell with the Grand Ole Opry

To Hell with the Grand Ole Opry

A visit to a Montgomery memorial for Hank Williams, Sr., yields an encounter with the guitarist who backed Williams in the 1940s.


“Well, Hank, we hope you’re gonna be around with us for a long, long time,” quipped singer Red Foley as he introduced Hank Williams at the Grand Ole Opry in 1949. “Well, it looks like I’ll be doing just that, Red,” replied the singer with weary confidence. Three years later the Opry grew tired of Williams’ unpredictable no-shows and drunken performances, so they fired him. Within a year his lifeless, 29-year-old, morphine-addicted body was discovered in the backseat of his baby blue Cadillac by Charles Carr, who was driving Williams to a New Year’s Day show in Canton, Ohio.

Fifty years after Williams’ death, Carr stands beside the singer’s big, gaudy tombstone in a Montgomery, Alabama, cemetery on a cold, windy New Year’s Day. The former chauffeur autographs miniature replicas of the Cadillac, lending an eerie touch of the commercial as a hundred fans gather to commemorate the anniversary of Williams’ passing. Carr recalls that fateful trip, his first driving Williams out of state to a show. “I was home for Christmas holidays. My dad and Hank’s dad were friends-that’s how I got the job. I can’t tell you much about Hank’s life, but I’m an expert on his death ’cause I was the only person there.” He dismisses rumors that Williams died of a drug overdose: “Falstaff and a half-pint of liquor were the only things involved.” Next to Williams’ grave stands the equally ostentatious tomb of first wife Audrey. Red roses adorn Hank’s grave, yellow grace Audrey’s. Between the two lies a small marble slab erected by Williams, Jr., after recent vandalism of the family plot. It reads: Please do not desecrate this sacred site.

A couple of miles from the cemetery the gathering reconvenes at the Hank Williams Museum, a morbid shrine that features Williams’ legendary Cadillac and the clothes he was wearing when he died. The automobile is on loan from Hank Williams, Jr., who drove it around Nashville during his high school years (Dolly Parton reportedly offered Williams, Jr., $100,000 a year to exhibit the automobile in Dollywood, but he lets the museum display it at no charge.) Country Music Television’s new documentary about Williams, portraying him as a drunkard and a junkie, is screened at the museum. Those close to Williams are not pleased with the film. Jimmy Porter, Hank’s original pedal-steel guitarist, registers his disgust. “Why do they have to paint the dark side? Is that where the money is? I never saw Hank ever take a drink.”

Two nights later, one-time Opry star Stonewall Jackson (a direct descendent of the Confederate general) plays the Guest House Hotel in Montgomery to conclude three days of Williams tributes. Only 30 or so fans bother to attend. Jackson spends more time talking than singing as he recalls starting at the Grand Ole Opry in 1955 “when I was too broke to pay attention.” The beefy singer has seen his Opry appearances dwindle to very few, and he doesn’t hesitate to voice displeasure. “If I owned the Opry, I’d start firing people,” he mumbles. He reflects on Williams’ influence in his life. “If it hadn’t been for him, I’d still be in south Georgia somewhere, pickin’ cotton. Hank was more of a poet to me than anything else.” Backing up Jackson is Williams’ main pedal-steel guitarist, Don Helms (1943 to 1953). At one point, Jackson turns to Helms and says, “I wish we had some of those pills with a smiley face on it. I think George Morgan [the Opry star who had a hit with 'Candy Kisses' and father of current Opry member Lorrie Morgan] always had some of those.”

Don Helms’ regular gig for the past decade has been playing pedal-steel guitar for Williams’ long-lost daughter Jett, who had to fight Hank Williams, Jr., for her share of the Williams’ fortune after discovering who her father was in the early 1990s. Helms was asked to play the Opry with Jett on the same Friday night he usually works with Stonewall Jackson. He skipped the Opry to be part of Williams’ 50th anniversary tribute in Montgomery. The 75-year-old Helms sits down on a plush couch in the Guest House lobby late that evening after his set with Jackson to reflect on his decade working with the greatest country music performer of all time.

B&W: So are you going to be in trouble for not playing with Jett tonight at the Grand Ole Opry?

Don Helms: I didn’t know she was going to play until the past week. When I worked with Jett last, which was a couple of weeks ago, we said good-byes and we were off till February. So I told Cecil (Jackson, head of the Hank Williams Museum) I’d come down here. I said, “I’ve celebrated the observance of Hank Williams’ funeral for 49 years in some other city. I’ve always been somewhere else. And this is the 50th anniversary, and I want to come to Montgomery.” I said I’d pay my own expenses and I’d come down there and if you’ve got anything you would like for me to do or be a part of, you have it lined up when I get there.

B&W: Jett does a lot of her dad’s music, doesn’t she?

Helms: Yeah, but she won’t sing “Cold Cold Heart” ’cause that was Hank’s favorite. She, being a woman, I have to play every one of Hank’s songs in a different key than he did-(Suddenly Stonewall Jackson walks by on his way to his hotel room.) Stonewall, I enjoyed it, brother. It was good to see you again. (Helms turns to me and grins.) I always used to call him “Gallstone.”

B&W: I wanted to ask you about a song Hank did called “No, No Joe.”

Helms: He didn’t record that in Nashville, and I didn’t record it with him. But what the song was about was Joseph Stalin, the Russian leader. I don’t even remember what the problem was, but it was some kind of political thing he was trying to do. He was trying to shaft the United States and this song was written about that. I’ve never played it far as I know, ’cause it’s not something he featured on stage. And, too, when the political problem was over, it was out of touch anyway. All those situations. Once the problem’s solved, you ain’t got no need to play it (laughs).”

B&W: Was Hank political at all?

Helms: No, I mean, like we all gripe about elections, and if your man don’t win, you bitch . . . I mean gripe (laughing). . . . An entertainer is a fool to declare in public his preference in religion or his politics. Because the first thing you do, whether you mean to or not, is divide your audience right down the middle, at best.

B&W: Was the Opry a fun place to play in the old days?

Helms: Well, there was always some kind of bull goin’ on, some guy tellin’ jokes, playin’ tricks. It was just a fun place to be. . . . It was a happy place to be. It’s not quite like that anymore. It’s a little more subdued. The camaraderie’s shot to hell. I don’t think anybody has any fun at the Grand Ole Opry anymore. Maybe the audience does. And I don’t work there anymore, so I can say what I please.

B&W: When I watch old Opry clips, I’m always drawn to the interaction between Hank and June Carter. Anything special about their duets that you recall?

Helms: June Carter was that way with everybody. She was just a vibrant, silly little girl that everybody loved. She wasn’t necessarily that way in person, but on the stage she would come across as the lovable little girl with pigtails that could kick her shoes off and make you laugh. There was a certain magnetism . . . Hank was much more attracted to Anita Carter than he was June. So was I. . . . We worked a lot of tours with the Carter Family when they first came to the Opry.

B&W: What did Hank think about people like Tony Bennett making pop versions of his songs?

Helms: He thought that was the greatest thing in the world, for anybody to do his songs. He aspired to be a writer, not a singer. Even up to his death, he would rather listen to somebody else’s record of his song than he would his own record. He aspired to be a writer . . . and I think he made it. &