Hank Williams, Jr. Biography

This Country Star Has Forged His Own Path

Hank Williams, Jr. In Concert - Clarkston, MI
Scott Legato / Getty Images

Randall Hank Williams, best known as Hank Williams, Jr., is the son of country music legend Hank Williams. He was born on May 26, 1949 in Shreveport, Louisiana. His father nicknamed him Bocephus after Grand Ole Opry comedian Rod Bradfield's ventriloquist dummy.

As a child Williams got to know his father's peer musicians, including Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Fats Domino and Earl Scruggs. When his father tragically died in 1953 when Williams was just three and a half years old, his mother, Audrey, decided to groom him to take over his father's legacy. He started performing at the tender age of eight. 

Williams' Early Career

Williams got his start singing his late father's songs on package tours. He made his first Grand Ole Opry appearance at of 11. Then, puberty. He signed with MGM Records when his voice changed and subsequently recorded his father's hit "Long Gone Lonesome Blues" in 1964. His first album, Songs My Father Left Me, was an instant hit. He sang the songs for "Your Cheatin' Heart," a biopic about his father's life, and starred in the film "A Time to Sing" that same year. 

He didn't score another Top 10 hit until 1966's "Standing in the Shadows," but by that point he'd grown sick of being a nostalgia act anyway. He wanted to create his own style. Williams took his music in a more rock-influenced direction in the early '70s.

His attempt at achieving rock stardom proved futile at first. He concentrated on country music in the meantime and his career was doing fairly well, but his personal life was in shambles. He had severed ties with his mother and fell into drug and alcohol abuse by the time he was 18 years old. Williams attempted suicide in 1974.

A New Direction

Williams relocated to Alabama and got his life back on track, and he decided to pursue rock music more aggressively. He got to know Southern rockers like Charlie Daniels, Waylon Jennings and Toy Caldwell, and he released Hank Williams, Jr. & Friends in 1975which married country and rock 'n' roll. It wasn't as commercially successful as his previous releases, but it was a step in the right direction. Williams was finally making the music he wanted to make.

Then, just as he got his life together and was experiencing a creative renaissance, tragedy struck. He was hiking in Montana in 1975 when he fell 442 feet down the side of a mountain. His skull was split and his face crushed, but he miraculously survived. Williams underwent substantial reconstructive surgery and had to relearn how to speak and sing during his two-year recovery period.

Williams grew a beard and started sporting sunglasses and a cowboy hat to disguise the scars from the accident. It became his signature look.

Career Peak

Williams became a full-fledged member of outlaw country music in 1977. Waylon Jennings produced his comeback album The New South, but his return wasn't easy. It took a few years for his songs to crack the charts again, but in 1979 he earned two Top 10 hits: "Family Tradition" and "Whiskey Bent and Hell Bound." They began a streak of 30 Top 10 hits that continued until 1990.

Williams could do no wrong. He had a whopping nine albums on the Billboard Country Albums chart in 1982, all of which were original albums. The Country Music Association named him Entertainer of the Year in 1987 and 1988, and he won the same award from the Academy of Country Music in 1987, 1988 and 1989. He recorded "There's a Tear in My Beer" in 1989, a duet with his late father. The song earned him 1990 Grammy Award for Best Country Vocal Collaboration.

But by the early '90s Williams wasn't hitting the Top 10 like he used to, and by the mid-'90s he was even having trouble cracking the Top 40. Still, he pressed on. Williams continued making music and maintained his status as a popular concert draw.

2000s to Today

Williams' music came to a temporary halt in 2003 after the release of I'm One of You. He didn't return with new music until 2009's 127 Rose Avenue. He teamed up with fellow contemporary country artists Trace Adkins and Brad Paisley on Old School New Rules in 2012, which was released on his independent label Bocephus Records, then It's About Time was released in early 2016.

It's difficult for family members of legendary musicians to carve out their own niche and become successful without acting like carbon copies, but Williams managed to forge a career that is remarkably different and just as successful as his famous father's.

Other Ventures

In addition to creating music, Williams has also pursued other avenues. A version of his song "All My Rowdy Friends Are Coming Over Tonight" was used as the theme song for Monday Night Football from 1989 until 2011. He opened for Super Bowl XL in 2006.

He's also politically vocal. A lifelong Republican, Williams has performed songs during the 2000 and 2008 presidential campaigns, and in 2008 it was revealed that he was exploring a 2012 run for political office, although he never followed through.

Recommended Discography

  • Hank Williams Jr. and Friends (1975)
  • Family Tradition (1979)
  • Whiskey Bent and Hell Bound (1979)
  • Hank Williams, Jr.'s Greatest Hits, Vol. 1 (1982)
  • All My Rowdy Friends: Best of Hank Jr. (2012)

Popular Songs:

  • "A Country Boy Can Survive"
  • "Family Tradition"
  • "Whiskey Bent and Hell Bound"
  • "All My Rowdy Friends (Have Settled Down)"
  • "Dinosaur"
  • "The Blues Man"