By Jacob Katel
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His country songs, with names such as "Thunderstorms and Neon Signs" and "'Neath a Cold Grey Tomb of Stone," are eerily evocative of his grandfather's sound and style. There's the same tinny, haunting echo in his voice as he sings about whiskey or weed or hitchhiking to get away from a lying woman. But when he plays the hellbilly and death-metal sets, his voice is deep and gruff.
After eight or nine years on the road, the grind was taking a physical toll. Each morning (or early afternoon), his ears rang with the echo from the amplifier, and worst of all, switching from singing to screaming every night was making him lose his voice — that sweet vocal link to the iconic granddaddy he never met.
He says it was the biggest "crossroads" of his life and the first time he seriously reconsidered the hard-partying lifestyle. "I always thought I knew my path in life, but that jolted me pretty good," he says. "I had to re-evaluate some things. I've just had to slow it down a little bit."
Now 37, Hank III says he made a conscious effort to "try to stick around for the long fight and not fade out too early." He began doing vocal exercises, stretches, often for up to four hours before a show. He tries to get out in the heat as often as he can, and he doesn't talk much during the day.
The result: He has his own voice now. "I don't have that crack or that yodel moan that I used to have, but some of that is just age." He's nearly a decade older now than his grandfather was when he died. "I've got my own raspy kinda thing, but I'll always try to keep the twang there for as long as possible."
Now he tries saving his partying for the stage. But he knows that lasting as long as Willie Nelson or Johnny Cash requires sobering up — something he dreads.
"Touring the road completely sober will be the hardest thing I'll ever have to do," he says. "I've preached about partying — that's part of the Hank Williams thing. And I'll never turn my back on it. I'll always be keepin' the rebel image alive. As I'm getting older, for me to be on that stage, I just may have to change my way of living a little bit."
If his battle with the highs and lows of life is ongoing, his war with corporate music labels is almost over. As of December 31, 2010, Hank III's relationship with Curb Records will end. "After 14 years, I'm finally getting ready to have my breath of fresh air," he says. He's starting his own label, where nobody will tell him what's marketable and what radio stations want to hear. Nobody will sue him to stop him from selling his own records. "If I can keep the taxman happy and halfway keep the business under control and not let it affect the music too much, it's gonna be an interesting new beginning."