Willie Heath Neal
Like Hank Williams III, Willie Heath Neal isn't quite the cow-punk he used to be, at least in the studio. Nowadays it's an unplugged guitar powering his eighteen-wheeler-load of 'tude.
Today he's of a mood to talk -- about anything. It's like playing word association with a human Webster's dictionary. About his third solo album, on Chicken Ranch Records: "I was very nervous when release time came around," he admits. "I thought folks were going to be disappointed because it wasn't my usual thrasherbilly stuff. But I was wrong; it's turning out to be my best album yet. And once everyone saw that my live show still kicked them in the face like a mule, everything was fine."
Neal calls Nashville home these days, having left Pensacola (the city in which he cut his psychobilly teeth) with only one dream in mind: to play at the legendary Bluegrass Inn. The joint is generally regarded as the Hogwarts of outlaw country bands, located behind the Grand Old Opry. "That club had the worst appearance and upkeep of any honky tonk on the block, but it had the best fuckin' music," Neal says. "[Bluegrass Inn manager] Buck had a nose like a bloodhound for real talent. He could sniff a fake cowboy out like a drug dog on Keith Richards's tour bus."
He's continually inspired by the number of punk rockers who elbow their way to the front of the stage at his shows. "They respect the fact that I proudly and loudly tell them that Nashville and pop-country suck. My anger is fueled from being told I'm too country for radio," he says. "They'll spin that black-hat, paper-thin bullshit all day long and call it country. The end result for me: poverty. I'm denied radio play and money because I'm too country. Meanwhile, on the other side of town -- the side the Devil lives on, Music Row -- there's a no-talent jock in skintight jeans and cowboy hat rolling in money. It's just not right. It pisses me off, and it's an honest anger fueled by my hatred for Nashville and Music Row robbing me and guys like me blind."
Why does he stay? "The Bluegrass and, right next door, the world-famous [honky-tonk club] Robert's Western Wear. The rest of the city could burn and I wouldn't give a shit."
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