Country Throwback: Young Hank Williams Jr. Crushes ‘Whiskey Bent and Hell Bound’ on TV

by Clayton Edwards

Hank Williams Jr. started his career following in his father’s footsteps. In his first few albums, he emulated the sound of Hank Sr.’s era of country music. It was good stuff. However, if he would have kept that up there’s a good chance he would have been forgotten. People may have written him off as a relic of a bygone era. Or worse, a guy riding his famous father’s coattails. In the mid-70s he changed his style. After nearly dying on Ajax peak, he healed up and came back with a whole new sound. Starting with “Hank Williams Jr. and Friends,” Bocephus stepped into the realm of rock-infused country. He carved out his own niche in the outlaw country world. This is the sound that he is known for today.

Since that change in sound, Hank Williams Jr. has cut several tunes that went on to become signature songs for him. Tracks like “A Country Boy Can Survive” and “Family Tradition” are on that list. Maybe the most enduring of his signature hits, though, is “Whiskey Bent and Hell Bound.” Where “Country Boy Can Survive” is all about simple backwoods living and “Family Tradition,” speaks on the rampant substance abuse in country music, “Whiskey Bent and Hell Bound” is more widely relatable.

At the heart of it all, the song is about getting hammered and making bad decisions. You don’t have to be a country music historian or live out in the sticks to feel this one in your bones. Many country fans and artists alike know what it’s like to let the booze do the decision-making.

Hank Williams Jr. Gets Whiskey Bent and Hell Bound

More specifically, Hank William’s Jr.’s ode to drunken bad behavior is a cheating song. He talks about having a few too many before picking up a barfly at the end of the night. However, he knows he has a good woman at home. In the end, he wakes up with a stranger, feels guilty, and wants to drown his sorrows in booze.

While the song sees Hank Williams Jr. expressing some good ol’ boy bravado, it also has some very personal lines. At two different times in the song, he talks about getting bent out of shape when he hears his dad’s songs. In the first verse, he says, “Don’t play I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry/ I get all balled up inside/ And I’ll get whiskey bent and hell bound.” Later, he makes reference to “Your Cheatin’ Heart,” in much the same way. It’s these personal touches that make the song feel so authentic. Hank Williams Jr. obviously knows what he’s talking about.

During the performance in the video above, you can feel the authenticity of the tune. Hank Williams Jr. sings the song so earnestly that it feels more like he’s just stating facts than performing. At the same time, I think it is important to point out that Bocephus is playing lead guitar and singing. Most of the time, if a singer plays guitar, they only play the rhythm parts. If they do take a lead, it’s usually between verses. Here, Hank Williams Jr. plays some great lead guitar while singing. That’s pretty impressive. It just goes to show, Hank Jr. is one hell of a musician when he isn’t whiskey bent and hell-bound.