Hank Williams Jr. has released more than 30 albums over the course of his 50-plus-year career. Born the son of a singer of songs, Jr. has scored more than a dozen No. 1 hits, including “Eleven Roses,” “Honky Tonkin’,” and “Born to Boogie.” Along the way, he packed his trophy case with two CMA Entertainer of the Year Awards and three ACM Entertainer of the Year Awards.
After way too many years, Hank Williams Jr. was finally elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2020.
In honor of Hank’s 72nd birthday on May 26, we tasked Outsider‘s Marty Smith, Wes Blankenship, and Jim Casey to wax poetic about their favorite songs from Rocking Randall’s catalog.
‘Country State of Mind’
Hank Williams Jr. speaks to me in “Country State of Mind,” his Top 5 hit from 1986.
I was hooked the first time I ever heard the opening riff. Grungy. It paints a portrait of where I grew up in Pearisburg, Virginia. A simple life out in the country comprised of God-fearing families who appreciate the big shade tree at the Blue Hole on Sinking Creek after a long summer day in the hayfields—dirty faces and dusty blue jeans and a sun-scorched dermis.
There are many aspects of that life that I love: hunting, fishing, drinking, praying, and the quirkiness of our families. Hank Jr. somehow finds them, with an edge, as only Jr. can.
Ultimately, it’s about the overarching message: If I die tomorrow it’s been a hell of a run: “Somewhere between raisin’ hell and ‘Amazing Grace.'”
‘The Blues Man’
“The Blues Man” ain’t a raucous scene-setter about parties or the good times in an entertainer’s life. It’s about the stone-cold reckoning that comes after. It’s the one-of-a-kind hope that someone else can help you balance it all out. That’s why this one always struck me as a unique break from Hank Jr.’s other works.
From some of the opening lines: “I’m not a walk-behinder, I’m a new note finder / But my name’s a reminder, of a blues man that’s already gone.” To the songs within a song (Songception) that you can’t help but belt out when you hear them: “Hey baby I love you / Hey baby I love you too.”
This one’s personal to Hank, and it would be far more grim without his superhuman significant other. I can’t help but feel a cinematic, retrospective weight in the lyrical imagery: “I was alone in the hot lights” and “You’ve wasted so much of your life, runnin’ through the dark nights” and “I got cuffed on dirt roads.”
These scenes in “The Blues Man” resonated with other performers years after the original release, as well. As a matter of fact, Alan Jackson (1999) and a dynamite George Jones/Dolly Parton duet (2005) famously covered it.
Beyond the specific struggles of entertainers, it’s filled with authentic feelings and experiences. If you’ve ever found a love that filled your dark nights with light or are still hoping to find it, it probably resonates with you, too.
‘All My Rowdy Friends (Have Settled Down)’
It’s a sobering moment when you realize you’re old—like when an automated phone message tells you to press the “hashtag key” instead of the “pound key.” True, “old” is a relative term. Of course, the alternative doesn’t appeal to me.
And getting older is what Hank Jr. is lamenting in “All My Rowdy Friends (Have Settled Down).” After all, he name-drops many of his friends—George Jones, Johnny Cash, Kris Kristofferson, Waylon Jennings, Jessi Colter—who have moved on from their rowdy days. Hank Jr. even compares the situation to his father’s “Lost Highway.”
Hank Jr. was 31 years old when he released this single in 1980. His 20s were behind him, as he painfully acknowledged, “And the hangovers hurt more than they used to / And corn bread and ice tea took the place of pills and 90-proof / And it seems like none of us do things quite like we used to do.”
However, this isn’t a total dirge. There may be lament in Hank Jr.’s voice, but there’s also a sense of optimism. You can mourn the past while still being appreciative of the present and excited about the future.
Yep, getting old sucks, but corn bread and ice tea are pretty damn good.