Styles & Forms | Country Rock & The Outlaws | Country

Hank Williams Jr. (b. 1949) was only three years old when his daddy died, and he barely knew the man who was, arguably, the greatest honky-tonker of them all. But his widowed mother groomed her baby boy to imitate his papa as closely as possible.

He was on stage by eight, in the recording studio by 14 and became his dad’s voice on the soundtrack to the 1964 biopic Your Cheatin’ Heart. Recording for his father’s long-time label, MGM, Junior overdubbed duets with Senior and even recorded as Luke The Drifter Junior.

A New Beat

Hank Jr. wasn’t the only country artist still imitating Hank Sr. in the early 1970s, nor was he the only one drowning in string arrangements and background singers. Like many of his fellow baby-boomers, Hank Jr. was dissatisfied with a country music that belonged to his parents’ generation; he wanted a country music of his own. He wanted a country music as impatient and impulsive as the southern rock he was hearing from such favourites as The Allman Brothers Band, Lynyrd Skynyrd and Charlie Daniels (b. 1936).

So he took Daniels, Marshall Tucker’s Toy Caldwell and The Allmans’ Chuck Leavell into the studio and made a 1975 album called Hank Williams Jr. And Friends. The themes were still country and so was the voice, but the punchy beat and the soaring guitars transformed the sound. Moreover, the swaggering bravado of ‘Stoned At The Jukebox’ and the personal confession of ‘Living Proof’ revealed a new brand of songwriting.

When Waylon Jennings (1937–2002), another Nashville insider, added southern rock guitars and drums, he wrote a No. 1 hit in 1975 that asked the question, ‘Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way?’. It was an attack on the slick countrypolitan sound that had polished all the rough edges off country music, but it was also an admission that Jennings and his fellow Outlaws had added some rough edges that Hank Sr. had never dreamed of. Jennings didn’t sound like Hank Sr. but he was working the same job: providing down-to-earth songs for working-class white southerners. The tools and specs had changed, but the job was much the same.

Outbreak Of The Outlaws

It wasn’t just a matter of louder guitars and drums, however. It was also a question of artistic freedom. Rock acts such as The Beach Boys, The Who and The Rolling Stones had long been able to pick their own songs, choose their own musicians, produce their own albums and fashion their own image; why couldn’t country acts do the same? Jennings had had enough hits by the early 1970s to demand the same freedom, and in 1972 he won the right to produce the album Lonesome On’ry And Mean, using his own road band and singing songs by such pals as Steve Young, Willie Nelson (b. 1933) and Kris Kristofferson (b. 1936). As Jennings’ music got rougher, so did his image; he began to...

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Source: The Definitive Illustrated Encyclopedia of Country Music, consultant editor Bob Allen


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