Right now, Hank III, son of Hank Jr. and grandson of legendary country music badass Hank Williams Sr., resembles an XY version of that hirsute ghost in the horror flick The Ring. Long, dark brown hair hides his clean-shaven face as he works his fingers furiously over a red electric guitar patched up with duct tape and a Misfits sticker.
Hank III, a.k.a. Shelton Hank Williams, trades off groaning, unintelligible Ozzy Osbourne-esque vocals with Assjack front man Gary Lindsey, who plays Uncle Fester to Williams' Cousin Itt. The band's sound is like a screech of a locomotive as it locks on the brakes and tries in vain not to run your bumble-butt over, and the audience of punks, metal heads, club cowboys and freaks at Tempe's Marquee Theatre is lovin' every murderous minute of it.
A mosh pit forms in the midst of the crowd, right beside where the bi Brooke Burke and I are trying to snap shots of the Assjack crew with our digital point-and-shoot. Bodies crash into us. Beer cups fly, showering us with brewski. And the J-girl is getting right pissed.
"Christ, Kreme, can't you play the male and block those moshers from tackling us?" nags the Jettster. "You weigh about as much as an NFL lineman, so why don't you put that blubber to use?"
"How romantic, Jett, this is the first time you've ever wanted me to play the male with you!" I gush. "Do I get to play the male after the concert, too?"
"Remind me to strap it on and make you my bitch in the parking lot," growls my switch-hittin' soul sista. "Actually, scratch that, you'd probably like it too much."
A half pint of Newcastle hits me in the back of the head, and the Jettster and I decide to pussy out, retreating backstage to watch the remainder of the Assjack concert there. Hank III's transformation from his initial country set to this thrash-metal cacophony is as remarkable as Lil' Jon singing love songs with Usher. Actually, H3's country set is pretty freakin' intense, too, and would prolly give Garth Brooks panic attacks if he saw it. Dressed in a battered straw cowboy hat, beat-up cowboy boots curved at the toes like elfin footwear, and a red cowboy shirt with black pentagram patches, Hank III rips Nashville a new one on an acoustic guitar with the words "Fuck Curb" on it. Curb being H3's label.
Even a Wu-Tang/G-Unit/Doc Dre devotee like me's gotta admire the playa's steelo, his music also. That skinny white boy can knock it out, especially with the help of his crazed, Mohawked upright-bass player Joe Buck, who could pass for the bastard son of Jon Voight. ("Joe Buck" was the name of Voight's cowpoke male prostitute in Midnight Cowboy, so I'm guessing the bassist knows who he looks like.) In the first half of the show, Hank and the Damn Band, as he calls 'em, blaze through joints from his 2002 album Lovesick, Broke and Driftin' such as "5 Shots of Whiskey," "Mississippi Mud," "Trashville" and "Whiskey, Weed and Women." (Notice a pattern?) H3 even makes a nod to his famous family with covers of Hank Sr.'s "My Bucket's Got a Hole in It" and Hank Jr.'s "All My Rowdy Friends." Best of all is when H3 busts loose with Johnny Cash's "Cocaine Blues," playing it faster and louder than the Man in Black did.
Like a skate punk on a 45-degree incline, Hank III increases momentum as he heads toward a short intermission prior to Assjack. He switches to electric guitar, and takes a wicked combo of whiskey and Red Bull offered by a fan as the punks start crowd-surfing.
When H3's returned from the break, he's in full Assjack mode, whipping around his long-ass hair (released from its Willie Nelson-style ponytail) like he's in that LL Cool J "Headsprung" video. The frenzied mob bangs furiously on the metal barricade between them and the stage. Oddly, the whole deal flips from riot to group hug after the final song. And H3 sticks around to sign autographs until the last fan is gone.
Thankfully, the J-girl and I were able to get our CDs signed preshow, as we met up with H3 in the back of his tour bus, doing his Unabomber impersonation in a hooded pullover, his black-and-tan dog Trooper lying next to him. Canine head on master's lap.
"He's out of Poplarville, Mississippi," explains H3. "I spotted him while I was driving back and forth from New Orleans and Nashville. He's half Doberman, half hound. This is his first tour, but he's adapting pretty good. I found him on the road, so I guess he's kind of meant to be on the road."
"Still workin' on your new album, Hank?" I ask, glancing 'round at the claustrophobic quarters, crowded with a computer, printer, clothes, and recording equipment plastered with stickers for Superjoint Ritual (www.superjointritual.com), the headbanger group headed by Pantera's Phil Anselmo that H3 is also in.
"It's basically done: 14 songs, two CDs, and a 42-minute hidden track on it, with maybe seven or eight extra songs of just me and acoustic guitar. We're either gonna call it Thrown Out of the Bar or Not Everybody Likes Us. We recorded it on that machine right there," he says, indicating a flat white device in front of us.
"What is that?" Jett inquires.
"That's a Korg D1600 portable recording studio," replies Hank III. "These kinds of machines are putting the labels out of business, in a way, as far as engineers and recording people. Took us two months for the whole process to be done. Pretty grueling, but I guarantee you no one else on Music Row has recorded that way before."
"What's the new album gonna sound like?" I ask.
"Compared to what most country music sounds like today, there'll be a couple of songs that are more pure, but a lot of the album is pretty un-pure, as far as sex, drugs, Satan. All that stuff that doesn't come out of the Bible Belt quite as much. There are some weird effects on it. It's definitely going to be a lot different from Lovesick, Broke and Driftin'."
"So the Assjack stuff you can only get through the official bootlegs on your Web site, right?" wonders the J-unit.
"The plan is, a country record, a rock record, then another country record, and then I'll be able to start my own record label. I'll be out of 'the machine' for good. But in the meantime, I'm making more Assjack bootlegs. My next two rock albums are on [the Korg] already. It's just a matter of having the time to knock it out."
I notice that H3 is hunkered down, and not paying attention to the Jettster's exposed flesh like most fellas would. He confesses that the rigors of the road have been messin' with his health. So after chatting a bit more, we leave him to rest before he has to hit the stage and belt out that nasal twang of the country set, followed by the manic roar of the metal.
When we get back inside the Marquee, H3's opening act, a demonic trio of temptresses known as the Hazard County Girls, is onstage rocking like some unholy blend of Sonic Youth, Black Sabbath, and Sleater-Kinney. A trickle of folks are making their way to the open space in front of the stage. Back and to the sides, chairs have been set out for the older folks who're here for H3's first set only. They seem a little confused by the Hazard County Girls, but the people our age are feelin' them.
Jett's smitten with bass player Jennifer K., a curvaceous gal with her hair in pigtails. Me, I've got the fever for Christy Kane on vocals and guitar. She's a skinny, blond hottie wearing knee-length stockings, black Mary Janes and a blue gothy-pseudo-Victorian getup that appeals to my dark side. (Not to knock drummer Sharon Heather, another babealicious one.) So of course, when their set's over, we ease backstage to talk with these rock dimes. They tell us they hail from the Big Easy, and we quiz 'em on how they hooked up with Hank.
"We're friends with Shelton, and we tour a lot, so we'd bump into him on the road," Kane confides. "He's got roots in Louisiana, too, so we kind of jokingly said, 'Hey, take us out on the road.' He said, 'What are ya doin' in February?' So here we are. This is the first time we've done Phoenix. Closest we've gotten before was Albuquerque, touring with Rasputina."
"I love Rasputina," I say. "That's a wild mix, what with you doing hard rock, and them with those strings. Interesting. You and Melora Creager of Rasputina have sort of a similar look, too."
"We like a lot of the same stuff," she says. "It was awesome, finishing our set and getting to watch them afterwards. Same with Hank III."
"Where did the name Hazard County Girls come from?" asks the Jettster, eyeing Jen K. in that bi-lusty way of hers.
"We were talking about County Girls, or something like that," replies Kane. "But my uncle's actually from Hazard, Kentucky, so we thought Hazard County Girls had a nice ring to it, and we liked the idea of being hazardous. Still, there's always some guy in the audience going, 'Where are the Daisy Dukes?'"
I can tell Jett's about to jump Jennifer K.'s bones, probably imagining her in Daisy Duke short shorts! Before she gets us kicked out of the concert, I bid adieu to the glorious gals of HCG, and drag her back to the front of the Marquee to wet her down with a couple of Kiltlifters.
"Don't you know when to shut up, Kreme?" asks the belligerent bi-gal, as she drowns her heartbreak in the crush of cowboys and gutter punks getting liquored up in prep for H3. "I was gonna try to make it with the bassist."
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"Have another drink," I tell her. "I can't play bass, but you'll love the way my lard ass looks in the moonlight . . ."
She does a spit take, spraying suds: "Not unless you slip me a handful of roofies and pull a bag over your head, boss."