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No looking back

Hank Williams III continues to play the rebel’s role

Hank Williams III is about to make a jailbreak.

He is one album away from freedom, and if his last three albums are any indication, he’s been held back for too long.

If you ask the country-punk-metal neo-legend, he’ll tell you straight up – and with expletives to emphasize the point – he’s not too happy with his latest record.

Hank III’s 2008 album, “Damn Right, Rebel Proud,” may have charted higher than 2006’s semi-controversial “Straight To Hell,” but he says it’s lukewarm by comparison.

While writing and recording the two-disc “Straight To Hell” was as natural as breathing for Williams, the album was mired in delays from the label and a battle with Wal-Mart that resulted in it being the first major-label country album ever to bear a parental advisory sticker.

“Damn Right,” on the other hand, passed through the label without alarm and sold well when it did hit stores last October, reaching No. 2 on the country charts. But its creation wasn’t nearly as smooth.

“I’ve always been a straight shooter with my fans and that’s my take on the record: ‘Damn Right’ is so-so,” Williams said in a telephone interview.

With a studio engineer who was nose-deep in a cocaine habit and a barrage of cling-ons looking to party through recording sessions, he said, there were constant distractions.

“People think that working with me is a big party,” Williams said. “What people don’t know is that when it’s time to make a record, it’s not all about hookers and druggin’ and drinkin’. I save all that for the stage.”

But the son and grandson of country music legends Hank Williams Jr. and Hank Williams Sr. isn’t looking back. Instead he’s going the rebel’s way, touring nonstop, playing three-hour Jekyll-and-Hydes that attract fans of every age and type – from blue-haired grandmas to their blue-mohawked grandsons – with a Frankensteining of country, punk and metal.

Meanwhile he’s grinding away at a new album, which will fulfill the contract on a four-album debacle of a deal with Nashville industry giant Curb Records.

After the release of the next album, which he hopes will be this year, the alt-country-rock rebel will be truly independent again.

Williams signed a deal with Curb in 1996 as a quick fix for mounting child support payments from a one-night stand that turned into a legal nightmare.

His relationship with the label has been volatile from the beginning. Curb has shelved several of his projects, including a 9-year-old rock record from his backing band, Assjack, in addition to three other Assjack albums that are ready for release.

“A musician wants to play music with other musicians and give it to the people, but on a major label you can’t do that because they have lawyers to outsmart musicians,” Williams said. “After I do this last album I will finally be free – totally DIY.”

While Williams describes making music as one of the last few bastions of real freedom in modern America, he compares the musician’s life to being in a sort of self-fashioned cage.

“There are not too many happily ever afters in this business,” he said. “Being a musician is a little bit like prison. They let you out of your cell for four hours a day. Beyond that you spend all your time rolling down the road with 12 other guys.

“Everyone wants to have a drink, or do a line, or smoke a joint. They expect every day to be Friday night.”

But, Williams said, the investment in four albums worth of freedom is about to pay off.

“We’ve built up an army of loyal fans,” he said. “I sold 25,000 hand-made Assjack CDs before the label forced me to stop selling them at shows.

“I’m selling my soul to the machine, but I’m about to reclaim it.”

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