The Country Music Hall of Fame is one similar to the Pro Football or Baseball Halls in the aspect that there often is great discussion about who is not in those ranks that deserves to be. For Country Music fans, some of the names that are offered as some of the strongest examples of such include Randy Travis and Ricky Skaggs – as well as such names from the past such as Dottie West and Jerry Reed. While it’s safe to say that everyone has their opinions, I want to offer my thoughts for the next few moments on a man who has enjoyed one of the longest and most historic careers in the history of the format who has yet to take his rightful place in the Country Music institution – Hank Williams, Jr.
With the release of It’s About Time, his debut album for Nash Icon, the singer has been charting records for well over a half-century now. “Bocephus,” as he is known, first started hitting the charts back in 1964 – when he was just a few years into his teens. Think about that fact alone for a second. Who else from that time period is still releasing music that is relevant into this millennium? Willie Nelson was on the charts by this time, and Merle Haggard was just about to hit the airplay lists for the first time with “Sing A Sad Song.” Guess what? Both of those men have been in the Hall for over two decades.
Granted, Williams spent most of the 1960s finding his way as a recording artist. But, records like “It’s All Over But The Crying” showed that the singer had a unique talent. The next decade would see that gift showcased in a major way. “All For The Love Of Sunshine” became his first No. 1 in 1970, and he added to his hit lists such classics as “Eleven Roses,” “I’ll Think Of Something,” and the heartbreaking “The Last Love Song.”
Still not yet with full artistic control, the singer recorded the epic Hank Williams Jr. and Friends disc in 1975. This album steered his sound in more of a Southern Rock direction. But, just as he was about to start promoting his new sound, tragedy struck. In August of 1975, he fell off of Ajax Mountain in Montana, nearly ending his life. It took him multiple surgeries and several years before being back to full strength, but once he attained it – he took the Country Music world by storm in a way that few others have done before or since.
1979’s “Family Tradition” was NOT a No. 1 hit. It peaked at No. 4 on the Billboard charts. But, the true-to-life song became one of his signature tunes and ushered in a new era in his career. All but three of his singles hit the top 10 on the charts during the 1980s, with several hitting No. 1.
In addition to his singles success, Williams began to sell albums at a staggering rate that was very rare. All of his studio discs during the 80s were certified Gold, with titles such as Habits Old and New, Montana Café, and the iconic Born To Boogie platter from 1987. However, the true mark of his sales appeal was shown in October 1982 – when he had NINE albums on the list at the same time – an amazing achievement in any year.
His legacy goes much deeper than sales or airplay, though. Hank Williams, Jr. revolutionized the way that Country artists approached their stage show. A three hour tour de force through honky-tonk, blues, southern rock, and even a little bit of Gospel from time to time, you never knew what you were going to get at a Williams show – only that you were going to love the musical journey. He won Entertainer of the Year from both the ACM and CMA on multiple occasions.
Some might say that Williams is a little bit controversial. He does say what he thinks, which I don’t see how anyone thinks that could be a bad thing. Honestly, opinions – even those that differ than mine – are a little refreshing. We’re all too scared to offer them these days. Somehow, I don’t think that Merle Kilgore or Ken Levitan – who have served as his manager over the years nor longtime publicist Kirt Webster – has ever given him one bit of “Media Training.” That would be very interesting. Ask him a question, get an answer. Don’t want an answer? Don’t ask the damn question!
At the end of the day, it all comes down to making your mark, and leaving a musical legacy – and who has done more of that than Hank Williams, Jr? From sold-out show after show, to million selling albums that have entertained multiple generations, to the influence he has had on artists ranging from Brad Paisley to Brantley Gilbert, it’s time for the Hall to recognize Williams for what he is – one of the most influential icons to ever record here – or anywhere else.
If you look at the landscape during the time period when Hank Williams, Jr. was at his creative and commercial peak, you will see that all of his contemporaries are in the Hall. To quote the title of his new (and great) album, It’s About Time that Williams joins those artists in the Hall…NOW!
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