Published on September 22nd, 2014 | by Andy Sedlak
‘Hank Live’ – Hank Williams, Jr. 
Summary: Hank Jr. is a force of nature on his last live album to date, changing lyrics on the fly and altering tempos how he sees fit. The man is a bull in a china shop. You'll either love it or hate it.
Producers: Barry Beckett, Jim Ed Norman, Hank Williams, Jr.
Label: Warner Bros.
Top 40 U.S. Singles: 0
Hank Williams, Jr. is the KISS of country music.
That means style over substance, right? Well, not so fast. Both acts have a surprising amount of substance underneath all that style. Williams, in particular, makes music in line with his version of the southern man’s code. His songs are like a how-to guide for country livin’. And he’ll share the “family tradition” with anyone who will listen.
Hank’s true style comes out onstage. Put ’em up, light ’em up, whatever. Rockin’ Randall takes all comers… kind of.
A recent concert review from The Dallas Observer was titled, “A Night of Racism, Patriotism and Homophobia with Hank Williams, Jr.” Even though Williams is 65 now, his shows can still be hot-blooded. Just last month, a 55-year-old man died when he hit his head on concrete after being shoved by a teenager. News reports stated they were likely horsing around.
Whiskey bent and hell bound, indeed.
But when he’s in good spirits, Williams makes you feel like part of the family. Remarkably, he has released more than 30 studio albums but only two live records. The first was 1969’s Live at Cobo Hall, where he mostly played his father’s material. The second – and the only live album to be released after Junior grew into his own – was 1987’s Hank Live.
Hank Live was released during a run of commercial success in the mid-80s that made Williams arguably the biggest country star on the planet. It was recorded as Williams was celebrating the success of Montana Café, his 1986 chart-topper. The record was a crossover success thanks to guest spots from 80s rock icons Tom Petty and Huey Lewis as well as appearances from C&W idols like Reba McIntyre and Willie Nelson.
Montana Café came hot on the heels of 1985’s Five-O, which garnered a Grammy nomination as well as a nomination from the Academy of Country Music for album of the year. His next two studio albums would also top the country charts. If Williams sounds like a man on top on Hank Live, he was.
Hank accepts “Entertainer of the Year” honors at the 1987 Academy of Country Music Awards.
In fact, he sounds perfectly fulfilled – like he just finished a hearty meal. The record opens with an introduction from Merle Kilgore.
“You’re setting a little bit of musical history with the number one artist in the nation,” he says to a raucous crowd.
It sets the mood, but it wasn’t exactly true. This was the era of Michael Jackson, Prince and Madonna. And as successful as Montana Café was, it didn’t crack the Top 90 on the Billboard album chart. But in country music universe, I’m sure that didn’t matter.
The first proper song from Williams is “My Name is Bocephus,” which was then a newly-released song from Montana Café. The energy is immediate – Hank’s in good spirits. “Bocephus” was a nickname his father gave him, and the southern grind does wonders as an opener.
From “My Name is Bocephus:”
Now you all know me
This is Hank Williams, Jr., you see
Hat and shades, beard and all
Williams plays “My Name is Bocephus” live for the 1987 TNN-aired special Hank Williams, Jr. and Friends.
Petty once said live albums are just greatest hits collections – only faster. That’s certainly the case here, but the shot of adrenaline pumped into already husky hits is just fine. The first half of the record is covers-heavy. Hank covers Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Workin’ for MCA” and George Thorogood’s “I Really Like Girls.”
From “I Really Like Girls:”
I like the way that they giggle
When they walk up and ask you to dance
I like the way that they wiggle
Wrapped up in the skin tight pants
These songs boogie. And they woogie. But let’s stop and consider Hank. The man has tunes in his catalog called “Naked Women and Beer,” “I’d Love to Knock the Hell Out of You” and “Where Would We Be Without Yankees?” All of those, in fact, were released on 1999’s Stormy. When you listen to his 80s live show, you can’t expect Kris Kristofferson. It’s important to note Williams is part humorist. An element of his appeal is to play the jovial hillbilly. Can he take it too far? I guess that’s up to the listener to decide.
At one point on the record, Williams references Ernest Tubb, who was “like another father” to Junior. Tubb evidently told him people were jealous of his father like people are jealous of Junior. Williams gets points for challenging the Establishment, but he’s still a self-serving performer with a catalog full of self-serving songs.
The question is, are you in the mood for it?
When Williams launches into “If You Don’t Like Hank Williams,” which was actually written by Kristofferson, it reminds us that he sees himself as the keeper of the family tradition. Hell, no wonder Hank has so many friends. Whenever someone wants to talk about his father, he’s more than agreeable. In fact, he’s probably his father’s biggest fan. One can’t imagine the same outward reaction from Jakob Dylan.
Part of the record was recorded at Memorial Stadium in Charlotte, a 21,000-capacity venue in the heart of Dixie. The band also did some recording at the Irvine Meadows Amphitheater, which has since been rechristened the Verizon Wireless Amphitheater Irvine in Irvine, Ca.
In other words, these are sweet venues.
Hank Live heats up with a cover of ZZ Top’s “La Grange.” Jerry McKinney’s saxophone goes wild during a jam that stretches out for almost nine minutes. It’s a total rock star move. After the jam, Hank starts cycling through hits that include “The Conversation,” “Man of Steel,” “I’m for Love” and “If Heaven Ain’t A Lot Like Dixie.” Only one of these renditions lasts longer than two minutes, and Hank’s changing lyrics on the fly. The crowd eats it up.
This 2011 ABC News report documents the fallout from Williams’ loose cannon style.
“All My Rowdy Friends (Have Settled Down)” is given the campfire treatment. Williams conjures up his best N’awlins accent when he plays “House of the Rising Sun.” The speedy but spare portion of the set concludes with “The Ride.”
Williams is a showman. It can work for and against him. In 2011, the entertainer said on Fox News that a golf game between President Barack Obama and Speaker of the House John Boehner was “like Hitler playing golf with Netanyahu.” ESPN booted him from their Monday Night Football broadcasts, which he’d been a part of since the 80s.
Williams’ career has switched on and off between self-starter and self-destructor. By the time “A Country Boy Can Survive” rolls around at the end of Hank Live, it sounds like a both a promise and a threat.