Hank3 Shakes Nashville with ‘One Big Wag’

Perhaps the most misunderstood artist in Nashville, Williams must wake up every morning and face the distorted expectations of a city built on the legacy of his iconic grandfather, Hank Williams. But when he does wake up each day, he has food, water, and a roof over his head. And that’s more than many of his friends — especially man’s best.
     On occasion, Williams personally has taken on the task of rescuing and finding homes for dogs in need, and has become known as a champion of that cause.
     To that end, has has performed the benefit show Hank3’s One Big Wag annually since 2009 for his favorite nonprofit organization — Happy Tales, a Franklin-based, no-kill animal shelter whose mission is to rescue, care for and find adoptive homes for unwanted pets. He has literally pulled off the road to help. His 13-year-old dog Trooper, a brown and tan hound mix and one of three rescues in his home, is a prime example of Hank3’s kindness.
     “I guess Troop was my first rescue,” Williams says, while taking a break at his Inglewood home in mid-June. “It put me into that world a little more. And when I started going to these type of events [animal benefits], everyone just talked to me as Shelton — it’s not the Hank3 thing — so it’s a personal thing. It’s a little more laid back.
     “With the Trooper thing, I was driving back from New Orleans — we were rehearsing down there — and I was coming into Poplarville [Miss.]. I pulled into a Sonic and I saw a real young dog walking really slow. I could tell he wasn’t feeling good. So I decided to pick him up. I put him in the truck and he just sat there and seemed like he adapted. He seemed like he would adapt to anything — that’s why I called him Trooper.
     “He might have been a year or 18 months then. He was playful and definitely happy to be here — he’s one of the best-tempered dogs I’ve ever been around.”
     It is no secret that Hank3 has led a different life from most, and he has spoken publicly of the challenges of that life — one of feeling isolated as a child and miscast as an adult. His music, both country and metal, is an in-yourface rebellion against all control. Yet, he is a walking irony. The tough-looking, often-profane wild man bathed in tattoos from another world has a heart of gold. He sympathizes with the unfortunate and lost — the victims. As a performer, he tries to give a voice to those in the wilderness — whether it is with an ampedup anger or lonely hopelessness, or with heart for those who are busted wanderers. Like his grandfather, and to an extent, his father, Hank3 speaks for many who cannot speak for themselves. The misfits.
     He raises that voice for unwanted animals, too.
     As a child with a father who was largely absent, Williams spent time on his mother’s family farm in Missouri. There, he was around a variety of animals and hunting dogs, and learned to respect them all.
     “Being around the farm pushed me kind of toward the rescue thing and made me want to help animals,” he says. “We always had dogs around. But there are some people out there who think ‘well, it’s okay if a dog’s sick or if a dog’s been hit,’ and they think it’s fine to let them fend for themselves. They don’t take on the responsibility of caring for them. I always thought that was wrong.”
     Today, he is packing for a month-long tour in Europe and preparing to pick up the housesitter that will take care of his home and his dogs. He is excited about the upcoming benefit for Happy Tales that will be held Aug. 3 at Marathon Music Works in Marathon Village in Nashville. The gig will feature Hank3 and a select few special guests. He hopes the show will take that next step in growth that he feels is needed. The first two were held at The Factory in Franklin, and last year’s was staged at the Loveless Barn.
     The event has been a labor of love.
     “My drummer’s [Shawn McWilliams] wife Tish worked for 102.9 [The Buzz] radio and had noticed my Facebook page, and how I was into helping dogs find homes,” he said. “She told me that if I ever wanted to do an event to let her know. I did, and she put me in touch with Kat Hitchcock at Happy Tales.”
     Hitchcock, executive director of the organization, went to bat for him. Fundraisers of this nature can be difficult under any circumstance, and his reputation as a bad boy preceded him. It was his sincerity that won everyone over.
     “Working with Hank3 is an amazing experience,” Hitchcock says. “He is one of the most genuine, most authentic human beings out there. I believe that’s why his fans are so devoted to him — that, and because he is phenomenally talented. His willingness to lift his voice on behalf of homeless animals is an invaluable gift to this mission. He is such a true animal advocate. We all owe him a debt of gratitude.”
     Williams believes the dynamic works. “I think it’s a good thing that I have this reputation of a tough guy or an outlaw,” he says. “I connect to a lot of people out there that come from all walks of life. My fans come, but others that want to help show up too, and I just want to get as many out there as I can. It’s about helping the shelter and the animals.
     “Kat stepped up to the plate for me and let people know who I was,” he continues. “It has all come together because of her.”
     That was four years ago and the money raised by the event has gone to Happy Tales to help them maintain operating costs. As a no-kill shelter, the organization absorbs more expense and has to expend more manpower, facts that many people don’t consider. The show at Marathon Music Works should attract a broader crowd, including those who might not choose to drive down to Franklin or out to Loveless.
     “The other shows have been attended well,” he says. “Marathon seems like it’s going to be good. It’s a big room. I wanted one in Nashville because I think we’ll attract more people and open things up with it some. The environment should be good. Whatever money we make goes to them, and they’ll have a set up for donations and raffles and those things.”
      Williams continues to take his personal rescue responsibility seriously, as well. He shares his home with Trooper, Mama and Royal. Mama, a brown shepherd mix, had been hit by a car and was pregnant when he and a friend picked her up from the roadside in East Nashville. Amazingly, she and her puppies survived, and he found homes for them all, keeping Mama himself. That was a few years ago. The story of Royal, a pit bull mix, is more recent, rescued near his house in Inglewood, the Haunted Ranch.
     “I have found pit bulls on a hill near here — where I live,” Williams said. “All through here. Someone is breeding them and dumping them here. I feel bad for them because I think the pit bulls are up against it. The fighting still goes on, which is bad for them, and while it does, there’s more legislation against the dogs themselves.
     “We’re talking about the all-American dog if you really look back. The Little Rascals years, that was the all-American dog. There were six or seven Peteys. It just goes to show that society has created a little more of the bad rap on them.”
     A neighbor had called Williams last December and told him of a large dog running around on the street. It was Royal. Veterinarians have since told him that the dog has been shot, run over and has nerve damage in his tail, probably from being fought and yanked from a ring.
     “My neighbor knows I work with Happy Tales and he called me up and told me about a big dog nearby that was running around and making the other dogs crazy,” he recalls. “So I went over and picked him up, and I could tell the first thing was that he didn’t want me to leave him. He wanted to be in your lap — you couldn’t leave the room. He’s had some issues, but he’s adapted really well and he gets along great with my other two.” Williams identifies with the pit bull, and because he believes they are often misunderstood and miscast — like himself, he speaks for them. He also has walked in support of them on Pit Bull Awareness Day.
     “I see a lot of them around this side of town, abandoned, I guess, and I feel bad for them. But it’s a problem everywhere. I’m a big fan of the all-American dog. There are other breeds who can be aggressive, too. I just think we need to understand them … some people see aggression and don’t understand it and get abusive with them.”
     For Williams, all animal rescue and care is good karma.
     “It comes around, the karma of the dogs,” he says. “And it’s therapeutic for the people and the animal. I say this a lot — not everyone is cut out for people, they’re cut out for animals. It’s a therapeutic thing for a lot of people, just having a cat or a dog.
     “I’m no professional, but I try to do what I can. If I find out about a dog that’s running around, or if I find a lost dog myself, I post it on my Facebook page and find people that are interested — I’ve done it for maybe nine or 10 dogs. And I follow up on them. All of them post pictures and stay in touch with me. I’ve helped some people find a home for ones because they couldn’t keep it up. I do it on my own.”
     Hank3 has always cut his own path. He stays relevant musically by caring about what he does, just as he does for homeless animals. There are those who have wanted him to conform more to the music industry — play more off of the sainted name. He doesn’t have to. The name isn’t going anywhere. In January of 2011, after 14 acrid years, he finally gained his much-publicized split from Curb Records, and he immediately launched his own label — Hank3 Records.
     In September, he released four records — Ghost To A Ghost/Guttertown, a double-album set, and a pair of single albums, Attention Deficit Domination and 3 Bar Ranch Cattle Callin. The double set is a straight-shooting country collection, flavored with his trademark hellbilly sound, and heavily weighted with Cajun influences and a pervasive, lonesome mood. The legendary Tom Waits appears on Ghost To A Ghost.
     Attention Deficit Domination and 3 Bar Ranch Cattle Callin are intensely metal-driven records on which Hank3 plays all the instruments. ADD is a pressure-dropping, doom-rock statement, and Cattle Callin explores what he calls the “cattle-core” sound, featuring a chaotic, blistering speed-metal woven in and around actual cattle auctioneering. All country crazy funk-punk of the highest order.
     Williams has been on the road most of 2012 in support of these records and his new label. The fact that he has been free to do his own thing has been liberating, but has also translated to even more hard work — something from which he has never shrunk. He now wears all the hats for Hank3 Records, except for publicity and distribution — he has a deal with Megaforce Records (MRI).
     Watching Hank3 live onstage can be therapy in itself — both for him and his fans. He leaves nothing on the table, and like the animals he champions, he aims to please. This is an artist known to perform three-hour live shows in his effort to deliver.
     Always driven, he has somehow found the time for other projects during road breaks. And, as further proof of his caretaking side, Hank3 has recently appeared on former Scorcher Jason Ringenberg’s Farmer Jason and Buddies: Nature Jams, a children’s record, singing of manatees.
     And there’s the work he’s managed to squeeze in here and there at the Haunted Ranch, where he has a home studio.
     “Yeah, I’m still on the road, with the four records out last fall,” he says. “But I’ve recently done a few songs with Junior Brown over here. I primarily played drums on some songs with him. And I’ve recorded a project for Alamo Jones and mixed it here. I’m working on a song with David Allan Coe that should be coming out soon.
      “We’re going to try to work the road until winter — we’re in road mode right now. I’ll try to get back into some recording soon maybe after that.”
     The Happy Tales event is his only Nashville date in the offing, at least between now and the fall, so the hope is for a good turnout. To Hank3, it’s all about the commitment.
     “Living here, I started finding all kinds of dogs,” he explains. “It’s gotten a little better, but there’s still a real need [for help]. Not just here — it’s the same problem everywhere. If I see them while I’m out, I try to help them. That’s why I’m committed to the show and to Happy Tales. They are out there trying to make a difference with the spaying and neutering, and trying to find homes for them. It’s a real responsibility.”