Editor’s note: CMT Giants: Hank Williams Jr. premieres Saturday (Nov. 17) at 9 p.m. ET/PT.
“All my rowdy friends have not settled down,” Hank Williams Jr. told CMT Insider‘s Katie Cook in Los Angeles during the recent taping for the concert special, CMT Giants: Hank Williams Jr. Major stars from the worlds of country, rock and blues gathered to pay tribute to the singer, songwriter and entertainer who remains a vital force in music more than four decades after releasing his first single.
Among Williams’ friends performing his songs during the special are Tim McGraw, Toby Keith, Steven Tyler, Alan Jackson, Brad Paisley, Kid Rock, Gretchen Wilson, Shooter Jennings, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Buddy Guy and Holly Williams.
“He was a big influence on me early in my life when I was just thinking about singing,” Jackson says. “I was a big fan of his music like everybody was back when I was a young man and we would be partying to his songs. I think as I got into singing and songwriting more, I really appreciated not just Hank’s party, crazy side but what a great songwriter he is. He’s written some great songs that are about his life — or good and bad times in his life — real songs with some meaning, not just drinking and partying stuff. He’s a great writer.”
Jennings agrees with Jackson’s assessment on Williams’ significance as a songwriter.
“I really started digging into his music,” he says. “I knew it when I was young, but I really started understanding, listening and digging in to his music six or seven years ago. I really think I have a run of his records memorized backwards and forwards. … Lyrically, emotionally, in so many ways I can relate to him. And I really think he’s a genius musically. I think he’s the most overlooked songwriter that ever lived. I don’t think people realize it. I think people look at the rowdy thing, and they don’t realize. He’s one of the deepest, most sensitive songwriters I’ve ever heard.”
Jennings (Waylon Jennings’ son) and Holly Williams (Hank Williams Jr.’s daughter) will be performing “The Conversation,” a song their fathers recorded together in 1983.
“It’s really cool for us to be singing because we grew up together,” she notes. “We’ve known each other forever and never thought we’d end up on the same stage. We didn’t even want to be musicians when we were younger, so it’s really a neat thing for us to be doing this.”
Holly Williams says she’s proud of her father and happy that his work is being recognized by a diverse collection of artists.
“It’s so great to be doing it in L.A. and with all the different artists from Steven Tyler to Buddy Guy to Tim McGraw. It’s such a wide range of artists, and it shows just how far his legend reaches.”
The legend certainly reaches to Kid Rock, who has spent plenty of time around the honoree.
“He’s been a good influence, a good friend, all of the above,” he says. “Because of Hank, I stopped smoking cigarettes and some other fun things.”