Hank Williams Jr. stepped out of his father’s long shadow to become one of the most popular country stars of the 1970s and 1980s. He lands in the No. 21 spot on CMT All-Time Top 40: Artists Choice , a list of the most influential artists in history, chosen by country stars themselves.
Each week, another honoree is revealed on CMT Hot 20 Countdown .
Justin Moore is one of many country stars with heavy praise for Bocephus.
“I’m a fan of artists who nobody will ever be like again, no matter how hard you try,” Moore said. “He’s one of those that’s at the top of the list as far as that’s concerned. … He did it his way. He didn’t care what anybody thought. He still don’t. He would talk the talk, but he could walk the walk. I mean, he could back it up.”
Moore added, “There’s nobody that has ever been a better songwriter than him, in my opinion, in country music. He’s a great musician, he sings great and he has a cultish following. Hank Jr. ain’t had a hit record in 20 years or something like that. He can still go out there and fill up any arena in the country, and I respect that so much.”
Hank Williams’ daughter, Holly Williams, has emerged as a talented singer-songwriter in her own right. Speaking about her famous father to CMT, she noted, “He’s put out consistently great music. He’s written some of the greatest party songs of all time. His shows were the wildest — shooting guns and naked people and sex, drugs and country — but then he would do a 30-minute set with him and a piano and a guitar and just completely rip your heart out with songs like ’Old Habits,’ ’Blues Man,’ ’Dinosaur,’ ’Feelin’ Better.’ I could go on and on.”
She added, “It’s interesting because sometimes when I’m traveling around in certain markets, people think of him as the football guy or the up-tempo party guy, and they don’t know that he definitely had the Hank Sr. talent of songwriting. He can cut right to you with a few songs and three chords and the truth.”
“He was very open in saying, ’I don’t really sing music like my dad did. This is me doing what I want to do,'” Rhett said. “I look at Hank Jr. as an outlaw, and I look at him like one of the guys that paved a different road and made that road accessible for people coming up behind him. That takes a lot of guts.
“It’s really easy to be an artist and do the exact same thing that’s safe … but for those artists who really try to push the envelope like Hank Jr., he paved the way for even people like me to go in and kind of be different and try to expand that envelope. And so, to me, that’s why Hank Jr.’s one of the best artists of all time.”
Charlie Daniels, a fellow country legend, is impressed with Williams’ comfort level with numerous musical styles.
“Hank walked that center line there somehow,” Daniels said. “It came naturally to him to do it because the songs that he did, there’s nothing that he’s done that he sounds out-of-place doing, But he went from pretty straight-ahead ballads to doing like … of course, he could do ’Family Tradition,’ and he’d turn around and do ’Born to Boogie.'”
Daniels continued, “If you ask [some people] if they’re country music fans, they say, ’No, I’m not. I can’t stand it.’ But they liked Hank Williams Jr. Here he is in a cowboy hat, his cowboy clothes. He looks like a country artist, but he’s far from being just a country artist. He has a very wide appeal.”
Matt Thomas of Parmalee also appreciates Williams’ ability to combine rock and country.
“Hank Jr. was doing his own thing, and I think he was real edgy when he came out — his father being the poster for traditional country music,” Thomas said. “I feel like he had to pave his own path, and that’s what he did. The songs that he was writing and recording were the rocking side of country back then, I think, and definitely paved the way for what we’re doing now — and artists before us, too.”
Joe Nichols also expressed his admiration for Williams’ musical diversity.
“Hank Williams Jr. is able to pull in different genres and make that acceptable for country music and rock music and all those genres because he doesn’t care,” Nichols said. “He doesn’t care about the boundaries. He doesn’t care about the people that say, ’You can’t do that. Let’s keep it just country.’ He doesn’t really care. He never has. And so, he’s got my respect just for that alone, not even counting the music.”
Check out the rest of the CMT All-Time Top 40: Artists Choice list, and find out who will be announced next each Saturday at 11 a.m. ET/PT on CMT Hot 20 Countdown.