Ok, so what… I don’t grow corn (I’d probably end up giving everyone E coli with my luck). I can’t skin a buck (I used to think the word “venison” stood for vet medicine). And, I might have only ridden a horse…no, I mean mounted a donkey once or twice (All for a Kodak moment in Tijuana, Mexico after too many 50 cent Corona beers). But that is not going to stop me from appreciating artistry, whether in the country music genre or not. You don’t need to own a John Deere, nor flag around a PhD to know when a musician makes you feel good.
I don’t know if Shelton Hank Williams III did his own dry wall instillation on his ranch in East Tennessee, but it wouldn’t surprise me. Shelton (otherwise known as Hank 3) is the ultimate DIYer. Seeing him thrash guitar at the House of Blues San Diego (August 19, 2012) for approx. 4 hours straight without a break and without an opening act proves, Hank doesn’t need to suck Nashville’s nor anyone’s titty (well… artistically or music business-wise anyway). This is a man who wrote (most), sang, played (drums, acoustic, banjo, keys), mixed, mastered, and promoted his own album Ghost to a Ghost/Guttertown. Adios contract with Curse…I mean Curb Records. Hello creative freedom.
In this ridiculous age when American Idolers (or is it “Idlers”?) are occassionally labeled “artist”s (Are you hearing nails on the chalkboard like I am?), let the thumb suckers take a long, hard lesson from Sir H3. Let them also take a lesson from the beyond “competent” Damn Band that helped fuel Hank’s crazy-horse -of-a-muse at the House of Blues San Diego show. With Zach Shedd on double bass, David McElfresh on finger lickin’ fiddle, Daniel Mason on banjo, and the ultra kick-ass, ultra composed Andy Gibson on pedal steel guitar, one starts to feel stupid for slacking off in music class as a kid. And if it weren’t for the Wailing Wall of amps stacked up higher than Hoover Dam, I could probably tell you who played percussion. But, since I’m not getting paid to write this chicken scratch, I won’t sweat it. Whomever it was, though, did the job. My ears are still ringing.
Hank 3 full-throttles his way through a three set show starting with country/bluegrass/hellbilly punk-infused sounds (along with the Damn Band) one would come to expect from the honky tonk bred, music establishment shunning rambling man. Some of the songs that were covered that night, “Dick in Dixie”, “Trashville”, “Thrown Out of the Bar”, “Looking for a Mountain”, and “Troopers Song”(Who else can get away with putting their dog on vocals and not make it sound like an Alpo commercial?) kept the crowd lip synching and the drunks toasting. Nesting myself at the far left side of the stage, an unofficial stage barricade post, as sober as a cereal in milk (Are you shocked? I am), I got to be up close to the band, but far enough away from being converted into a human Frisbee by the center stage mosh-piters.
By the end of the first set, I was brushing off the dip that flew on me from someone’s spit cup and I could feel the beer that Sporty Spice Girl marinated me with had began to dry. Everyone knows, no one goes to Hank 3 shows to learn manners. If you want that, you can always go to a local church function…or better yet, a Rascal Flats concert. So the second set transitions Shelton from country mode to doom metal mode. Away went the Damn Band. Up went solo, electric guitar playing Hank with a huge screen behind him flashing old B-movie type images on everything from Martians to Dictator Manuel Noriega. Looking at the expressions of the faces in the audience, I could tell many were thrown off by this. But Ms. artsy fartsy “Hey, I didn’t get a B.A. in art history to talk about the anatomy of a whale!” here got it (That or the lack of alcohol in my system was starting to take effect). This was Hank’s opportunity to play shaman. Whether or not it was to invite demons in or exercise them out, hell knows. This was something he probably never would have gotten away with if he stayed with mainstream record companies. One begins to realize H3’s methodology; his need to include other genres of music. This served a different purpose, fed a different part of the beast…something a nurturing banjo might not be able to do. Hank was renovating…renovating what we think a country music songwriter should or could be…what a metal guitarist should or could be…and what a live show ought to look and sound like. Hank saw that pigeon hole, took his sledge hammer, and ripped a damn doorway through the walls of our simpleton minds. Guitar distorting his way into our consciousness, he wasn’t going to let us get away with thinking Hank 3 was safe to just shelf away like some Snickers bar.
And right when I began to feel guilty (or blessed) for the criminally low $20 ticket price, H3 switch hits into his third and final set of the night. With the assistance of the mystery drummer I still can’t name (could have been Keith Moon’s ghost for all I know), and accompanied by a guitar bass player, Shelton implements the 3 Bar Ranch segment. Frocked in bandana masks and Roman gladiator shoulder pads, the music turns into a furious speed metal race against the backdrop of cattle calls (Why is it I suddenly get hungry for a steak?). Two greasy, long haired freaks thrown over the stage barricade, 5 crowd lifted bodies (courtesy of the crazy Marines), and one very pissed off security guard later, I’m proud I weathered the divine storm of toe stompers. By the time midnight rolled around and Shelton had hit the 3 hour plus mark, I came to the realization, either Shelton Hank Williams III has ADHD or, more likely, he is a honest to god/dog music lover (Duh, I wrote all the way to this point to burp that up? Somebody get a mirror so I can see me slap myself).
So at the end of the night, Hank 3 puts away the gladiator pads, and puts on his Copenhagen cap to meet and greet the audience members. This is a standard ritual Mr. “DIY” Williams has kept for years…meeting fans, signing autographs, taking pictures with the typical redneck versions of Jenny McCarthy, getting who knows what kind of DNA on him from the mountains of kisses from women around the world. And dumb dumb here was no exception, minus the fact the battery on my phone died ten minutes into the show (uh, no celebrity pic), and I was afraid I was incubating a garbage truck in my mouth (so no kissy kissy damn it!). But I walked away with one slam dunk even the tall, redhead who handed Shelton a peanut butter and jelly sandwich in a paper lunch sack (or was it my latin nemesis cocaina?) couldn’t think of doing.
Me (handing piece of paper) to Sir Hank 3: “If you want a good laugh, look up this blog on WordPress: EarWaxDissertation.”
Sir Hank (after signing his CD for me) gave a big nod nod with those doe eyes and signature frail, humble frame.
And while walking to my car, the usual loner, I began to think of the words to Shelton’s song “The Devil’s Moving In” as the appropriate feelings for the moment.
I don’t want to go home, I’m having too much fun…looking for things in life that I’ve never done. I don’t want to go home, I’m having too much fun…’cuz when I’m home alone, I’m a loaded gun.
Or was that last part “I’m a little bit down”? Oh well, I never did learn to listen well in church either.