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Hank Jr. finds his roots

By Jeffrey B. Remz, February 2002

Hank Williams Jr.'s "Almeria Club" recording may be brand new, although the circumstances behind the title and recording not only pre-date Hank Jr., but are the lore and legend of the Williams family.

The Almeria Club in rural Alabama is where Hank Jr. recorded a good chunk of his 13-song album with a hard blues edge, country and gospel sounds instead of the good time music with which Jr. has been associated with for years.

But what shocked Hank Jr. was that he wasn't even familiar with the out of the way place.

But his daddy apparently sure was.

Williams says in a 90-minute telephone interview from his Nashville office that part of his goal in recording the album was in "trying to draw on the historical significance of this 100-year-old schoolhouse, later honky tonk, that your parents played in when they were actually just kind of struggling along. That was the whole - from the beginning - the whole idea."

"This place is very close to where my little retreat is down there, like a couple of miles," says Williams.

During a visit to the area in January 2001, "we're having quail and catfish and a south Alabama cookout with local buddies of mine."

The subject of the Almeria Club came up.

"I said, 'Almeria,' and I say, 'what's that?' I look it up - a town in Spain on the Mediterranean. I say that's not what this place is."

"We're sitting there with these people that at the time were from 17 to 20," Williams says. "They're now sitting there sitting telling you how your mother went out the window when this guy come out with a shotgun. The old stage is there, and the piano's there, sitting there. I said, 'boy how did this last?'"

The story goes that one muggy evening in 1947, Hank Williams and his wife Audrey were playing at the Almeria. Apparently, an angry boyfriend burst into the club looking for his girl, who was hanging with another man. Gunshots rang out and Hank and Miss Audrey jumped out a backstage window and escaped through the thicket and nearby woods.

According to Hank Jr.'s aunt, her sister and Hank Sr. played the club twice.

Hank Jr., who loves keeping the memory of his father burning ever bright in conversation and song, seemed almost incredulous that he did not know about the club.

"They would take me down there (Alabama) from the time I was seven, eight years old," he says of his mother (his father died when he was not quite 4 in a car accident on New Year's Eve/Day 1953). How could I not be familiar with it in terms of not knowing anything about it? It was a find. It was really a treasured find. It was like going down here and digging up a belt buckle from Battle of Murfreesboro or something, which I do a lot."

"That was a honky tonk and your parents played there when they were very young kids and trying to make their mark," says Williams thinking about the significance of the place.

"I really didn't believe that part for a long time. I just didn't believe it. I've been inundated my whole life about where they've been and where they've played."

"I had a little idea that was born that night - to be able to record (at the club) if it (can) be done. Maybe they won't think I had totally lost my mind. It was just the opposite. Anyone who had anything to do with this - the musicians who said this is the most fun they've ever done - they said, 'two days? Can't we do some more?' It was fun."

The building, used for church groups and weddings, needed very little done to it to make it studio ready. Just some electrical juice needed to be added.

"It was actually quite easy," he says of recording there. "It wasn't hard. It kind of amazed my co-producer, Chuck Howard, and Bob (Campbell-Smith) the engineer. It really amazed them that it was as easy as it was."

Not that it was your typical recording venue.

"Real different," says Williams. "I've been in a lot of studios from one coast to the other. It was real different believe me. Instead of the game rooms and private sleeping areas, meeting areas, business areas, it was just one big room and whatever you drove here in, and that was it. It was quite different. It was quite different from a Nashville or LA studio."

But different doesn't mean the music's any good. Hank Jr. has been better known it seems for a number of years for leading off the Monday Night Football games with a snippet of "All My Rowdy Friends."

The early buzz from Curb Records, Williams' long-time label, was that the music would be different.

Decidedly so. There's hard core honky tonk ("The Cheatin' Hotel," and "Outdoor Lovin' Man") a rock edge (a new studio version of "America Will Survive" recorded post Sept. 11), blues and blues rock ("Last Pork Chop," "Tee Top" and "If the Good Lord's Willin' (and the Creeks Don't Rise)") and gospel ("Cross on the Highway").

Williams is right at home with the blues, a genre that doesn't readily come to mind when talking about Hank Jr.

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