By Jeffrey B. Remz, March 2006
Williams' sound has changed over the years. On his debut, "Risin' Outlaw," his vocals were smoother and cleaner sounding. "Straight to Hell" contains much more of a throaty vocal style, while still being mainly traditional country.
"It's going through a lot of changes, but on the record, the vocals are a little more raspy...Little bit more attitude on this record. Got to use some real good players - my band, Andy Gibson, Joe Buck, and then we got to use of some of the super pickers - Johnny Hiland, Randy Kohrs...Donnie Herron from BR549...I would just say that there is a certain thinness to it a little bit, compared to if you put on a Tim McGraw record. Our record is going to be a little...more raw sounding."
"It sounds a good different from the second one because the second one was done on analog tape, done in a real studio and (with) a real producer. Just listen to the bass as far as slap of the standup basis for instance...It's tic tacking the way it's supposed to. On the second record, it's more compressed. The tic tac is not really there."
The tic tac sound recalls that made famous by Johnny Cash.
"Curb did pretty close - they still f----d with the record, went behind my back in three different ways and changed things without permission. They breached their contract, and two days ago before I came to Houston, I went to the record company and said 'who f----n did this? I want to know...You're slapping me in the face, and this is a big deal'."
"It's a lot better, but I still cannot be behind the record...On the second pressing, hopefully it'll be the record I turned in."
Williams lamented the failure to include a recording with ZZ Top guitarist Billy Gibbons because of failure apparently to get appropriate permission. Williams faulted Curb.
"You're going to overlook Billy Gibbons?" Williams asks, referring to getting permission.
"I told everybody nine months ago, you better make sure this is cleared," he says.
Cavanaugh declined comment.
Back to the music itself.
How many country albums coming out of Nashville start with the lines "Satan is real" and then hear a chortle of laughter from someone who sounds like he might be the devil incarnate before launching into more of Williams' hellbilly sound, singing "I may be going straight to hell/so you better get me one more round."
Williams included the Satan passage from the Louvin Brothers song because his first show for a country artist was opening for Charlie Louvin.
On most of the album, Williams goes for a much more traditional sound and country themes of drinking and depression.
In "Low Down," Williams sings,
"Driftin' 'round 'bout half past four /With the blues on my back /And a bottle on the floor//Drinkin' until I think I'm gonna fall down/'Cause my sweet little baby had to kick me lowdown"
What is real different is the second CD - 42-minutes of ambient noises amidst songs from the likes of Hank Sr. ("I'll Never Be Ashamed of You," the first Hank Sr. song Hank III ever released), Wayne Hancock and others. The disc contains sounds including a street preacher, horses, pigs and a train.
Despite the decidedly non-traditional nature of the second CD, Williams indicates that Curb was fine with what they received.
"Basically, they said, can you make a clean record? Yes. And you'll make a dirty record? - yes. And you'll give us two songs that are for the radio - well yes I will give you two songs that I think are definitely safe enough for radio...That was the whole agreement right there."
"I just turned it in and said, 'here you go'. They said great. They loved it. Everything was on schedule." That was until Wal-Mart nixed it, according to Williams.
"It's more stripped down," says Williams. "It's a lot of just me and the tape recorder and my guitar on some of it."
"It's a little more old school, a little more leaning on the Hank Williams vibe. That's just what it is to a point. To some folks, it'll sound more like the original Hank Williams, but we do a Wayne the Train song on (it). We do 'Up in Smoke,' Cheech & Chong."
"It's a late night kind of record. It's more for coming down or if you need to calm down. The second CD is not the kind of CD that's just going to get you in a rip roaring partying mood."
Why record a song of Hank Sr. when Hank III clearly seems hell bent on going his own way?
"When I started all the samples and stuff, once I heard the train, shit, I thought it'd be badass to have a train go straight into a Hank Williams song."
"I was just going through some of my cassettes, and that one just kind of hit me. It kind of messes up towards the end - the tape kind of fades out toward the end a little bit. I've always looked at that - whatever girl has to go out with me...I could definitely relate to that message a little bit."
"That's one song, and at first, yes, I did go out there and cut my teeth on the Hank Williams sound at first. I was pretty honest about it with people."