Love him or hate him, Hank Williams Jr. is his own man. After years of growing up under the thumb of his mother and her desire to have his career serve only as a tribute act to his father, Hank Jr. rebelled, intent on establishing his own musical vision and honoring his father without being blatantly imitative.
His rebellion didnt come without costs. He almost died from drinking and drug use. When he emerged from this low point, he decided to cut a record in his home state of Alabama that focused on the music (outlaw country and Southern rock) that was inspiring him back in 1975. The record that emerged, Hank Williams Jr. And Friends, became his last record for MGM, his fathers label and home to all of Jr.s previous recordings. Hank Jr. left them with one hell of a send-off, or a kiss-off, depending on who is telling the tale.
Finally reissued on CD, Hank Williams Jr. And Friends is a country music milestone. From start to finish it shows Hank Jr.s strengths as both writer and interpreter. The record reflects a sense of journey (from boy to man, imitator to original) peppered with passion, insight, wonder, and humor in all the right places. His version of Cant You See is definitive, calling up personal ghosts of the women (his mother, two divorces) and the lifestyle that almost killed him.
Soon after And Friends hit the stores, Hank Jr. had a near-fatal fall off of a mountain that required several surgeries and two years of arduous recovery. When he finally did return to recording, country radio had caught up with him, and he soon became one of the biggest stars of the 1980s, before the following decades fall into self-parody. Still, Hank Jr. often made music that was of the quality of And Friends.
Jimmy Gutermans smartly compiled (but long out-of-print) The Bocephus Box has re-emerged with three additional songs. Focusing on key album tracks and revelatory outtakes, this set makes a strong case for Hank Jr.s creativity and his desire to build upon the foundations poured by his father and his own contemporaries. Hank Jr. also shows himself to be an expressive singer and dynamic performer who could play straight country and rock n roll with equal conviction. (The only quibble with this set is Curbs decision to include a misguided Y2K version of A Country Boy Can Survive over important tracks from 1977s The New South that were left out the first time for legal reasons. Guterman was not consulted about this.)
These two packages offer listeners a chance to hear Hank Jr.s music outside his caricature. Though flawed, Hank Williams Jr. is an emotional man who wears his heart on his sleeve. Sometimes that means you will hear misguided or incomplete thoughts. Other times you can see right into his heart and soul.