Hank Williams Jr.: Son of a Gun! (1997)
Hank Williams Jr. continues to build family traditions.
Originally published in the Aug. 19, 1997, issue of Country Weekly featuring Clint Black on the cover. This story is presented here in its entirety.
“I’ve got a five million dollar Hawker jet that’s for one thing only,” Hank Williams Jr., revealed. “It’s to get me to that show and get me back here to this paradise I have with my family. “I’m not going to waste one minute away from them that isn’t necessary,” he explained as he looked around his family’s cozy log cabin near Paris, Tenn.
Hank and his wife, Mary Jane, have invited Country Weekly over to meet their four-year-old daughter Katie and the newest family member, baby Samuel. “Ohhh, you smell so good baby,” Hank crooned tenderly to his son, born May 30. “Sam I am green eggs and ham. Look at him. Can you imagine leaving him for any length of time?”
The devoted family man is thrilled to share as much time as possible with his children, especially in light of their worrisome births. “We had a lot of trouble with Katie’s birth,” Hank recalled with a shudder. “We had a life flight to Vanderbilt because there were lots of problems.
“Katie was six weeks early, then Sam was 3 1/2 weeks early. We were in the delivery room and the doctors handed Sam to me. All of a sudden the room was full of doctors talking very seriously, and I thought, ‘Here we go again.’ I was so scared.
“We had a bad 48 hours. Sam was fine, but not that many years ago, this would have been a case where the mother would have died and the child would have lived.
“We were worried about mommy, weren’t we Sam?” Hank whispered to the baby while Mary Jane rocked him. As he picked up Katie and helped her into the porch swing, he said, “This is our retreat. This is a heavenly place.”
Hank and Mary Jane constructed the quaint log cabin, situated on a private 10-acre pond two hours west of Nashville, about a decade ago. “We built this cabin for a very good reason,” Hank said. “There was just a constant stream of traffic by our house. People would bother us at all hours of the day and night. We’d wake up in the morning, and people would be parked in front with cameras.”
Hank shook his head. “I grew up in a house like that,” he continued referring to his childhood in the wake of his famous father’s death. “I mean, when I was 6 years old there were tour buses parked in my driveway. People would be taking pictures of me on my way to school, and I’d be wondering why the heck they wanted my picture. I’m determined to give my kids some privacy so they can grow up as normal as possible.”
“It’s hard if you have the drapes open and you walk by with a cup of coffee in your hand, look out the window and someone has a video camera on you,” adds Mary Jane. “At our house in town, we have to keep the drapes pulled. We wanted to put up a swingset in the backyard for Katie, so we had to put a fence around it and make it private enough.”
“Sometimes it’s kind of funny, though,” Mary Jane continued with a laugh. “One time we were in Alabama in a small town visiting his aunt, and we went out to dinner. It got out that we were at this restaurant and people from all over town showed up. Katie kept asking, ‘Why do these people want Daddy’s autograph? Is Daddy famous like Michael Jordan?’ ”
The man called Bocephus by his famous dad looked adoringly at his daughter. “Want a 7-Up Katie? No, how about a cigar?” Hank teased his daughter. “Diet Coke Daddy!” Katie yelled as she jumped on her dad. Hank returned with soft drink in-hand for his daughter.
“There are wild turkey all over that hill in the morning,” he said, pointing at a ridge across the pond. “There are little baby fawns walking down that levy. There are no sirens, no gunshots, no traffic. It’s great. And we can watch The Three Stooges too, right Katie?“
“What did you write on my Father’s Day card, Katie? ‘Daddy, you are fun because you watch The Three Stooges and Herman Munster,’ ” Hank coos, answering his own question.“I like to go to the boat dock with Daddy,” Katie interjects shyly. “I caught more fish than Daddy did—I get the worms out myself.”
Hank smiles proudly at his daughter. There’s no sign of the wild man reputation that Hank himself cultivated and which has helped keep fans flocking to his shows. “Sitting out here fishing with her is real quality time. When Katie and I sit down there and go fishing, that’s pretty good quality time instead of watching a video or something. When she says things like, ‘Nobody would believe that fish, Daddy,’ it just makes me smile. We get to know about each other.”
There is a lot to know about Hank. The son of country music’s first superstar is one of country music’s most commanding figures. Although only in his 40s, Hank’s career spans more than 35 years, and he has 66 albums to his credit. Megahits such as “Family Tradition,” “All My Rowdy Friends Are Coming Over Tonight” and “A Country Boy Can Survive” have become his trademarks.
With 10 No. 1 singles and 13 No. 1 albums—one triple-platinum, seven platinum, 12 gold—Hank is one of country music’s most enduring entertainers.
Currently, he’s flying his jet to shows for the Fruit of the Loom Country Comfort Tour he headlines with Travis Tritt, Charlie Daniels and Jo Dee Messina. “The Fruit of the Loom tour has been unbelievable,” Hank said. “At the end of June, Hank Williams Jr. Enterprises had the biggest gross weekend in my career. Can you believe that? In 1997? That is incredible.”
“I have this built-in, Grateful Dead-like following,” Hank said proudly. “Even if I’m out of sight for six months, they come back. It’s unbelievable.”
The public persona of Hank Williams Jr. is rough and rowdy, but the private man is gentle and compassionate. He hugs Mary Jane as she recalls their first meeting. “We met on July 4, 1984 in Washington, D.C. I worked for Hawaiian Tropic, and The Beach Boys used to do a free concert there every year,” she said. “So we were there on a promotion, and Hank was on the show.”
“Every male on that show said, ‘Oh my God, have you seen that brunette?’ ” Hank recalled with a laugh. Mary Jane was one of about 25 ladies there, but the buzz was only about one—and that was MJ!
“She came on the bus before my show and said, ‘I want to hear Dinosaur,’ ” Hank continued. “I said ‘Dinosaur? I have much bigger hits than that!’ After that, she pursued me like crazy!” Hank teased Mary Jane as she chased him. He swept her into his arms and they shared an intimate laugh.
“Yeah, I pursued him!” Mary Jane said. A year later they were living together, and seven years ago she became Hank’s fourth wife. “Well, Katie, let’s go grab a fishing pole,” Hank said, helping his daughter off the porch swing.
“When people in the business come out here to visit us they say, ‘Good Lord, no wonder you don’t live in Nashville.’ ” Hank said. “But we also work out here. There’s farm that has to be planted and sprayed. There are deer stands to put up and deer stands to take down, and fish feeders to fill and put batteries in, and boats and four-wheelers that need maintenance.
“When you’ve got land and houses and toys, there’s always something to do. We have three houses here—all in an eight-mile radius. Plus we have three houses in Montana. One of these days we may scale down to just one house so we don’t have to do so much work on them.
“There are some catfish in here that go about 14 or 15 pounds. It’s good fishing though 3:30, but a July afternoon is not the time to be fishing,” Hank said as he cast line into the quiet water. “Oh my God, I think we’ve got one!” Hank exclaimed, then he and Katie pulled a nice size blue gill from pond. “Well, what do ya know?!”
“That’s a pretty good one, Daddy!” Katie yelled, jumping up and down. “I’d like my kids to learn how to enjoy life and not take it so seriously,” Hank said as he helped Katie take the fish from the hook. “I want them to care about the things that really matter—home, family, love. Those are the important things.“