Hank Williams Jr.: Wild Man Tamed By Love (1994)
originally published August 9, 1994
Mellowed by time and devoted to family, the wild man who was Hank Williams Jr. has been tamed.
``Bottom line is, you can just go so long before you get a little tired,'' the legendary singer told COUNTRY WEEKLY during a rare and exclusive visit to his sprawling Montana ranch.
``Twenty-five is different from 35, and 45 is different from 35. That's just the way it is in life,'' said the man dubbed Bocephus by his famous father.
``I used to roll in the doldrums of misery and in the pit of hell, with all the stuff I could possibly stick in my body -- that sorrowful trip. Well, that ended a long time ago,'' he said.
The demons that once pursued this mercurial star seemed far away from Stevensville, Mont., where Hank sat down with COUNTRY WEEKLY at his never-before-photographed Bitterroot Valley retreat.
There, Mr. Rowdy chased daughter Katie so he could deliver hugs and kisses to his 20-month-old bundle of energy.
``She's got a mind of her own,'' he said with a laugh.
``Come back here, Little Audrey,'' he gently pleaded, amused by the tyke's independence. The nickname is a playful reference to Hank's own headstrong stage mother, the late Audrey Williams.
Whenever Hank played his guitar and sang, little Katie danced, rocking forward at the waist in time to the rhythm. ``She likes the Bluegrass stuff,'' Hank said with a wink.
A lot of the wild is out of Hank, but he's still in his element in the wilds.
His mansion is 30 minutes south of Missoula near the Montana-Idaho border. He shares the remote 6,700-square-foot showplace with fourth wife Mary Jane and their daughter.
Montana provides a four-month-a-year getaway for the country superstar who, at 45, is trying to mount a career comeback.
``I think this album will do it,'' he said of *Hog Wild*. The album, on Curb Records, is due out this fall. He also has a new three-year contract as the *ABC Monday Night Football* pitchman tucked in his gunbelt.
His closest neighbors in Stevensville are rocker Huey Lewis and discount-brokerage mogul Charles Schwab. Williams also owns a huge cattle ranch on higher ground -- encircled by 300 miles of fencing -- 100 miles away in the Big Hole Valley.
``There aren't any headaches here,'' he explained. ``The headaches here are the cattle breaking the fences and the elk ruining the gates. They're not bad headaches to have.
``We have American bald eagles sitting in the trees here at home while you're drinking coffee, and eight-point bucks are just normal. Little baby ducks and geese come walking along. Pheasants,
grouse. Every kind of wildlife you can believe.
``Then up at the ranch, it's bear, elk and moose.''
The avid sportsman is one piece of Hank's image he's happy to hang onto and uphold with hunting and fishing trips. He knows the old Hank image well enough to list some of the misconceptions.
``Drinks two gallons of Jim Beam every day. Has big, wild orgies from dark to daylight,'' he scoffed.
``It's been a while since a Jim Beam bottle's been left in the front yard,'' confirmed his wife.
Mary Jane, an ex-Hawaiian Tropic bikini model from Delray Beach, Fla., has embraced Montana -- and her husband's passion for guns.
``When we fly commercial, I have to remember to take my gun out of my purse,'' she confided.
``She's serious about her looks, her cooking and her hunting and fishing,'' Hank added admiringly. It's taken some effort. The first time she saw a bear in a parking lot, she thought it was a German shepherd.
Their second African safari together (his 10th) is being planned for sometime next year. In February, Hank leaves for his fourth fishing expedition in the Venezuelan jungle.
On June 30, the day before their fourth wedding anniversary, Mary Jane secretly showed us her presents to Hank: a stunning custom-made diamond and onyx pendant of his initials, HW, and a matching wedding band.
Then Hank treated us to lunch at The Banque restaurant in nearby Hamilton, followed by a personally guided tour of Deadly Nostalgia, the antique gun shop he operates in Victor.
The five-time Entertainer of the Year, who single-handedly created the Young Country movement in the mid-'70s by integrating Southern rock with Nashville twang, was taking a month off from his Hog Wild Tour when he sat down with COUNTRY WEEKLY.
``I have this built-in, Grateful Dead-like following,'' he observed matter-of-factly. ``I can sit out here for six months and do nothing and then go make a big paycheck in one night. It's unbelievable to me -- I still don't believe it.''
While he appreciates his fans, he guards his privacy with Doberman tenacity.
``I'm just the way I am: I'm a pretty anti-social kind of guy and I don't want you comin' to my house,'' he growled over a tasty lunch and a pitcher of Beck's. ``I'll run you off with a 12-gauge pointed right at your head. You see where I live, don't you? I don't want nobody around if I don't know 'em. And don't come in my house and don't come in my yard, 'cause I don't want to see you.''
The right to bear arms is an issue close to his heart, and a family tradition.
``Nobody realizes Daddy had piles of [guns],'' he said. ``Minnie Pearl said he'd carry valises full of revolvers into his dressing room. Nobody knows that about Daddy.''
Hank Jr. ended up with seven of the hundreds of guns his father had owned.
``Merle Kilgore (Hank's manager) told me how he and Johnny Horton even pawned some. Merle said, `Hell, we didn't know he would become like a God, man. We were hungry.' ''
What Hank is hunting for now is another multiplatinum album after
a dry spell -- no Top 20 hits in four years. His favorite from the *Hog Wild* album: ``I Ain't Going Peacefully,'' his answer to those who might say his best years as a star are behind him.
He attained that stardom after the turmoil of following in his father's footsteps was compounded by a near-fatal accident. In 1975, he fell 500 feet off Ajax Mountain in Idaho, visible from his Big Hole property. Nine operations in four years rebuilt his face.
He returned to action in 1977 and began a string of country-rock hits that ditched his father's remaining audience but built one for himself. Among them were ``Family Tradition,'' ``Whiskey Bent and Hell Bound,'' ``Honky Tonkin' '' and one more that, finally, may apply to Hank Jr. himself: ``All My Rowdy Friends (Have Settled Down).''