Considering all the acclaim Chris Stapleton earned for his raw, revealing breakout album Traveller, you'd think the man touring amphitheaters with him this summer would jump at the chance to lob a few attaboys his way.
Well, that man happens to be Hank Williams Jr., the hell-raising country outlaw who has long since run out of flying flips to give the world. And he ain't lining up to lick Stapleton's boots just yet.
"Well, I haven't heard the album," Williams wrote in an email to the Times. "I don't listen to much radio, so if it somebody that I don't know, I probably don't know their music either."
And he really doesn't know Stapleton? The reigning CMA Award winner for Best Male Vocalist and Grammy winner for Best Country Album?
"I have not worked with Chris in the past, nor do I remember ever meeting him," Williams wrote. "I always ask any of the artists that open up if they know Family Tradition, since that's my last song in the set, and if they do, I normally ask them to come on out and take a verse and have fun. When that song is done, I am gone. Headed right for the plane to head home."
Even over email — his preferred mode of interrogation — the man they call Bocephus has a take-it-or-leave-it way with words. It's served him pretty well over the past 50 years, as he's gone from being merely Hank Sr.'s son to one of the biggest and best-selling stars in country music history. Let's be honest: For all his acclaim, Stapleton is treading ground that Hank Jr. helped bulldoze; he's always dosed his twang with hearty dollops of rip-roaring Southern smoke and fire.
Williams and Stapleton are playing eight shows together this month, starting Friday at Tampa's MidFlorida Credit Union Amphitheatre. For Williams, the shows come in support of his rollicking, rambunctious and all-out fun new album It's About Time, but he'll surely dip into his catalog of country classics like A Country Boy Can Survive, All My Rowdy Friends Are Coming Over Tonight and, yes, Family Tradition, perhaps with a cameo by ol' what's-his-name with the beard.
Here's a bit of our email exchange, edited slightly for length and clarity.
Who came up with the idea to pair you and Chris Stapleton for a tour?
Well, my agent Greg Oswald told me that he was a big fan of my stuff and wanted to do some shows. Normally I don't know who is opening a show until I get to the show just before going on stage, but Greg really said we should do a package with Chris. I only do about 25 shows a year and I do not really do tours. I play when I want to, for who I want to, so it just kinda happened from there. They originally wanted me to do like 20 shows, and I picked eight to do with him.
A lot of country songs complain about the loss of how the industry used to be — for example, your song Those Days Are Gone laments the lack of Merle Haggard, George Jones and David Allan Coe on the radio. When did country radio stop embracing those artists, and why?
Music lives in cycles. One day, one type of music is on top and the next year another genre is on top. Either the fans love you or they jump from one artist to another. I have been very lucky, as I have some of the most loyal, hardcore fans in the business. No matter where I am playing they seem to show up and make our shows a good time. As any artist, we all want to be on radio, but things change. I must say that with the new label that I am with, Nash Icon/Big Machine, I am back in the charts and it sure feels great.
If you could (A) bring one thing back to modern country music, and (B) take one thing away from modern country music, what would they be?
What inspired you to name-drop Nicki Minaj and jewelry designer David Yurman on Dress Like an Icon?
My son Sam Williams is a fan of hers and went a show in Nashville to see her; and my wife is a fan of David's jewelry. Those are names I have heard and knew what they did, so when it came time to rhyme the words, it was easy to plug them in And it worked out great.
Speaking of how to dress: You still sell merch that incorporates the Confederate flag. Given all the uproar over the past year, have you considered ditching that merch?
We still sell a ton of merch at the shows!
At the same time, you also sell merch that incorporates the American flag. Why is it important to see the American flag reflected your merchandise?
On my new album I have a song called God and Guns, and I have done many songs over the years about patriotism. I love this country and I am very vocal about my thoughts and beliefs. America is the greatest nation on the planet! The flag stands for America and freedom, something that we all love!
Contact Jay Cridlin at email@example.com or (727) 893-8336. Follow @JayCridlin.