Hank Williams Jr. Interview: Legendary Country Music Superstar Organizes Tornado Relief Telethon
Image attributed to Hank Williams Jr
Country music giant Hank Williams Jr. is known for singing “A Country Boy Can Survive,” “Old Habits,” “Kaw-Liga,” “Family Tradition,” and “Whiskey Bent and Hell Bound,” but this week the artist traveled to his beloved state of Alabama to offer hope and assistance to victims of the vicious tornado outbreak of April 25-28, 2011, that affected the Southern, Midwestern, and Northeastern United States.
With hundreds of people dead, many injured, and thousands of homes demolished, Williams decided the best way to raise money for the relief efforts was to contact all of the people he knew (and didn’t know) and hold a telethon. One was quickly organized, with the help of CMT, and is airing live from the Grand Ole Opry House stage and Studio A on Thursday, May 12, at 9:00 PM ET/8:00 CT on Country Music Television (CMT) and will be simulcast on CMT.com.
"I said, 'How dare the networks! What a poor choice when you’re looking for family members to show the Royal Wedding! What a poor choice by the networks.' That’s what I said. And I said, 'Bin Laden, to me, is on the back burner. This is bigger.' It is bigger. You don’t have to go to Mexico to help somebody. You can go right here in Alabama and Mississippi."
The telethon is entitled Music Builds: The CMT Disaster Relief Concert and will be re-broadcast by HLN Sunday, May 15 at 9:00 ET/8:00 CT. The program will highlight a number of regions affected by recent storm, tornado, and flooding damage including Tuscaloosa and Birmingham, Alabama; Natchez and Vicksburg, Mississippi; Vidalia, Louisiana; Dyersburg and Tiptonville, Tennessee; and Raleigh, North Carolina.
All money raised will benefit the American Red Cross Disaster Relief effort in the South.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Hank, are you still in Alabama today?
Hank Williams Jr.: No, I’m in west Tennessee. Jetted over to Nashville for camera blocking yesterday and go right back today at lunchtime.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): What areas of the state did you visit?
Hank Williams Jr.: We went from Birmingham to Tuscaloosa to Cullman and I’ve never seen destruction like that in my life. Never. A lot of my friends in that area said, “When you see it, you’re going to wonder why it didn’t kill thousands.” That’s what you’re going to say. And they were exactly right.
I was talking with the Weather Channel this morning and they agreed a hundred percent. I said, “I met some FEMA people and some medical people there,” and they said, “This is much worse than Katrina.” The Weather Channel agreed. It is much worse than Katrina. There’s no doubt about it, Melissa. Have you been there?
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): I’ve been to several cities where the destruction took place.
Hank Williams Jr.: 5,700 homes.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): We dodged a bullet in Montgomery.
Hank Williams Jr.: Yeah, we didn’t get hit at all.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Eclectic, Alabama is about 30 miles north of here and it was hit very badly. Did you know any of the families that were affected by the tornado?
Hank Williams Jr.: Well, unfortunately … I met … I didn’t personally know, but I met some people … pretty rough. They buried a ten year old and a fifteen year old. They said, “Fifteen kids were taken right there.” They pointed to an apartment area.
You think you’ve seen it all. We’d take a turn and go and there was another … it reminded me of a clearcut in Montana where the forest … a human clearcut. I still … I’ve never seen anything like it. I just can’t imagine. There’s nothing in nature worse than an F-5 tornado. Nashville has never had a tornado like that. They’ve never had one like this.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): It’s rare.
Hank Williams Jr.: Oh yeah. It is our state’s worst natural disaster in its history. I said, “I don’t want to run up here and call some friends and maybe we’ll play some football and maybe raise a couple of hundred thousand dollars.” Melissa, a couple of hundred thousand might last 6 hours of feeding and basic water, food, and clothes. In 2021, Tuscaloosa will not be back. When you’ve been there … well, there is no way to describe it to someone.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Were you personally there when the two children were found and buried?
Hank Williams Jr.: Oh God no. I’m not good at that. I mean, Derrick Thomas, I couldn’t even do the ESPN thing because I was blubbering all over the place and he was 34 years old. But, you know, there are 30 people still missing. They don’t know where they are.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Maybe they will be found.
Hank Williams Jr.: Oh gosh. But, I knew a couple of hundred thousand dollars was not going to make it so I decided on a telethon. Boy, for this to come together in a week like this! Everybody just jumped right in there. It has been wonderful.
I didn’t want to do just a benefit show. I said, “We’ve got to do something like they did for Haiti.” And bang! The manager said, “Every time I mentioned it, no one said ‘no.’” Some said, “I’m already booked and I’ll do a video clip, but no one said ‘no.’”
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Do you have a confirmed lineup?
Hank Williams Jr.: Oh, it has grown so much. It’s Lady Antebellum, Alabama, Tim McGraw, Alan Jackson …
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Probably Kid Rock also?
Hank Williams Jr.: Well, he gave $50,000. I was just with him at the Detroit hockey game a couple of nights ago and he said, “I’ll see you there.” Well, his son is graduating and it’s kind of killing him because we know each other really well. He said, “Man if it wasn’t for this graduation thing.” I said, “Don’t worry. You’ve given $50,000. My God, Bobby.” Hey, the New York Yankees gave half a million dollars. It’s wonderful!
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Has Coach Saban phoned you?
Hank Williams Jr.: He’s doing a video. He’s got a wonderful video. Ellen DeGeneres, Courteney Cox. The list goes on and on.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Courteney is from Birmingham.
Hank Williams Jr.: Well no wonder. I knew some of the people and some I didn’t know. The lady that owns the New York Giants … Oh man, she said that she called some of her rich friends. She said, “We’re going to raise a lot of money!”
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Have you thought of writing a new song to the tune of “A Country Boy Can Survive?”
Hank Williams Jr.: Well, when it all sinks in. Yeah, “America Can Survive.” It didn’t take 5 minutes to write that after 9-1-1. But, I’m so glad some other people agree with me and say, “How dare the networks show the Royal Wedding?”
I’ll be doing a thing with CNN at 3:30 today. They’re going to have Robin Meade there. It’s great. This has grown so much bigger than I ever expected and I really feel we’re going to raise a significant amount of money. CNN has never done this. They (HLN) will run this entire show Sunday night in prime time again. They’ve never done that.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): That’s great. The tornado devastation was sidelined in the news for a few days because of the Royal Wedding.
Hank Williams Jr.: What a joke.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): And then, of course, for the assassination of Osama Bin Laden.
Hank Williams Jr.: What a joke. Well, not sidelined in my world and not in a lot of our people’s world. Boy, if you had seen those heads in Tuscaloosa with microphones … yeah, they felt just like I did.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): What did you say to them about the news coverage?
Hank Williams Jr.: I said, “How dare the networks! What a poor choice when you’re looking for family members to show the Royal Wedding! What a poor choice by the networks.” That’s what I said. And I said, “Bin Laden, to me, is on the back burner. This is bigger.” It is bigger. You don’t have to go to Mexico to help somebody. You can go right here in Alabama and Mississippi.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): If people can’t make it to Nashville for the telethon, they can watch it on CMT and CMT.com.
Hank Williams Jr.: Of course. That’s what it’s all about.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): There will be phone numbers throughout the night to call for donations?
Hank Williams Jr.: Of course there will be and it will be repeated on Sunday night. It won’t be just for those two nights either. There will be some pretty famous people answering those phones up there, too (laughs).
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): People wishing to donate can also call after the telethon is completed.
Hank Williams Jr.: Absolutely.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Great. My time is about up, Hank. I appreciate your time today.
Hank Williams Jr.: Yeah, I’ve got one or two more and then I might even get to have a BLT after a while.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Sounds like a well-deserved reward (laughs). Thanks so much for what you are doing in the wake of this horrible disaster.
Hank Williams Jr.: Thank you Melissa.
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