Ray Van Horn, Jr. is a veteran entertainment journalist whose writing and live photography has been featured in Blabbermouth.net, Dee Snider’s House of Hair Online, Fangoria.com, Horror News.net, About.com Heavy Metal, MetalManiacs, New Noise, Music Dish, AMP, Hails & Horns, Unrestrained,Noisecreep, Impose, Pit, The Big Takeover.com, Rough Edge.com, Pitriff and others. His blog The Metal Minute won a “Best Personal Blog” award in 2009 from Metal Hammer magazine and he wrote and produced his own hard rock e-zine, Retaliate.

He has contributed essays to UK author Neil Daniels’ Iron Maiden and ZZ Top biographies. Ray’s fiction has been published in various periodicals and anthologies, including his flash fiction piece “Off the Record” for Akashic Books’ “Mondays Are Murder” noir series. His recent short stories “Before the Ball” and “Widow” were featured in subsequent editions of Alex S. Johnson’s Axes of Evil anthologies. Ray wrote serialized original superhero fiction for Cyber Age Adventures and five of those stories appear in the anthology Playing Solitaire. He was the winner of Quantum Muse’s fiction contest in 1999.

Ray is a former NHL game analyst for The Hockey Nut and one-time host of the forum “Comic Books” at ReadWave. He has done beat reporting, photography and lifestyle articles for Metromix, an affiliate of The Baltimore Sun, Carroll Magazine, The Northern News and The Emmitsburg Dispatch.

Monday, June 23, 2014

An Evening With Hank, III

As I mentioned in yesterday's Triple Play, I had the pleasure of coming down to Ram's Head in Baltimore, Maryland to catch a four hour, ten minute set from Hank Williams, III that ran a round robin of country, bluegrass, punk, doom metal and grinding cattle 'core. 

I'd been invited down by David McElfresh, with whom I've opened a nice little friendship after reviewing Hank's current album A Fiendish Threat and subsequently, David's side project, Moonbow over at Blabbermouth.  We'd talked about Hank's upcoming tour a couple months back, but with the scattershot craziness of my life, I'd forgotten to check the local venue itineraries this week.  I'd received a message from David about the show and since I'd previously given my word I would come down to the gig, I was fortunate to be in the position to keep my promise.  I've been a fan of Hank's music for a long while, anyway, so it was a win-win to come down and see David and to meet the third in a lineage of country music royalty.  Not that Hank, III cares anything about prestige.  The cat's one humble mofo.

Hardly my best photography work, this shot below is from Hank, III's two hour country and bluegrass set.  To describe the atmosphere of the rafters-packed Ram's Head during the country portion of Hank's show is to pull to mind any cliché you know about rowdy honky tonks and country bars.  Stuffed with hosses, honeys and hellbillies, the crowd was whooping it up as if the Mason Dixon line had nudged Baltimore due south.  Screaming and hollering prevailed, along with beer, beer and more beer, while certain daring souls lit up their stashes, despite the no smoking policy of the venue.  This was essentially a no-rules mindset from the audience and within forty-five minutes of the country set, I was watching a lumbering drunk parade stagger every which way.  I was doused in beer from one blitzed fool who'd wasted good money by showering people with his can.  Meanwhile, more than just one cup of beer came flying at Hank from the crowd as suds twirled in perpendicular arcs.  I'm just grateful nothing fried the band's equipment.  I also thought to myself that at least it was beer flying onstage and not the old punk days of gobbing. 

Those who weren't absolutely shitfaced were shifting their eyes around the room, some of the burliest men scanning for potential scrapping partners.  The fisticuffs came toward the end of the country leg, though sanity prevailed and security cleaned those duking polecats out the door.

As Hank shifted gears to the punk portion of the evening, he focused on tracks from A Fiendish Threat before the house lights dimmed and Hank let his long strands fly free as he began an hour-plus doom metal set from his alter ego band, Attention Deficit Domination.  In the vein of Neurosis, the white backdrop behind him ran through a two hour-film filled with classic movie monsters, sci-fi and in-between, political chopping and flashed anecdotes about human atrocities.  The metalheads who'd hung through the country portion now owned the venue and though a quarter portion of the country-only audience had hit the bricks, Ram's Head was still heavy with supporters.

Throughout the night, crowd surfers were rolling along the tides of obliging hands, though to me it looked downright silly during a pure country segment.  Later, the surfing got out of control and it was those who were the most bombed that kept trying to get put up for a surf.  One kid who looked barely old enough to drink kept bugging the snot out of me and others in my vicinity for anyone to lift him up.  As wrecked as he was, no one was going to let him potentially bust himself to pieces.  Of course, for our consideration of his well-being, we were called "pussies." 

Later, in the slam pit, the heavier Hank cranked it onstage, the more insane this one obnoxious lummox of a guy got.  Nearly twice the size of those in the pit, he invited anyone who dared to wrestle-dance with him.  Where moshing devolved into this horsecrap is beyond me, but that went to hell in a hurry as one smaller guy with enough booze in him kept at it with this guy.  The wrestling turned ugly as the bigger asshole finally choke-slammed the smaller one to the floor in front of us and gave him a pop in the face, screaming "Get up, man!"  Ahh, just another night at the ol' concert hall.

For me, the climax of the entire show came with the 3 Bar Ranch portion, which was, on-album, Hank, III shredding guitar and laying down sicko drum beats to a backdrop of rhythmic cattle calls.  Presenting this live, it went far deeper as he, David McElfresh and drummer Phil Cancilla donned cattle rustler garb and torched the venue with blazing grind metal that was so precise yet rambunctious it was the perfect closure to a mind-blowing marathon of diverse music theories.

After the show, I met up with David McElfresh, who was immediately hospitable toward me backstage.  In the meantime, Hank, III had not even finished unplugging after the 3BR finale before he jumped overtop the barricade in front the stage on the floor to meet his fans.  This I absolutely must flag about the man.  He's been praised and he's been villainized.  He's run his gauntlets amidst family and peers.  Pure country folk get on his butt about his other musical affinities.  I appreciate his maverick ways and salute the fact he can give multiple demographics of music fans something to gnaw on.  He's prolific and he means whatever he says.  His mission to have his grandfather Hank Williams reinstated at the Grand Ole Opry is to be commended, even if that struggle continues on fruitlessly.  Best yet, he's more than decent to his fans and supporters. 

While David and I were talking a while, Hank ran out of the venue and invited those he hadn't yet met with to follow him to the bus lot.  I was invited to hang out on the bus for a bit while Hank continued to hang with his fans.  I watched a younger girl burst into tears after getting his autograph and a photo with him.  It was endearing to me, since the jaded world being what it is today, you just don't see that kind of mutual appreciation between artist and fan as much as you used to. 

On the bus, I was handed another beer and talked briefly with Phil Cancilla and Duane Denison of Tomahawk and Jesus Lizard, who is part of Hank, III's country ensemble for this tour.  The tour manager made sure I was good and asked if I'd yet met Hank.  I've seen many piss poor tour managers over the years, but there are plenty of good ones out there and this one ranks amongst the good.  Finally, I was able to get a minute with Hank and as you can see, he obliged me a couple of photos.  The last one, he took himself, which I dub "3 Dude Selfie."  I was honored that he'd remembered my reviews over the years and it closed a memorable evening of music and meet 'n greet. 

I want to thank both David McElfresh and Hank, III for their hospitality and for taking good care of me all evening.  Let me also give David his props for being a terrific multi-instrumentalist who hung through the entire show.  He moved from fiddle to slide guitar to keys and electronics and then second electric guitar.  Very impressive work, my man.  Ditto for Phil Cancilla drumming away all night.  The three of them killed it during the 3 Bar Ranch portion when other bands would be ready to drop at that point.

I got home at 3:30 a.m. and was back up an hour-and-a-half later to do a 5K walk that was held to bring awareness to ovarian cancer.  I was plenty jazzed from the show that I licked those three miles with ease and enjoyed making new friends at that event.  Those are some special women, including my stepsister Tina (a survivor), for whom I was walking, but all of that's an entirely different bowl of enchilada for another story.

                         Listenin' to:  Hank, III - Risin' Outlaw

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