Why Hank Williams?
Hank is the single most influential figure in country music history. He was the first real megastar of country whose music landed on both the country and pop charts. He was the first real singer/songwriter who wrote from his life experience and that endeared him to audiences. Whatever Hank was going through in life, he wrote about it in his music, good or bad. He is a member of the Country Music Hall of Fame and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as one of its founding fathers. He set the course that country and rockabilly music were to follow to this very day. He also had that bad-boy darkness about him and he was one of the first of our major entertainers to live the “live fast, love hard and die young” syndrome. It is my job to bring his music back to his fans as well as those who have never heard it.
When did you discover your ability to perform as Hank Williams?
In the early 1990s, I was working at the Opryland theme park in Nashville, Tenn. In the show I was in, “Country Music USA,” I was asked to portray Hank Williams among others. A few years later, the director of the Hank Williams biographical play “Lost Highway” saw me at the park and asked me to read for the role of Hank. That led to my role as Hank at the famous Ryman Auditorium in Nashville and later to my winning the off-Broadway award, the Obie (2003), in New York City. You have to be in the right place at the right time with the right talent … and then you have to get lucky.
How long have you been performing?
I have been performing onstage since 1989. I started the Hank role in “Lost Highway” in 1996. My current show, “Hank and My Honky Tonk Heroes,” was conceived, written and performed for the first time in 2001 and has been going strong since. This show at the Alhambra marks my third appearance in Jacksonville since 2006. The “Hank and My Honky Tonk Heroes” show came about when I was doing research for the role in “Lost Highway.” I was able to meet and interview Grand Ole Opry stars who knew Hank, band members, family members and friends of Hank and they provided me with thousands of stories about the man. These stories I took and wrote the show. Audiences will see it along with about 20 of Hank’s greatest hits.
What’s the most challenging aspect of being on the road?
Being away from my family is tough since I have a 5-year-old girl (Loralei) and a 2-year-old boy (James). Loralei was born during our last run in Jacksonville in 2007.
What’s the best part?
The people I meet. Plain and simple. Seeing the faces of a happy audience and knowing that for two hours you made them forget their cares and worries and put a smile on their faces means the world to me. Getting to see the world is great, but it’s the people that make life worth living. The more I meet, the happier I am.
Jason Petty brings his performance of Hank Williams to the Alhambra Theatre & Dining starting Tuesday through Aug. 19. Williams died Jan. 1, 1953, at the age of 29. Petty, his wife, Hope, and their two children live in Manchester, Tenn. He declines to provide his age, saying it “is undetermined.”