NASHVILLE, Tenn. – How's this for being out of fashion? When Lost Highway Records put together a tribute album to his father last year, Hank Williams Jr. wasn't asked to contribute.
"Yeah, I heard about that and I thought, 'Gosh, they never called,"' the 52-year-old country music singer said. "Maybe I didn't get the message."
But the record label did ask his son, Hank Williams III, who did a song on the Grammy-nominated Timeless — Hank Williams Tribute CD.
He brushes off the slight. But it shows the odd turn his career has taken. Although deeply grounded in the blues and other American roots music, his bombastic image prevents him from fitting in with the trendy alternative country crowd that's embraced his son.
Radio stations have turned away from his new music, preferring younger country stars. Without airplay, Williams, who's sold millions of albums, hasn't been able to expand his fan base.
"I don't know about radio," Williams said. "We've got so many artists, and every one of them are 18 to 20 and there are beautiful new girls with great voices. I don't know what chance I really have."
His new CD, Almeria Club, may provide the answer. It's his first album in three years — and the best in more than a decade. Williams jumps effortlessly from blues to rockabilly to country, and he's thrown enough curves into the mix — including guest spots by Kid Rock and bluegrass group Nickel Creek — to generate interest.
Williams, who has managed the difficult task of creating a separate identity while acknowledging his heritage, has tapped into a bit of family lore for this new CD.
It all began with an invitation to a fish fry in Troy, Ala. It was there that he discovered the Almeria Club, where, according to legend, his father and mother jumped out of a window one night in 1947 when things got violent.
Williams loved the story and vibe of the building, so he brought in audio equipment and recorded most of the new CD there. A church in Kansas City, Kan., and the old stage of the Louisiana Hayride radio show in Shreveport were used for other songs.
"I've made 70 or 80 albums, so I have to look for ways to make each one special," Williams said. "The Almeria was a natural, and the musicians said it was the most fun project they had ever done, way out in the middle of south Alabama in a 100-year-old schoolhouse that was turned into a honky-tonk."
Almeria Club includes "Tee Tot Song," the best song he's ever written about his father, who was 29 when he died of a drug and alcohol overdose in 1953. Williams was 3 years old.
He began as a tribute act to his father. Then he began pushing his music into a Southern Rock direction, influenced by groups such as Lynyrd Skynyrd and the Marshall Tucker Band. "Family Tradition" and "Whisky Bent and Hell Bound" were among his rowdy '70s hits.
After a fall off a mountain in Montana in 1975, Williams was sidelined for a year. But he came back, reaching his commercial peak in the 1980s.
Today, his influence pops up in surprising places.
Kid Rock, the Detroit rock-rapper who's parlayed his over-the-top image into multiplatinum success, regularly performs Williams' "A Country Boy Can Survive." And he collaborated on "Naked Women and Beer," one of the songs on Williams' 2000 box set.
"There was a lot of country in our house growing up," Kid Rock explained during an appearance on Country Music Television's Crossroads show, which pairs country stars with an admirer from another music genre. "I guess the influence will always be there in my music."
Williams and Kid Rock perform "The 'F' Word" song on Almeria Club, which also includes a humorous take on Williams' love of "Big Top Women."
The album ends with "America Will Survive," a rewrite of "A Country Boy Can Survive" inspired by the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
"It's an album with my name on it that I can be proud of," Williams said. "I've made so many albums, and I've got all kinds of trophies on my wall. This one was a labor of love."