By Robert Silva
Does musical talent pass from father to son? It certainly seems to be the case with some country musicians. While heeding tradition, these talents blaze artistic trails that separate themselves from their famous parents.
When Hank Williams died at the age of 29, the spotlight fell on his namesake. From an early age, Hank Jr. was pressured to play his dad's songs and ape his father's singing style. While the young one's renditions of "Long Gone Lonesome Blues" and "Your Cheatin' Heart" are just as affecting as his father's, he still must have bristled against the cage put around his creativity. Hank Jr.'s rebellion came full-force in the 1970s when he launched a bristling blend of country and Southern rock with songs like "Whiskey Bent and Hellbound" and "Family Tradition," signaling his break from the past.
Lyrical Debt to Dad: "It's hard standing in the shadow/of a very famous man" (from "Standing in the Shadows").
Justin Townes Earle (a.k.a. the son of Steve Earle) was named after singer-songwriter Townes Van Zandt. Were his parents trying to plant a seed in his mind? If so, they succeeded. From his 2007 EP Yuma to 2010's Harlem River Blues, Townes Earle has shown himself to be among the most talented new singer-songwriters. Luck for him, it's in a completely different way than his dad. While Steve Earle bears the definitive imprint of Bruce Springsteen, Townes Earle's taste hews closer to classic honky-tonk. "One More Night in Brooklyn" is a wee bit folky, but "What I Mean to You," "South Georgia Sugar Babe," and "Hard Livin'" are sure-fire boot-stompers.
Lyrical Debt to Dad: "I ain't foolin' no one/I am my father's son" (from "Mama's Eyes").
The son of Waylon Jennings and singer Jessi Colter, Shooter Jennings isn't shy about tipping his hat to his dad. Like Waylon, Shooter plays country music that's fueled with the raw energy of rock-and-roll. Stylistically, Shooter's records Put the O Back in Country and Electric Rodeo are a natural progression from his father's outlaw sound. Unlike his father, however, Shooter draws upon Southern rock influences such as Lynyrd Skynyrd and The Allman Brothers Band, buoyed by caterwauling guitars. Tracks like "It Ain't Easy" and "The Song Is Still Slipping Away" do his pop proud.
Lyrical Debt to Dad: "And forget about the money/Money ain't brought nothing to your daddy but pain" ("It Ain't Easy").
Bobby Bare, Sr. gained his fame with straight-shooters like "All American Boy" and "500 Miles From Home." Bobby Bare Jr. experiments in sounds that push him into the indie-rock vanguard. Yet the son's country roots are evident if you look beneath the surface. Bare Jr. is at his most rootsy on "Stay in Texas," laquered with pedal-steel guitar, and "Painting her Fingernails" written by Shel Silverstein, one of his father's main collaborators. Meanwhile, on 2010's A Storm, A Tree, My Mother's Head, father and son share writing credits on the grim "But I Do" and grimmer "One Of Us Has Got To Go."
Lyrical Debt to Dad: "I should a stayed at the top but I wanna rock/Momma held my hands, daddy held my legs" (from "The Sky is the Ground").
It's strange enough when lightning strikes twice. But what about three times? Well, Hank Williams III is the evidence for that. The son of Hank Williams Jr., Hank III in many ways more closely resembles his famous grandfather with his hell-raising spirit, multiple addictions, emaciated features, and alley-cat singing. Grandad's live-fast, die-young ethos is certainly intact in Hank III's 2006 record Straight to Hell, a refreshing slap in the face to country-pop. Tracks such as "Some People Don't Like Us," "Pills I Took," and "Dick In Dixie" make his own father's work look tame by comparison.
Lyrical Debt to Dad: "Well I'm a son of a son/I've got **** for what I've said an' done" (from "Some People Don't Like Us").