Q&A: Hank Williams Jr.
Hank Williams Jr.'s dressing room at the Raleigh Studios in Hollywood looks exactly like you'd think it would. There's a half empty bottle of Jim Beam, a box of cigars and a few "rowdy" friends, including an attractive blonde that wants to show off her new, um, chest in the hot tub later that night.
After completing the second of back-to-back 12-hour shooting day's for this season of Monday Night Football, Williams practically undresses on his way to the room, taking off his snake skin vest and cowboy hat in favor of a black and yellow "Steel Curtain" T-shirt and a crimson Alabama hat. After he kicks open the door to the dressing room and takes a seat in a director's chair set up in the middle of the room he pushes back his flight back home and invites everyone to join him back at the hotel to celebrate. "I'm going to take care of myself," he says. "The hot tub sounds like a good place to start."
This season marks the 20th anniversary of Williams singing All My Rowdy Friends Are Here on Monday Night, a song based on his hit, All My Rowdy Friends Are Coming Over Tonight, which he originally sang in 1989 for the 20th anniversary season of Monday Night Football. After playing with an "All-Star Band" the past two seasons, he's returning to his roots this year with a "House Party" theme, complete with everything except for maybe a hot tub. I caught up with Williams in his dressing room to talk about the song that has come to epitomize football on Monday nights for the past two decades.
SI.com: What do you remember about that call you got 20 years ago when you found out Monday Night Football wanted to use one of your songs for the opening of the show?
Williams: Well, my manager at the time called and said, 'You're not going to believe this but brother they want to use your song, All My Rowdy Friends Are Coming Over Tonight, to open Monday Night Football for something like 20 million viewers. They want you to rewrite it but it's going to be the opening of Monday Night Football." Unbelievable. I couldn't believe it. I said, "Are you kidding me?" and he said, "No, I'm not. I'm dead serious and so are they." It was a one year deal and here we are 20 years later.
SI.com: When was the moment you knew that catchphrase "Are You Ready For Some Football" had caught on and this was going to be more than a one year thing?
Williams: It just took off. Everyone was saying it. Next thing I know, I've won four Emmys and opened five Super Bowls, even Al Michaels told me, "That's an American signature." He wasn't even on the show when he told that it was an American signature. It's a permanent part of the entertainment and sports world. About the third or fourth game that first season it was sky rocketing, I was hearing it everywhere. It was unbelievable.
SI.com: The Monday Night Football re-write came five years after All My Rowdy Friends Are Coming Over Tonight was released. Was that even one of your favorite songs? Did you think much of it at the time?
Williams: It was a big hit, sure, but now there's people who don't even know that it was originally All My Rowdy Friends Are Coming Over Tonight but they damn sure know All My Rowdy Friends Are Here on Monday Night. It opened a lot of doors.
SI.com: You change the lyrics for every game, based on the teams, that's mainly why these shoots are so long. You're recording the openings of all 17 regular season games. Is that challenging or have you gotten used to it by now?
Williams: Oh yeah, I like it. We record one for every game. They'll give me lyrics and I'll usually change a few things. We'll all look at each other and laugh at some of them. Like, "One team has tradition, the other cheesy ...," and I said, "What the [heck] is this?" They're talking about the Packers, of course, and I'll tell them, look, cheesy does not sing real well. Oh yeah, we'll change them all the time. They'll write, "Thunder and lighting and the thunder and the lighting bolt," and I'll say, "Wait a minute, we have too many syllables in five seconds here and, I'll just shorten it down. For example, you can't say, "There's going to be a battle in San Diego tonight." That doesn't sing well. In that situation we'll usually use the stadium name or a nickname like Chi-town, Steel City, Music City, anything. Some of them we'll have to lose a lot of words. They put too many in there.
SI.com: So ESPN will send you the lyrics and you basically change everything?
Williams: Oh yeah, every single time. I'll say, "Look guys, I don't know who wrote this, but this is horrible." I look at some of those lyrics and I say, "America, doesn't know that word." Like when they told me to sing, "latte" in Seattle. I said, "Let me tell you something brother. My people don't know no [crap] about no damn latte. You understand me?" Like my buddies in Kansas City that took about the hood all the time, they don't know what no damn latte is. I said that lines got to go, I'll say Seahawks not latte. They were dying; they said, "Yeah, you're right about that." I don't think Monday Night Football fans have a lot of lattes. They might have a little beer or Colt 45 malt liquor but not lattes.
SI.com: That first Monday Night Football song, how much of lyrics did they write and how much it did you write?
Williams: It was 50/50. They would say what do you think about this and they'd suggest doing that. If you really delve into this thing, I did a song one year called, Monday Night Football Boogie, which Frank, Al and Dan were in and I'd sing, "We're going to make you smile, get rid of your blues, Monday Night Football Boogie for you." That was a song I wrote just for that year they used it. There's quite a discography there if you look back over those 20 years. There were a couple seasons where I didn't even say, "Are you ready for some football?"
SI.com: How has the song and that catch phrase changed your life?
Williams: Well, what this is done has made corporate America and every doorman and every limo driver in this country know me and know that song. When I get out of the car, they know. They give me a smile and say, "Come right on in, my man." Some of them might not even know my name but they'll open up the doors and say, "Hey baby, come right on in." It's been great.
SI.com: When you look back over your 20 years on Monday Night Football, what's been the biggest highlight for you?
Williams: It has to be working those five Super Bowls. Oh, god, yeah, that was something. That would be up there with the biggest moment of my life. You get to meet every player you've ever watched and looked up to. I had Joe Montana come up to me and say, "Oh man, that song pumps me up before I go out there and play." Brett Favre told me the same thing. Older guys like Kenny Stabler and Terry Bradshaw would tell me how much they liked it. Talk about opening some doors. I'm a football fan. I keep up with this stuff so talking to those guys are the highlights.
SI.com: You're a big Steelers and you were there working when they won their last Super Bowl, what was that?
Williams: Are you kidding me? I'm doing the Super Bowl, it's on ABC, it was the Steelers against the Seahawks in Detroit with me and Kid Rock running all around. Talk about a home town ball. I was treated like a king by all the Steeler people. That was a fun one. Old Bill [Cowher] had been waiting a long time for that trophy. That was a real fun one.
SI.com: When you look back at how the show has changed over the years, now it's on ESPN and you're basically the last link the show has from its old days on ABC, is hard to keep track of all the changes?
Williams: If I sat down and watched every single opening, I would see things that I had forgotten. I was watching some the other day and I said, "Oh my god, I forget Little Richard was in that segment or I forgot the President of the United States was in that segment." I've been doing it for song long it's hard to keep track.
SI.com: What about when celebrities say your catchphrase, is that ever surreal for you?
Williams: Yeah, it's interesting. They're not going to do that this year, maybe that's a good thing. I don't want to embarrass anyone but some of them murdered it. I'll say, "What did they get that idiot for?" God that awful. It's different. When I would have my friends from the Chiefs and the Kansas City area call me, and my nickname was Sam and they'd say, "Sam, who in the hell is running that opening? Man, that is bad. You got to rid of that fool." I said, "Look, I don't own ABC, I'm not Mickey Mouse, you think I can just pick up the phone." They'll just shake they're head and say, "Man, that's horrible." We went through our ups and downs.
SI.com: What's your take on the Steelers this year; do you think you'll be seeing them in the Super Bowl again?
Williams: They'll be improved this year, I think. They're not going to be no 8-8 but I don't know if they're going to be in the Super Bowl but they're always going to be competitive. Look at the Giants last year. I've nailed several people about this; there are a couple players on that world championship team from Troy State in Alabama and they couldn't believe me. I told them to watch Osi Umenyiora put Tom Brady on his back and you see how they handled New England. DeMarcus Ware is from Troy State too. These guys, Umenyiora, Lawrence Tynes, Ware, they're Troy State boy and that's where my father met my mother in south Alabama, way down there. The Giants have hard working bunch led by a guy named Manning that from Ole Miss who did pretty good too and I don't mean Archie or Peyton, I'm talking about Eli. That team was about to go 2-3 and they didn't get into the playoffs until the last week. That was an exciting Super Bowl, I loved it. I couldn't believe the Giants were a 4-to-1 underdog, what a stupid line. Boy, that was a good time to go to Vegas. We need another one or two like that.
SI.com: You're wearing an Alabama hat and you like Troy State but do have a college team you follow?
Williams: Well, I liked the old Alabama with Bear Bryant and we've been having our ups and downs the last several years. It was hard. We lost to Louisiana-Monroe last year. It was rough. We're transition as they say. But I like where Nick Saban is taking this team. College ball is exciting. It's fun to watch. Last year little Appalachian State goes into Michigan and knocks them off. Loved it. Knocked them off. We've had some huge upsets the past couple years. You look at USC losing to a 40-point underdog in Stanford. I'm from that SEC region and I love college ball. It's fun seeing those guys develop and then sign a big deal in the NFL. I saw Jay Cutler from little Vanderbilt after he signed his first deal and I said, "This is nice but I want to see you when you sign the next one because this is nice, but this is going to look like Cheerios compared to the next one," and he looked at me wide-eyed and said, "You really think so, Hank?" The next one will be the huge. This is just the appetizer. You're going to get into the filet a little bit later.
SI.com: Finally, the Raiders are one of the teams that open up Monday Night Football but it's their only appearance of the season and we won't be seeing MNF staples like the Chiefs and the Dolphins at all this year. What's your take on these Monday Night regulars now becoming bottom dwellers?
Williams: I'd like to see the Chiefs do better. I'd like to see them turn it around but guys move around so much and I guess it makes it interesting. Unfortunately I guess the Raiders will always be the Raiders. It could only get better, can it get any worse? How could it get worse? They're terrible. I'm sure I'll get some letters for that.
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