An East Texas audience will have a chance to experience a heartfelt tribute to the music of country music legend Hank Williams, as singer and musician Jake Penrod performs Hank Williams Remembered at 3pm March 8th at the Nacogdoches County Civic Center.
Penrod, a 28-year-old East Texan, will perform a full set of Williams’ songs, including his hits as well as a number of his lesser-known numbers, clad in Williams’ unmistakable white suit, musical notes emblazoned on the arms, legs and back. He can manipulate his voice to bear a striking resemblance to Williams’ very distinct vocal stylings and he even looks a bit like Williams at that age, as any good tribute artist should.
The show Penrod will perform in Nacogdoches has been in the refinement process over the last few years. He was discovered by concert producer David Stallings when he was performing at a small Opry in Texas. Stallings recognized Penrod’s love for Williams’ music and the idea developed from there.
Williams and his music has been with him since a young age, Penrod said.
When he was around 8 years old he saw a TV commercial for a Williams record and was immediately hooked.
“It was just something different and it got my attention so I started listening to that,” Penrod said. “Of course, my parents though I was weird. And this was around 1992, 1993, so George Strait and Garth Brooks are huge and I’m listening to Hank Williams. That led me to Webb Pierce and Ray Price and other artists like that.”
That older style of country music has always held a larger appeal to him, Penrod said, and it had a tremendous influence on his development as a musician and singer.
“My dad bought me a guitar when I was 10 and the first songs I tried to sing were Hank songs. Since I listened to him more than anything else, that’s what taught me how to sing. I started emulating his style and I guess I ended up sounding like him,” he said.
Listening to Williams’ music for so long has allowed him to fully appreciate the journey the man went through, personally and musically, Penrod said.
“At the time, when I was younger, his songs didn’t really mean anything to me. But then as I grew up and started experiencing some of the same things (he would sing about), it was like, man, this guy is a human being. He’s been called the greatest songwriter because of his ability to take the most simple stuff and make it really profound. Listening to his whole body of work, you really understand how human he was when history has made him this big legend,” he said.
“After a while you just start to feel like you knew the person. Hank Williams fans everywhere will tell you that, after a point, you really start to feel like you knew him.
Whether it’s one particular song or something you hear, it will suddenly hit you that you’ve known this guy your whole life and you don’t know how.”
It’s not simply Williams’ physical and vocal mannerisms that Penrod attempts to emulate on stage, but precisely that emotion and humanity he described.
“When you hear some people imitate Hank, they’ll overdo the twang. He was always known for his body movements, too, so that gets lampooned quite a bit.
The man was singing about things he felt very seriously about, so I perform his stuff much like I would my own,” he said. “You just tap into that place, whether he’s singing about the woman of his dreams, most people have at some point in their life been close to that so you just have to try and understand what he’s feeling and not just sing the song. My approach to impersonating him is a bit different. Instead of trying to sell it, I just try to be as realistic as possible.”
While he gradually learned how to sing just like Williams thanks to more than a decade of listening to records, it was a bit difficult to find material that helped Penrod learn how to emulate Williams’ physical mannerisms.
“There’s not much footage to go from. I’ve seen “Hey Good Lookin’” from the Kate Smith Show and “Cold Cold Heart” from another taping of same show, and other just little bits from other tapings. There’s a grand total of about 10 minutes of him moving and actually performing, so there’s not much to go off of,” he said. “And if you watch other tribute artists, you can tell which video they’ve watched because they’ll pick this particular movement and then just do it over and over. I just sort of do my own thing, and hey if my knees manage to knock back-and-forth, then Hank did that.”
Mr. Penrod has appeared frequently on RFD-TV's TruCountry and RuralTV's Texas Pickin' Party. He has written more than 150 songs and is proficient on 14 musical instruments.
The Nacogdoches County Civic Center is located at 3805 NW Stallings Drive. Admission is $20 in advance, $25 at the door. Tickets are available at the Boot Barn Stores (Formerly Baskin's) in Nacogdoches and Lufkin.
For information or credit card orders, phone 888-218-6464. To learn more about Mr. Penrod and to view his videos, please visit Hank WilliamsRemembered or TexasPickinParty.tv