Shelton Hank Williams calls himself an "outlaw," and he's got the rehab stints (for marijuana), the family squabbles and the paternity suit to prove it. "He's a hell-raiser," says Nashville critic Robert Oermann. "That's part of the family tradition."

Known as Hank Williams III, the 29-year-old country-music blue blood is the grandson of legendary crooner Hank Williams and son of redneck icon Hank Jr. Tattooed and rail-thin, with a taste for hard-driving honky-tonk tunes, Hank III looks, sounds—and acts—most like his granddad, who died of a morphine overdose at 29. "I've got an addictive personality," says Williams, whose second solo album, Lovesick, Broke & Driftin', has earned critical raves.

But some ties are not binding. The Nashville native says he hasn't seen his father in nearly three years. "They are both stubborn and have hurts," says his mother, Gwen Yeargain Williams, 54, a formal-wear shop manager, who raised her only child alone after she and Hank Jr. divorced in 1977. At age 15, Hank III started playing in punk-rock bands, but switched to country music—and the Hank III moniker—five years later, when he learned he had a 3-year-old son from a one-night stand and had to pay child support.

Although Williams—who lives with his girlfriend, Melissa Miller, 28, in Nashville—was correct in thinking his illustrious lineage would open doors, success, he says, was up to him. "The true Hank III fans," he says, "want me to be me."