Hank Williams Jr. released “A Country Boy Can Survive,” his anthem to flag-waving members of pick-up truck-driving small-town America, in 1982. The tribute to folks happily living in backwoods seclusion stood without comparison for nearly three decades.

Then, out of nowhere, came an equally impressive follow-up from a highly unlikely source. The lead singer from the popular alternative metal band Staind, Aaron Lewis, tapped into his musical roots soaked in the Outlaw Movement of the 1970s for his crossover country debut, “Country Boy,” in 2011.

The song pounds home the singer’s overwhelming love of country, family and guns — themes that resonate well with country music’s new brand of outlaw listener.

“It’s a story about my family. I remember there was always a flag at the Lewis farm that was lit up all night long,” Lewis said in a recent interview. “It’s amazing. On the last Staind tour, in the middle of the set, I would go out and play ‘Country Boy’ and it always got the biggest response of the night. And that was at a straight up rock show, with us and Godsmack.”

Lewis said he was apprehensive about his voyage into the country field. He didn’t know how the fans would react to a hardcore rocker covered in tattoos. However, the switch went extremely smooth as soon as fans heard his honest lyrics and a voice filled with unforced emotion.

His following has steadily increased since the conversion. After a performance last year at the Country Thunder mega-festival, he made a believer out of Blake Shelton.

“Blake said that he watched my show with Miranda and said, ‘Man, it figures that a rock star would come to an old festival like this and give the countriest show of the day, if not the countriest set I’ve hear all year.’ That’s pretty cool. It validates what I’m doing.”

Part of a seven-song “Town Line” project released in 2011 by Stroudavarious Records, there are three uniquely different versions of “Country Boy” on the recording, including a solid country effort featuring guest vocals by George Jones, Chris Young and Charlie Daniels.

Lewis will be in concert at 8 p.m. Saturday, March 30, at Harrah’s Casino in Metropolis. Tickets are $17.50, $27.50 and $37.50 and can be purchased by calling 888-263-6020.

At the Southern Illinois show, the 40-year old Massachusetts native will be promoting songs like “Granddaddy’s Gun,” “Forever” and “Endless Summer” from his first full-length country album, “The Road,” which was released Nov. 13 on Blaster Records.

The album was co-produced by Lewis and James Stroud. It features legendary session musicians like drummer Eddie Bayers, lead guitarist Brent Mason and steel guitarist Paul Franklin. Bass guitarist Mark Hill, a native of Olive Branch, also contributed.

“The whole record was done in one take, with a small fix here and there,” Lewis said.

Lewis wrote nine of the 10 songs on the album.

Born in Vermont and raised in Massachusetts, Lewis was first exposed to country music as a small child. His grandfa-ther would have the stereo blasting Waylon Jennings, George Jones, Merle Haggard and Johnny Cash when he went over for visits. He locked those classic songs in his long-term memory.

Homeless in 1993, Lewis met Mike Mushok at a Christmas party in Boston and they agreed to collaborate, eventually leading to forming the band Staind in 1995. The band has released seven studio albums, including most successful effort “Break the Cycle,” with world-wide sales topping 15 million copies units.

Staind’s hit list includes songs like “It’s Been Awhile,” “So Far Away,” “Fade,” “Tangled up in You” and “Something to Remind You.”

The band has announced it is taking a hiatus in 2013, but is not breaking up.

Lewis said his childhood love of country music was rekindled in 1999 when overcrowding on Staind’s tour bus caused him to hitch a ride with Kid Rock, who had a stereo system featuring only classic country music from the 1970s.

VINCE HOFFARD can be reached at 618-658-9095 or vincehoffard@yahoo.com


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