Born January 26, 1953, Lake Charles, LA; daughter of Miller Williams (deceased) and Lucille Morgan; siblings: Robert, Karyn. Addresses: Addresses: Record Company--Mercury Records, 825 Eighth Avenue, New York, NY 10019. Home--Nashville, Tennessee.
By the time Lucinda Williams released Car Wheels on a Gravel Road in 1998 -- her first release of any kind in six long years--she'd been in the music business two decades. Between a history of delays due to a string of record-label debacles and her own notorious perfectionism, the record was only her fifth. Car Wheels was met with the kind of critical fanfare Williams had become used to. Rolling Stone called it a "country-soul masterpiece" in 1998, but also noted that, "beyond print media, where she's lionized whenever she sticks her head out of her lair, Lucinda Williams can hardly catch a break."
While Williams lacked a huge fanbase and impressive record sales, she caught quite a few breaks from other musicians. Many noteworthy artists respected her talents as a vocalist and songwriter enough to have wanted her on their own projects. They appreciated her "fantastically wrecked" voice and songs that blended rock, blues, gospel, country and folk. Add some heartbreak, a lot of wanderlust and perfect honesty, and Emmylou Harris, Tom Petty and Mary Chapin Carpenter--who recorded the Grammy-winning version of Williams'"Passionate Kisses"--eagerly covered her songs. Buddy Miller, Terry Allen and Steve Earle are among the artists who've sung duets with her. Her inclusion on countless compilations, including 1993's Sweet Relief , a benefit album for Victoria Williams (no relation), a musician afflicted with multiple sclerosis, is testimony to the respect she garnered from fellow musicians.
The Williams children were born moving. Lucinda was born in Lake Charles, Louisiana in 1953 to Lucille and poet Miller Williams, who read at President Clinton's second Inauguration. Her parents divorced when she was eleven and, in the custody of their father, the Williams children, including younger siblings Robert and Karyn, lived in nine cities--Jackson, Vicksburg, Atlanta and Macon, Georgia; Baton Rouge and New Orleans, Louisiana; Fayetteville, Arkansas; Mexico City, Mexico and Santiago, Chile--wherever their father found teaching work.
That momentum kept Williams on the move in her adult life and was a heavy influence on her as an artist. "I get restless," she told People in 1998. "I've always got one foot out the door." So she bounced back and forth between New York, Austin and Houston, Los Angeles and Nashville. Her penchant for movement was clear in Car Wheels . The title song evokes imagery that was almost literal. For a young girl whose home essentially was the road, that sound of car wheels on a gravel road would become quite familiar. Miller Williams looked back at his family's travels with People in 1998. "I dragged the children with me and didn't realize what rootlessness that might create." Williams, on the other hand, insisted in the same article that "it wasn't this huge, traumatic thing. I never remember getting bummed out about it. I didn't grow up in a mom-and-pop, Ozzie and Harriet type of environment, but who did?"
What Miller Williams felt he lacked for his children in stability, he made up for with the nature of the creative and stimulating environment he provided for them. Williams was inspired by a host of her father's friends, including writers James Dickey, Allen Ginsberg, Charles Bukowski and Flannery O'Connor. She picked up the guitar at age 12 and decided on a musical future early on. Williams even, as Spin noted in 1998, works "like a writer of what she pronounces poor-tree " in her Southern drawl, writing as a poet does, using a "process of elimination, of removing all but the essential parts."
Spin declared in 1998, "Williams doesn't casually slap together anything." What's more important to her than getting a record out, is getting it out right. She makes no excuses for her reputation. As she posed to Spin in 1998, "I've been called a neurotic, a demanding diva, a perfectionist. Okay, I'm a perfectionist." Both Car Wheels and her previous release Sweet Old World took three years in production alone to release. Williams recorded and re-recorded each of the albums and tinkered with production, drawing the process out even more. For Car Wheels , Williams initially recorded all the songs in Austin, Texas, with her longtime guitarist and producing partner, Gurf Morlix. But she wasn't happy with it. "It's hard to explain" she told Rolling Stone in 1998. "Something was missing." Later, when she heard the sound of her voice on a duet she recorded with Steve Earle, she realized that he'd created the sound she wanted. She set out with Earle to re-record a few vocal tracks for her record, but "Boom," she explained to Rolling Stone , "We got on a roll. Everything sounded so great and cool and edgy. So we ended up recutting everything."
Williams' sporadic releases cannot all be blamed on her need for perfection. After signing a one-page deal for $250 and spending one day at Malico Studios in Jackson, Mississippi, Williams released her debut album on the Folkways record label--a label that seemed a good fit for her crossbred style--in 1979, called Ramblin' On My Mind . In 1980, she followed it with Happy Woman Blues , also on Folkways. Then, Rough Trade, a label better known for its punk releases than its country selection, caught up with Williams in 1988. That relationship was short lived, as the label crashed after producing Lucinda Williams in 1988 and the Passionate Kisses EP in 1989. After that, Williams' career was plagued by record-label problems. A shot with alternative label Chameleon produced only one release, Sweet Old World , in 1992, then the label folded.
Williams had more trouble finding and sticking with a label than a critically acclaimed artist should. The problem was always that no label could pigeonhole her sound. It was the same problem she'd had before -- everyone liked her style but no one could figure out what to do with it. "It fell in the cracks between country and rock," she told People in 1998. It seemed like she had a secure deal with Rick Rubin's American Recordings, but sure enough, after all the trouble she'd had recording, re-recording, and finally completing Car Wheels , the label's uncertain switch from TimeWarner distribution to Sony only delayed the record's release further. That's when Mercury stepped in, bought the record outright from American, and finally got it out. Mercury's president and C.E.O. Danny Goldberg told Newsweek in 1998, "I think it could be her time," he said. "Bonnie Raitt, Tracy Chapman, Shawn Colvin--a number of artists have had major success with unorthodox records, just by sheer emotion and talent."
by Brenna Sanchez
Lucinda Williams's Career
Started playing guitar at age 12; released first album, of cover songs, Ramblin' on My Mind, on Folkways label, 1979; released Happy Woman Blues, Folkways, 1980; signed with Rough Trade label and released Lucinda Williams, 1988, released EP Pasionate Kisses, 1989; signed with Chameleon, released Sweet Old World, 1992; made Car Wheels on a Gravel Road for American Recordings, record was bought by Mercury and released in 1998.
Lucinda Williams's Awards
National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences Grammy award for songwriting "Passionate Kisses," 1994.
- Selected discography
- Ramblin' on My Mind , Folkways, 1979.
- Happy Woman Blues , Folkways, 1980.
- Lucinda Williams , Rough Trade, 1988.
- Passionate Kisses (EP), Rough Trade, 1989.
- Sweet Old World , Chameleon, 1992.
- Car Wheels on a Gravel Road , Mercury , 1998.
- Romanowski, Patricia and Warren, Holly George, editors, The Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll, Fireside/Simon & Shuster, 1995.
- Entertainment Weekly, July 10, 1998; August 14, 1998.
- New York Magazine, June 29,1998.
- New York Observer, June 29, 1998.
- Newsweek, July 6, 1998.
- People, August 17, 1998; September 21, 1998.
- Rolling Stone, July 9, 1998; August 6, 1998.
- Spin, July 1998.
- Village Voice, June 30, 1998.
- Wall Street Journal, August 21, 1998.
- "Lucinda Williams," Music Contemporary Showcase, http://imusic.interserv.com (September 27, 1998).
- "Lucinda Williams," All-Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com (September 20, 1998).
- "Lucinda Williams," Trouser Press, http://www.trouserpress.com (September 20, 1998).
- Additional information was provided by Mercury Records publicity materials, 1998.