By Jeffrey B. Remz, August 2009
or an artist, a famous name could be both a blessing and a curse. But Holly Williams does not see it that way. The Williams in question is the daughter of Hank Jr., which also would make her the granddaughter of Hank Sr. She also is the half-sister of Hank III.
The pressure presumably would be there, but Williams, who just released her second disc of country, rootsy and singer/songwriter sounds, "Here With Me," after a five-year gap due largely in part to a bad car accident involving her sister, is not shy about embracing the family mantle.
"I don't really feel the pressure of an expectation to live up to," she says while en route to Nashville from eastern Tennessee.
But after a major car crash with Hillary, Williams was unsure about her musical career. Her debut , "The Ones We Never Knew," was out in October 2004 on Universal South, but it wasn't happening. After more than a year of touring, "I just wanted a change of pace," she says, indicating she was ready to leave the label. "I decided to see if anything else was out there."
Then, the accident with her sister in Memphis. Hillary was in "heavy surgery for about two years. She had 26," says Holly.
As for Holly, she suffered a serious injury, wondering how her right arm managed to survive the accident. "it was really a miracle that my right arm was still here," she says.
Williams took time off to recuperate herself, but moreso to spend time with her sister. She eventually looked to resume her musical career. "When it first happened in March 2006, she was pretty bad off, and I didn't know when I'd be able to play guitar again. I knew I always wanted to do music and write. I just didn't know what was going to happen, The whole rest of that year was pretty much dealing with the medical stuff. I slowly started meeting with different labels and management companies. It can take a good year to go through that process."
Williams also hedged her bets by opening a Nashville clothing store in case music didn't pan out.
"Hank Sr. died at 29 and was totally blowing up," she says. "I'm 28 now, and I wanted to get more serious. I wasn't a slacker. I wanted a label that was the right fit."
Williams inked with Mercury Nashville.
Only she almost didn't end up there. Universal Music (Mercury is part of the company) head Luke Lewis originally thought of placing Williams at Lost Highway, the edgier branch of the company with Willie Nelson and Lucinda Williams and Ryan Adams. "I wrote the song Mama.... He said I think we should try this on country radio... Let's just see what happens. You still are the left-of-center artist."
That sat well with Williams, although the song only reached 55 on the chart.
The song, in effect, praises her mother Becky, who was married to Hank Jr. for five years. It wasn't an easy life as he was on the road a tremendous amount. Holly Williams grew up in Cullman, Ala. Living there until she was three. "I never remembered living with my father," she says. She said she would see him "mainly when he was off the road... It wasn't normal for me to have a dad around."
"Of course, there were times I wish dad was here," she says. "My mom was good about keeping us busy. We never felt or left in the cold or anything like that."
Hank Jr. didn't want his daughter going to his shows. "I went to maybe 5 shows before I was 120. They were so wild, he seriously didn't want us there. It was drunk people everywhere and fights... I loved his shows... but he didn't want us seeing it."
Interestingly, Hank Jr. never had a guitar at the house when they lived together. Her mother played piano nightly "and was singing all the time... Gospel music and church music. I knew my dad's music from his albums."
As a kid, Williams wrote songs even though she couldn't play. By her teens, she was determined to enter music. She played acoustic and small listening clubs. Even without a contract, she wound up touring with Canadian Ron Sexsmith and Billy Bob Thornton.
"It came out out very very quickly," Williams says of Mama. "Hank Sr. had a thing if it doesn't come out in 10 minutes, it ain't worth it. I was driving down the street, and that song that just popped into my mind. I started singing the momma line over and over. What do I want to say here? I wrote that in probably 20 minutes – the whole thing. I thought about it a lot more after more than I did before. It was my way of saying thank you, and when you get older (you think) why don't you have more memories of my dad – he was touring all the time. She never brought the drama of the divorce to me and my sister... I always tend to write really personally if not about me than about someone really really close to me."
Williams says her mother "loved" the song. "She said, 'I don't deserve this'. She's very humble and all that... It's one that kids in the family sing along to. One reason I love it so much the melody is a really happy melody and the lyrics are bittersweet."