29 June 2023
The songwriter on her stroke, country vs rock, and why she hates “feminists in music using the fact that they’re women as a reason why they didn’t get a hit”.
By Ellen Peirson-Hagger
When Lucinda Williams had a stroke in November 2020, she hoped “some grand, majestic, spiritual thing would come swooping down and make everything OK again”. Then 67, the three-time Grammy Award winner and country-rock legend was left unable to play guitar, an instrument that had been a constant in her life since she was 12. But no spiritual being came to save her. “Life doesn’t work that way,” she said in her nasal southern US drawl.
That hasn’t stopped Williams, now 70. Stories from a Rock n Roll Heart, her 15th album, is released on 30 June. It’s the first on which she doesn’t play guitar, though she remains the primary songwriter and lead vocalist. A team of collaborators, including her husband and manager Tom Overby, her tour manager Travis Stephens, and her friend Jesse Malin, took over the guitar-playing and helped with production. She is also joined by a star-studded cast of backing vocalists: Bruce Springsteen, Margo Price, Angel Olsen.
When we met in the bar of a central London hotel on a sweltering June afternoon, I saw that the stroke had made it difficult for her to walk. It takes fortitude to carry on with an international touring career after such a setback, I said once she had made her way on to a sofa in a sunny window spot. She brushed it off, crediting Overby, sat at a nearby table, who pushes her to keep going.
Gesturing towards her assistant, next to Overby, she pulled me close and whispered into my ear. “My assistant… I wish I could tell him not to wear shorts. In London, it’s not… I wish I could say, ‘You need to put some long pants on.’ But I don’t dare tell him.”
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Williams herself wore a denim jacket, blue jeans and Converse trainers, with a slogan T-shirt reading: “File under rock.” “It goes back to that whole thing of how my music falls in the cracks between country and rock,” she explained, a glass of pinot noir in hand. “Tom had these made up. I don’t particularly like wearing my own T-shirts advertising myself, but Tom likes me to wear them.”
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In 1979 and 1980 Williams recorded two albums of folk and country standards. They were well received within the industry but didn’t make a mark commercially, and anyway, Williams wanted to write her own songs. Every label she approached in the 1980s rejected her, not knowing what to do with her distinctive voice and blues-inspired rock – until she was signed by Rough Trade Records in London, then known as a stronghold of punk.
Her self-titled first album of original songs was released in 1988 and featured the rousing “Passionate Kisses”, which remains one of her best-known tracks. She built a following among other musicians, and artists such as Emmylou Harris and Tom Petty covered her songs. A decade later, Car Wheels on a Gravel Road won her a Grammy for Best Contemporary Folk Album and cemented her reputation as a great American songwriter. She has since toured with Bob Dylan and duetted with Elvis Costello.
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Persistence is a theme of Williams’s life. Born in Lake Charles, Louisiana in 1953, she lived in 12 cities and three countries before she was 18. Her mother, Lucille, experienced manic depression and schizophrenic tendencies, and so Williams and her two siblings were raised mostly by their father, Miller.
A poet and university professor who would go on to read at Bill Clinton’s second inauguration in 1997, he introduced Williams to the world of literature through “osmosis”, she said, smiling. She didn’t finish high school, but the creative writing workshops her father held at home were an education beyond the classroom, as were the wild parties that descended afterwards. Charles Bukowski was known to attend, while her father described Flannery O’Connor as “his greatest teacher”, she said.
As a teenager, Williams became enamoured with O’Connor’s depictions of the grotesque characters and southern settings she had grown up around. Later, she realised that the trauma of her childhood – the constant moving, her mother’s mental illness, the friends and family members lost to suicide – was an unconscious constant in her songwriting, giving her music a dark edge. “The southern gothic was my everyday life,” she writes in her recent memoir, Don’t Tell Anybody the Secrets I Told You.
Until his death in 2015, Williams would often send her father drafts of her song lyrics. “I still liked to know what he thought about my writing. I wanted his approval, as an artist and a writer. And I wanted daddy’s approval, you know,” she giggled, suddenly childlike. “Who are we kidding? There’s always that.”
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Since the mid-1980s, Williams has moved between Los Angeles and Nashville, where she and Overby live today. It is the home of the country music scene that wasn’t interested in her work in the 1980s. “I wanted to rock way before I was able to,” she writes in her memoir.
The artists she loved in the 1960s and 1970s didn’t seem concerned with genre in the way the labels she encountered were. “Bob Dylan did Nashville Skyline and nobody said, ‘Oh, it’s country!’ They just said: ‘It’s Bob Dylan.’ That’s what I aspired to.”
I asked if she thought her gender – and the way in which the music industry markets female musicians – played a role in this categorisation. She interjected: “I keep getting asked that question, over and over, and I understand why the question is being asked, because it’s the topic of the day. And there is a lot of talk that country radio doesn’t play as many female artists as male artists. And I don’t know. I don’t keep track of the numbers.
“Maybe I’m naive, but I used to believe then, and I still do now, that the cream rises to the top. And if you’re good enough, that’s what gets you in the door – not what sex you are. Did it never occur to people that maybe they don’t like the music? I hate to say it.”
I suggested that if there seemed to be fewer talented female musicians, that is because of the pipeline problem: that girls aren’t encouraged to pick up instruments in the same way as boys, that the industry doesn’t invest in young female talent, that women aren’t deemed influential enough for headline festival slots.
She disagreed: “At some point we have to take responsibility, otherwise everything is going to get blamed on being a woman or being a man, being a dinosaur,” Williams said. “‘Poor women! They didn’t get encouraged by their fathers!’ After a while it just becomes ridiculous. I see it as fair game… I can do what any guy can do as an artist.”
Williams knew she was at odds with contemporary conversations about industry sexism. She occasionally hid her face behind her hands, wincing. But she kept on. “I know there are asshole, horrible men in the music business. I’ve certainly encountered that, but the level to which these conversations go – because you’re a woman you’re not getting the same commercial business treatment that a man would get? Wow! OK, we’re gonna have to pull the plug [on the industry] and start all over again.
“It’s almost like reverse sexism in a way, becauseif you can use the fact that you’re a woman to be at a disadvantage, then where does the role of competition come in? I want to be judged for my skills and my art. I don’t know, see, I’m digging myself a hole… My husband is so smart, that’s why I fell in love with him. He’s got one of those kinds of brains. He could say it in an instant.
“I mean, of course I understand sexism. I consider myself a feminist and all those titles and everything. But at the same time, I don’t like feminists in music using the fact that they’re women as a reason why they didn’t get a hit.”
I made a last attempt to present the argument from the other side. “I love how you say ‘playing devil’s advocate’!” she said, grabbing hold of my hand. “Bless your heart. You’re so sweet. You remind me of someone from a different era, almost. Has anybody ever said that? Someone like Emily Dickinson.” I grimaced. “No, I mean that in every respectable term… You just have a perfect complexion, rosy cheeks. But I see the little punk in you!”
I changed the subject. What music does Lucinda Williams listen to now, in her seventies? She’s a fan of the Brooklyn-based Steve Gunn. “I like the guitar-playing, the songs and his voice. And he’s attractive! Yeah, God, if you see his photograph on the album, you know,” her eyes widened, “that’s what always pulls me in.”
She loves Sharon Van Etten, too, with her “biting” lyrics. She broke into a rendition of one of Van Etten’s songs. “Every time the sun comes up,” Williams sang knowingly, “I’m in trouble.”
“Stories from a Rock n Roll Heart” is released on Highway 20 Records. “Don’t Tell Anybody the Secrets I Told You” is published by Simon & Schuster.
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Topics in this article : Feminism , Interviews , Literature , Women
She disagreed: “At some point we have to take responsibility, otherwise everything is going to get blamed on being a woman or being a man, being a dinosaur,” Williams said. “'Poor women! They didn't get encouraged by their fathers!' After a while it just becomes ridiculous.What problem does Lucinda have? ›
In 2020, her home in Nashville suffered damage from a tornado and later that year, Williams had a stroke that left her with impaired motor skills on her left side. She learned to walk again but was unable to resume playing the guitar.What is Lucinda Williams famous for? ›
Lucinda Williams, (born January 26, 1953, Lake Charles, Louisiana, U.S.), American singer and songwriter who received critical acclaim for her label-defying music, which ranged from folk to country to rock. Williams, whose father was the poet Miller Williams, began writing songs after borrowing a guitar at age 12.What is Lucinda Williams doing now? ›
There were more albums. There was critical acclaim and three Grammys. And now at 70 years old, Williams is still writing songs and performing despite suffering a stroke in 2020. Lucinda Williams has also written a memoir, and she's with me now to talk about it.Who is Lucinda Williams husband? › Do Lucinda and Brad stay together? ›
The 26-year-old was coupled up with Lucinda Strafford on this year's series of Love Island, and the pair were spotted on a few dates after the show. However, Lucinda confessed their romance had fizzled on the reunion show, which aired on Sunday night.Who did Brad dump for Lucinda? ›
Love Island 2021: Brad McClelland dumps Rachel Finni as he cracks on with Lucinda Strafford.Does Lucinda Williams have a medical condition? ›
That's about when her own obsessive-compulsive disorder emerged. She began playing music, describing it as “the world I wanted to be in, a better world than the one I was in.” Williams hopes that telling her story will mean something to people whose loved ones had mental health issues or who have their own.Did Lucinda Williams date Ryan Adams? ›
Lucinda bit Ryan Adams — twice.
Noting that what went on between them was only a flirtation and not a real love affair, it all ended after she twice bit his lip during a make-out session.
But post-stroke, she had to revise her own songwriting process, since she could no longer play guitar. “My process has always been to come up with some lyrics, then get the guitar and come up with a melody and some kind of structure,” Williams relates.
Lucinda Gayl Williams (born January 26, 1953) is an American singer-songwriter and a solo guitarist.Does Lucinda Williams still perform? ›
Lucinda Williams is currently touring across 10 countries and has 27 upcoming concerts.Is Lucinda Williams Jordan Peele's mother? ›
Early life. Jordan Haworth Peele was born in New York City on February 21, 1979. His mother, Lucinda Williams, is white, from Maryland. His father, Hayward Peele, Jr. (died 1999), was African American, and originally from North Carolina.Is Lucinda Williams a smoker? ›
"I don't smoke cigarettes," she says. "There's just this thing in my voice and I've learned to use it. "I used to write songs that were out of my range, almost, like (her first Grammy winner of 1992) Passionate Kisses.Is Lucinda Williams from Texas? ›
Singer-songwriter Lucinda Williams, a native of Lake Charles, Louisiana, lived in Austin and Houston during parts of the seventies and eighties. Her latest album, Car Wheels on a Gravel Road (Mercury), was nominated for two Grammy awards this year.How old is Lucinda Williams? ›
Williams, 70, and her husband, Tom Overby, who is also her manager and collaborator, live in a white clapboard bungalow with a peaked roof, gingerbread trim and a neat square of lawn.Why did Brad leave Lucinda? ›
ICYMI, Brad left the show almost two weeks ago, when he and Lucinda were voted the least compatible couple by the public. They had to choose between them which one would leave. Days later, Lucinda recoupled with Aaron Francis, but the pair were later dumped by public vote.Are Lucinda and Aaron together? ›
"Aaron was pretty cut up when she decided to do Love Island but they moved on from it and seemed stronger than ever. "In the end they just couldn't make it work and have decided it would be better for both of them if they remained single." However it is unclear why the two broke up.Did Faye and Teddy break-up? ›
Faye first confirmed their split with a statement posted on her Instagram Stories in February, saying at the time: “I wanted to let you know that after lots of time and consideration, Teddy and I have decided to go our separate ways.What did Danny do to Lucinda? ›
During the challenge, Danny had chosen to throw a pie in Lucinda's face and kissed AJ, despite being coupled up with Lucinda. She was left red-faced but he seemed happy with what he'd done, as he laughed and said: "Treat them mean to keep them keen."
However, in an Instagram 'Q & A', Brad hinted that he won't way for the 21-year-old Tik Tok star to leave the villa... A fan asked the reality star "Do you regret coupling up with Lucinda", to which he responded: “What do you's think? You think I should wait for 'Cind?”Did Lucinda and Brad reconnect? ›
Love Island stars Brad McClelland and Lucinda Strafford have reunited after leaving the villa. The couple hit the town after Lucinda admitted that her onscreen romance with Aaron Francis was over, and she wouldn't be seeing him outside of the show.Is Lucinda Williams related to Hank Williams senior? ›
Born on January 26, 1953 to poet Miller Williams, Lucinda is of no relation to the Hank Williams country dynasty. Williams began writing at 6, was playing guitar by 12, and played her first live show at 17.Who was Lucinda Williams father? ›
NEW YORK - Lucinda Williams says that during a recent visit her father, acclaimed poet Miller Williams, calmly told her that Alzheimer's disease had robbed him of his ability to write poetry. Her 84-year-old father's increased frailty lent new urgency to Williams' effort to pay tribute to him.When was Miss Lucinda born? ›
Miss Lucinda was born January 14, 1848, the daughter of George Washington and Mary Ann Cook Hardage. Her birthplace was a log cabin of one room, south of the Burnt Hickory Road, close to the base of Little Kennesaw Mountain.What happened to Ryan Adams brother Chris? ›
Chris passed away on October 14th, 2017 after a long battle with a disease, but Ryan didn't publicize much the reason for Chris's death, he simply said that he “was struggling with a disease for many years”, and “was in pain”. Chris was married to Kelli Adams and had a daughter Kathryn.Did Emma date Ryan? ›
During her emotional acceptance speech, she didn't forget to mention her partner Ryan Gosling.Where did Lucinda Williams grow up? ›
With her professor father moving from job to job, Williams grew up in southern towns such as Vicksburg, Mississippi; Jackson, Mississippi; Baton Rouge, Louisiana; and New Orleans, Louisiana. She also lived for a time in Mexico and Santiago, Chile.Did Kenny Vaughan play with Lucinda Williams? ›
He has appeared on numerous recordings and on stage with a hugh range of artists. He played with Sweethearts Of The Rodeo in the 80's. He also played at the beginning of the resurgence of Lower Broadway with Greg Garing. Later he met and played with Lucinda Williams.Does Shirley Manson play guitar? ›
Fender Stratocaster Electric Guitar
She has played several strats.
Taylor was born in Natchez, Mississippi, in 1915, though some sources say 1917. He first played the piano and began playing the guitar when he was 20. He moved to Chicago in 1942. Taylor had a condition known as polydactylism, which resulted in him having six fingers on both hands.What does the name Lucinda mean? ›
Meaning:light. Lucinda as a girl's name is a variant of the Latin for Lucy meaning "light." In mythology, Lucine was the Roman goddess of childbirth, giver of first light to the newborn. The name was popular in the 18th century.What movie is Lucinda from? ›
Siblings. This article is about the character Lucinda from Into the Woods. For other characters, see Lucinda. Lucinda is one of the antagonists from Into the Woods.What movie has a character named Lucinda? ›
Cast. Anne Hathaway as Ella of Frell, a girl given the "gift" (or curse) of obedience by the fairy Lucinda, which magically compels her to literally obey every command she is given, even if it is against her wishes.Is Lucinda Williams touring with Bonnie Raitt? ›
Videos by American Songwriter
Raitt announced that she is slated to hit the road with Mavis Staples later in 2022—this after she'd already announced a number of upcoming dates with Lucinda Williams. See Raitt's entire and extensive list of tour dates below.
Today in 2009, after completing her set at a concert in Minneapolis, Lucinda Williams married her manager, Tom Overby, on stage. After exchanging vows, they did an encore, starting with "Happy" by The Rolling Stones.Who was the singer who had a stroke? ›
Susan Boyle, the Scottish singer who became an overnight sensation while competing on “Britain's Got Talent,” revealed Sunday that she had a stroke last year. The 62-year-old mezzo-soprano shared the health update on live TV when she returned for the Season 16 finale of the talent show that launched her career in 2009.Did Lucinda Williams have a stroke? ›
That November, she suffered a stroke that partially impaired some of her motor skills on the left side of her body, forcing her to learn to walk again and taking away her ability to play the guitar. But as soon as she was able, Williams returned to the stage, including a lengthy run opening for Bonnie Raitt.Is Lucinda Williams related to Victoria Williams? ›
“I've traced my lineage back to my great-grandfather Captain Williams, who came over from Wales when he couldn't be on the sea anymore,” Victoria Williams told me when I called her. “And Lucinda and I aren't related, although you can say we might be.Does Chelsea Peretti have a child? ›
They have a son, Beaumont Gino, who was born in 2017.
This Morning presenter Holly Willoughby is another famous face who has been snapped smoking.Is Lucinda Williams Sativa or Indica? ›
Lucinda Williams Marijuana Strain Genetics
You might even want to sit back and listen to some of your favorite music after toking up with this strain. Cindy-99 is a Sativa-dominant strain that can give you a burst of energy and a clear-headed high.
Lucinda Williams Explains Why She Chose to Never Have Kids in New Memoir: 'A Burden, Not a Joy' (Exclusive)How old is Ryan Adams? › Why is Lucinda Williams famous? ›
A critics' pick and songwriter's songwriter who gained some fame when Mary Chapin Carpenter had a crossover country hit with her song "Passionate Kisses" in 1993, Williams became a true legend with the 1998 release of Car Wheels on a Gravel Road, a perfect work of observational storytelling that both defined the ...What style of music does Lucinda Williams play? ›
Lucinda's style is largely blues and folk based. Ramblin' is a series of cover and traditional songs, with few originals. Her second album, Happy Woman Blues, is filled with originals that showed off her unique style of songwriting and the influences of the Delta bluesmen she grew up listening to in Louisiana.Who are Lucinda Williams parents? › What is the story of Lucinda? ›
Lucinda is the thrilling story of a girl whose life carries her to the highest level of spiritual attainment. If you like the discovery of all life's possibilities, miracles, wonders, and the teachings of the great masters, then you will love this uplifting tale.Why is Lucinda frightened? ›
Lucinda is understandably terrified at the prospect of becoming Trujillo's next rape victim, though she's also frightened when her only option turns out to be leaving the country.
The Seven Sisters tells the tale of six young women, all adopted by an enigmatic man for mysterious reasons. When he dies suddenly, he leaves behind a clue for each sister, and the past begins to unfold. This novel is the first in a new series about each sister's path to uncover her history.What Disney movie is Lucinda from? ›
Lucinda is a young witch who appears in Disney Junior's Sofia the First. Lucinda came to the Village of Dunwiddie after Sofia became a Princess, and hexed every single kid in Dunwiddie.What ethnicity is Lucinda? ›
Lucinda is a female given name of Latin origin, meaning light. It can be abbreviated as Lucy or Cindy.What does Lucinda mean in the Bible? ›
In Latin Baby Names the meaning of the name Lucinda is: Illumination. Mythological Roman goddess of childbirth and giver of first light to newborns. Also refers to Mary as Lady of the Light.Why does chucha wear purple? ›
Chucha sleeps in a coffin to prepare for the next life, and she made a promise to some unknown person or entity that she'd wear nothing but purple. She also has dreams that tell her the future. All of this gives her a mystical and sometimes frightening air.What happens in chapter 3 of before we were free? ›
With the Washburns next door and the SIM gone, Mami and Papi decide that the children can go back to school. Mami makes them promise to not talk to anyone about what happened—even to Sam and Susie. Susie and Lucinda are now great friends.What is Lucinda Matlock's attitude about her life? ›
In "Lucinda Matlock," what is the title character's attitude toward life? She thinks life is worthwhile. What kind of life has Lucinda Matlock lived as she describes it in the first 17 lines of the poem? her life has been hard, but she has had moments of happiness and fun.Who does Lucinda pick? ›
' Unimpressed, Lucinda said in the beach hut: 'OK then hun fine pie me, whatever. ' Lucinda then ignored Danny for her kiss, choosing to smooch Aaron, who had picked her for his snog earlier.Who does Danny end up marrying? ›
Danny and Sarah finally tie-the-knot five episodes after Danny and Mindy break their relationship off.How does Oscar and Lucinda end? ›
Lucinda loses her fortune to Oscar's wife, which allows her to escape the delusion of the glass church and begin her life. Unable to contain Lucinda, the narrative leaves a possibility for the past to become nothing more than history.
The Missing Sister: Lucinda Riley (The Seven Sisters, 7) Hardcover – 27 May 2021.Where can I watch The Seven Sisters TV series? ›
Battle Of The Seven Sisters, a drama series is available to stream now. Watch it on TVBAnywhere North America (Vietnamese) on your Roku device.Do you need to read Seven Sisters in order? ›
You don't have to read The Seven Sisters in order, they all work great as stand alone books!