© 2024 All Rights reserved WUSF
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Lucinda Williams brings songs of loss and resilience to Clearwater

Blonde woman wearing brown leather jacket gazes at camera
All Eyes Media
/
Courtesy
Three-time Grammy Award winner Lucinda Williams is currently on tour in support of her recent album “Stories from a Rock n Roll Heart.”

In 2020, during the COVID-19 pandemic, a tornado hit the musician's Nashville home. Several months later, she suffered a stroke. That terrible year knocked her down but not out.

Lucinda Williams got her first guitar when she was 12. It was 1965, the height of the folk music era. 

A few years later, she dropped out of college to pursue music full-time. It would take eight years of playing smoky bars and working odd jobs before she broke through. 

By the time she won her first Grammy for the song "Passionate Kisses,” which Mary Chapin Carpenter covered in 1992, she was 41 years old. 

She didn't go to the awards ceremony.

"You know, I had never experienced anything like that before,” Williams said. “And I blew it up way out of proportion and I just kind of froze."

Shaped by her childhood

As she writes in her recent memoir, "Don't Tell Anybody the Secrets I Told You,” insecurity has been something Lucinda Williams has tried to shake all her life.

Maybe it’s because her family moved a dozen times by her 18th birthday, mostly to cities and small towns around the South. 

Her father was Miller Williams, a literature professor and poet who read at Bill Clinton’s second inauguration. Her mother Lucille, a pianist, battled depression and often spent time in mental hospitals. 

It's a childhood that inspired Williams’ 1998 album, "Car Wheels on a Gravel Road." 

Blonde woman wearing black t-shirt and blue blazer gazes at camera
All Eyes Media
/
Courtesy
In 2023, Williams released her memoir "Don’t Tell Anybody The Secrets I Told You and a new album, "Rock N Roll Heart."

The artists’ new tour is a multimedia experience. Old photos and home movies play on a screen behind her and she tells stories about the songs, including one about how her father told her he was sorry after the first time he heard her perform "Car Wheels on a Gravel Road." 

“And I said, Dad, what do you mean? And he said, 'Well, that new song you wrote, he said, you're the child in the backseat, little bit of dirt mixed with tears. And I hadn't actually realized it was me. In my mind, I had created this other person. Maybe we do that as writers as a protective mechanism or something. It was this kind of bittersweet moment between my dad and me because he understood it in a way that nobody else would."

Within a year, that album went gold and won Williams a second Grammy, this time for Best Contemporary Folk Album.

“Sitting down to work on songs, there seemed to be a theme running through them, which was survival. In the same year after we moved to Nashville it was just boom, boom, boom, one thing after another. I always tell people it felt sort of biblical almost, like when are the locusts going to come,” she added with a laugh.
Lucinda Williams

Her next two albums, Essence in 2001 and World without Tears in 2003, revealed an even more sophisticated lyrical style, blending rock and blues with southern gothic storytelling.

The track “Get Right with God” won her a third Grammy — this one for Best Female Rock Vocal Performance. By now, Williams had joined the ranks of America’s most celebrated songwriters.

Her newest album "Stories from a Rock N Roll Heart," came out last summer, a little more than three years after her stroke. She spent almost five months in a wheelchair and is still getting physical therapy.

"I still deal with a lot of fatigue,” Williams said. "I get tired easily. It takes all my energy to get through some of those songs. I've got to put my whole body into it."

And though Williams can no longer play her guitar, her distinctive vocals sound better than ever.

“Writing had been part of my rehabilitation,” she said. “It didn’t occur to me to stop and not do anything.”

Stories of survival

On the new album, Williams seems to be reflective and wistful. 

“Sitting down to work on songs, there seemed to be a theme running through them, which was survival,” Williams said. “In the same year after we moved to Nashville it was just boom, boom, boom, one thing after another. I always tell people it felt sort of biblical almost, like when are the locusts going to come,” she added with a laugh.

Band on a stage, audience cheers.
Lucinda Williams
/
Courtesy
Lucinda Williams' newest album, "Stories from a Rock N Roll Heart," came out last summer, a little more than three years after she suffered a stroke.after her stroke.

Williams is now 71 years old and has lost more than a few friends over the past several years, including John Prine and Tom Petty.

Her new song "Stolen Moments" pays tribute from the point of view of someone suddenly struck by the memory of a friend.

"And it can happen in the most unusual circumstances,” Williams said. “On an airplane, in an elevator, driving in your car down Sunset Boulevard, or wherever you are, and suddenly, you almost feel like the person is there with you again. You feel like you want to steal the moment and keep it forever and not let it go." 

Williams toured with Petty in 1999, and opened his last Hollywood Bowl shows before his sudden death in October 2017.

“Tom was a down to earth, sweet, loving person, and I miss his music but I miss him more,” she said.” I’m still reeling.” 

‘Stories From a Rock N Roll Heart’ includes a lush orchestral track called "Where the Song Will Find Me." It seems to be an ode to the songs themselves.

"I have felt as a songwriter sort of just kind of the vehicle through which the song travels,” Williams said. “At the risk of sounding all woo-woo about it, it's kind of a spiritual experience writing a song."

Lucinda Willliams plays the Bilheimer Capitol Theatre in Clearwater on Feb. 1.

As a reporter, my goal is to tell a story that moves you in some way. To me, the best way to do that begins with listening. Talking to people about their lives and the issues they care about is my favorite part of the job.