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The essence of Lucinda Williams

By Jeffrey B. Remz, June 2001

Page 3...

Williams does not think it was all that unusual.

"I really didn't remember it being hard as a kid. I think I came to enjoy the adventure. Whenever you're a kid, it's what you're used to. That becomes your reality. It wasn't like I lived somewhere for 15 years and then all of a sudden you're leaving. We'd live someplace for a year or two and then we'd move. Our circle of friends was international. The kind of world that I grew up in was my dad's friends, all these friends and writers and things. It doesn't matter where you live. Everybody comes in and visits you."

Williams would play at poetry gatherings at her house. "I'd get my guitar out and sing. I'd have all these people telling me how great my songs were.'

"They could still tell there was something there. They were real supportive. The main thing was that I always told - the key word was that I was told I had soul. That's what people would always tell me. I wasn't developed yet. I was just getting started. People would hear that. 'You got soul. You need to keep going.'"

Williams remained with her father after her parents divorced, although she maintained a close relationship with her mother.

Williams describes her parents as being "very encouraging. I had a lot of creative freedom when I was growing up. I guess there were a lot of little things along the way. Things could have gone one way or the other but because of their support...Like for instance, I went to college (University of Arkansas) for about a year, a year and a half. I was in between semesters. I was in New Orleans. I went back to New Orleans for the summer to hang out. My mother lived down there. I was visiting her and stuff. I got offered this (gig at a) folk bar called Andy's. They offered me this gig for tips. It was pretty good money. You could get a pretty good apartment for like $85 a month. I called my dad up, and and I said, 'I don't want to come back to school. I want to stay down here and play music.' He said, 'okay, if that's what you want to do.'"

Dispensing with college, Williams plied her musical wares in places like Austin and Houston where she was part of the circuit with Townes Van Zandt, Nanci Griffith and Lyle Lovett.

In 1978, she recorded "Ramblin' in My Mind" for the Folkways label, a mixture of traditional blues and country songs. "Happy Woman Blues" came out the following year.

But not much happened recording-wise for years. Williams searched for a label, a process that seemingly marked her career of bouncing among labels.

"I got this development deal back in 1986 with Columbia Records. They gave me some money, and I did some demos. (Their) Nashville (office) said it wasn't country enough, and LA said it was too country. Basically, I fell in the cracks between country and rock which was the story of my life. Now it's become kind of the sound now. They've kind of created a market for it. I couldn't even get a record deal. No one would sign me back then."

"I got turned down by HighTone, Rounder, Rhino. The major labels. No one would touch me with a 10-foot pole. No would sign me because they didn't know what to do with me. It took a European label, a punk label (Rough Trade). It took a chance with me. They had The Smiths, The Pixies. They didn't have anybody like me on the label. They were trying to branch out a little bit. They were totally independent. They didn't have any preconceptions."

"Lucinda Williams" came out on Rough Trade in 1988, featuring songs like "Changed the Locks,' later recorded by Tom Petty and "Passionate Kisses," a song that has brought Williams a chunk of money thanks to it being a hit for Mary Chapin Carpenter in 1994.

`Following an EP on Rough Trade in 1989, the label folded. Williams inked with RCA, but that relationship didn't last long.

She soon signed with Chameleon, putting out "Sweet Old World," very much a story-oriented album with songs like "He Never Got Enough Love," "Pineola" and "Six Blocks Away."

The disc got great reviews, but that didn't help Williams much when the label shut down.

Next stop was American. An album never came out there because that label also in effect closed shop.

Finally, Williams ended up on Mercury for "Car Wheels" with its well-known long recording sessions, and a split with her band including former lead guitarist Gurf Morlix. "Essence" actually is on a brand new Mercury subsidiary, Lost Highway, led by Mercury Nashville head Luke Lewis.

Williams is the marquee artist on the label, but she doesn't seem too worried about that label's future despite her horrible history with labels.

"This is the first time I feel I have all my ducks in a row," says Williams. "Everything is sort of in place."

"It just seemed to obviously be the right thing to do. It was a more sheltered place for me to be. I wouldn't get caught up in the insanity of the whole uncertainty of the whole major record label thing. The same people I was working with at Mercury were the same people I am working with now."

And Williams is clear she sought to offer another musical change as well. "I didn't want to make another 'Car Wheels.' I like to think I'm continuing to grow as an artist," Williams says.

"When I'm writing and recording, I'm not thinking of the record company or the music business," says Williams. "It has no bearing in the world of art. That's their job. After I'm done with my thing...I feel extremely blessed to be as successful as I am. I'm perfectly content to where things are right now. I don't feel the need to sell 3 million records. If I do, great. I'm not going to change things."

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