After Holly Williams makes her New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival debut Friday, she plans to spend all of Saturday enjoying the city’s food and music.
“There is nothing like the great food in New Orleans and the rich character all over the streets,” the third-generation country singer-songwriter said from Nashville.
Williams, the daughter of Hank Williams Jr., has friends in New Orleans, and roots in Mer Rouge, the Morehouse Parish village in north Louisiana where her mother is from.
“I have a huge place in my heart for Louisiana,” she said. “I spent every summer and holiday there.”
The cemetery where her maternal grandparents are buried figures in “Gone Away From Me,” a song on Williams’ latest album, The Highway. Another song from the album, “Waiting on June,” is her favorite among all of the songs she’s written.
“It’s the true story of my grandparents, from birth to the war to the farm to grandbabies to heaven,” she said. “Their simple, beautiful life in Mer Rouge.”
Williams also has connections to Baton Rouge and Lafayette. She has family in Lafayette and her mother, a classically trained pianist, attended LSU and was the school’s 1972 homecoming queen.
With music running on both sides of her family, Williams started writing songs at 8. Of course, her grandfather, Hank Williams Sr., is thought by many to be country music’s greatest songwriter.
Writing songs has always been Williams’ No. 1 passion, she said.
“Songs and melodies and lyrics were coming out of me constantly,” she said. “Sounds so cliché, but it was in the blood, as natural as breathing to me. My style is very different from my family’s style, but we all love simple songs that tell stories.”
Although Williams wrote her first song as a child, she didn’t pick up a guitar, the instrument identified with her father and grandfather, not to mention her brother, Hank III, until she was 17. She got serious about music as she neared her high school graduation. Having no interest in attending college, she started performing.
“I played every little afternoon happy hour you could think of with just me and my guitar,” she said. “It was hard but worth it. I’m interested in a long-term career, not a flash in the pan career. I knew I was sticking with it no matter what.”
Rather than ride her famous family’s coattails, William made her own way.
“I’m still using a Suburban as my tour bus and playing anywhere that will have me, whether it’s 75 people or 750,” she said. “To build a long-term singer-songwriter career, you have to work extremely hard. I want to be selling out theaters one day, where everyone is following every story I’m telling.
“But I’m not country enough for country radio. My heroes are John Prine, Patty Griffin, Tom Waits, etc. And I will never understand why people think that just because your dad is rich then you are, too. Yes, my dad is amazing and he’s always taken care of us and we get great Christmas presents, but I’ve never had his credit card or been handed money for no good reason!”
Not taking advantage of her heritage, however, does not mean she isn’t proud of it.
“My grandfather, my dad and my brother all made their own way with their own sound. They never sacrificed anything to fit into a certain mold. They were all wildly independent and determined. It’s an inspiring line of men to be from! Every single one of them has written amazing songs and stories, in my opinion.”