Photo: Alexa King
Meet Sam Williams, A Country Music Scion Whose Debut Album 'Glasshouse Children' Transcends His Surname
Sam Williams happens to be the grandson of Hank Williams and son of Hank Williams, Jr., but there are far more interesting things about him: 'Glasshouse Children' shows the singer/songwriter is operating beyond his years and ancestry
People make a big deal out of "authenticity" in country music, as if acoustic guitars and washtub basses were a crafted aesthetic and not simply the tools artists had at their disposal mid-century. But if Hank Williams showed up today, perhaps he'd be in a hoodie, making beats on Logic. His grandson, Sam Williams, knows he's probably bumming people out by embracing modern sounds and not wearing a 10-gallon hat. Still, he's clearly doing something right: He was just on Colbert.
"My grandfather passed away on the last day of 1952. This is pre-Elvis," Williams tells GRAMMY.com over Zoom from his parked vehicle. "I think that if he hadn't passed away so tragically, he would have been reinventing his sound and bringing rock elements into music that were spreading across America, you know what I'm saying? So it's not really fair to place those trappings."
Granted, he still makes music with Americana leanings, but Williams is influenced by music from all over the place, including hip-hop and R&B. Still, his debut album, Glasshouse Children, which will be released August 20, ultimately just sounds like him—while preserving country's ability to throw a stark reality at your feet like a frying pan on tile. "I'd say I was forever changed after the fall of '99," he admits in the startling title track. "I got exposed at two years old to demons in my mama's eyes."
Sam Williams is a fresh signee to Universal Nashville and leaps into the music biz with boundless possibilities—far more, he says, than his father, Hank Jr., had when he got into the game. GRAMMY.com spoke with him about sloughing off the limitations of traditional country, Nashville's baby steps toward inclusivity and the artists he believes are pushing the envelope in the 2020s.
This interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.
With debut albums, there's often a lot of deliberation about what side of themselves the artist wants to present. What do you hope Glasshouse Children relays to the listener?
I try not to spend so much time thinking, "This is going to be so many people's first impression of me. What do I want to say? What do I want them to think?" and just try and go with my gut and be natural and write the songs that were coming to me and felt the most authentic to me, regardless of subject matter. With that being said, I wanted the first impression that this is really human and not industry-crafted. That these songs come from a really heartfelt and human place.
It's very richly recorded and listenable, but I don't get the sense you're trying to please everyone at once.
Thank you. A lot of the album was produced by Jaren Johnston. He's in a country-rock band called the Cadillac Three. It was really cool to do that because it helped bring some great musicality to it. There's a Nashville producer named Paul Moak who did "Glasshouse Children" and the interlude song, "Bulleit Blues." It was really awesome to bring in a live string section to bring the drama and the theatrics to the opener and bring the listener in.
I imagine you've written songs that reflect various parts of your psyche. What sides of you do these songs particularly contain?
Kind of a coming of age. A lot of contradiction and juxtaposition of loss and gain of heartbreak and healing. Of insecurity and stability. There are many songs that talk about trauma and upbringing and finding yourself.
The reality is that country music to the core is writing songs from the heart and telling your story and projecting your voice and hearing everyone else's voice and different perspectives.
Was there any trepidation about your surname being front-of-mind for people? Perhaps that it would be the horse leading the cart?
I think that with my last name, it's said a lot that it's a blessing and a curse. I think that the music does speak for itself. It's not too similar to any music that's been released in my family or in country music in general. But that being said, I know there's a tremendous amount of people who would like to see me just dressing in suits like my grandfather and forcing an accent that doesn't reflect where or how I grew up.
They're probably a bit thrown off when they see me wearing an earring or doing something that doesn't feel "country music" to the core to them. But the reality is that country music to the core is writing songs from the heart and telling your story and projecting your voice and hearing everyone else's voice and different perspectives.
Trying to play dress-up with the trappings of the '40s and '50s is pretty silly. Buck Owens was a cutting-edge musician. If your granddad were around today, perhaps he'd play an electric guitar or a synthesizer.
Exactly. I always think that because my grandfather passed away on the last day of 1952. This is pre-Elvis. I think that if he hadn't passed away so tragically, he would have been reinventing his sound and bringing rock elements into music that were spreading across America, you know what I'm saying? So it's not really fair to place those trappings.
What, exactly, is the thesis of country music to you? The cliché is that it's all about the stories, but perhaps it's also a vehicle to deal with some of the roughest parts of being a human.
I studied the entertainment industry at Beaumont in Nashville for a few years, and I remember having a course about the Irish and Scottish songs that you can trace country music back to. They're talking about people getting killed and buried alive. Crazy, crazy songs. One of my dad's songs is called "Knoxville Courthouse Blues" and it's gruesome.
It's just a lot more than what it's been watered down to by Nashville standards nowadays. I just try to kind of keep that out because it would just dampen me as an artist, trying to do something that I didn't feel really connected to.
I wouldn't say this is country music to me. But as an artist, I like to sing about things that make the listener a little uncomfortable in their head and bring up things they don't typically think about because that's the kind of music I enjoy listening to.
Sam Williams. Photo: Alexa King
What were you pursuing as far as a production aesthetic?
I wanted some of the songs to have the country sound of just acoustic guitars and some live piano in the background and things like that. But a lot of artists that I admire and respect in country have pushed the boundaries of what you can bring into songs. I'm a big Jason Isbell fan.
I think if you took the songs to their core of the songwriting, they'd be country, but when you add all these different [elements] and production, it's just a whole new world of possibilities. It's also important to me to try and experiment a little bit and do a little bit more pop production.
Like, "Hopeless Romanticism" and "The World: Alone" are definitely influenced by younger artists that I listen to. It goes without saying that I'm from a generation that primarily grew up listening to Top 40 radio and [remembers] hip-hop becoming the biggest genre. I'm very R&B-influenced.
I like to take little pieces of each genre of music and artist I listen to and see what I can craft and come up with. There's a lot of music you can listen to where you may really enjoy it, but you don't feel as connected to the artist. That's something I wanted to make sure can be done.
There's a lot of talk about Nashville's incremental steps toward diversity and inclusion. But on the main, is it still this conservative Iron Man you have to face off?
[Knowing laugh.] It definitely can feel like that.
I just signed a record deal with Universal a few weeks ago. What is kind of interesting about that situation is that my record was done prior to entering talks with or signing with Universal, and that's not typically how it goes at all. Usually, a major label is very involved in the writing process and production and who's going to be on it and what the cover's going to look like.
I would say it definitely can feel like that and that's the norm, but Cyndi Mabe and Mike Dungan at Universal Nashville have really opened up and taken a risk by embracing me. It's definitely slowly changing. You may not see it every day. It comes down to support, but there are a lot of artists out there now pushing the envelope than there have been in the past 10, 15 years.
Yola is someone I think of off the top of my head. She's truly amazing, and a few years ago, she may not have been able to enter the scene like she has. Even queer artists like Brandi Carlile that have been in the industry for a long time are able to do more and be more [included] and seen in this landscape is telling that it's heading in the right direction, even if it's not as fast as we would like it to be.
Is there anything we didn't touch on about Glasshouse Children that you'd like to express?
[Long pause.] I would just like to convey that I wasn't really trying to put anything across that wasn't me while making this record. It's a melting pot of traditional country songwriting and storytelling that's in the DNA.
My dad was really forced into the music industry and started to make his own sound of music and do his own thing later in his career, after standing in his father's shadow for a long time. I'm grateful I got to do something that was uniquely me from the get-go instead of being "Hank, Jr. Jr." for however many years and then switching it up. I'm grateful for that and I hope it just surprises the ear of the average country listener and that people are pleasantly surprised by it.
A Tribute In Black To Johnny Cash
A star-studded roster of GRAMMY-winning talent celebrates the music and 80th birthday of Johnny Cash in Austin, Texas
Though Johnny Cash passed away in 2003, he's having a very good year in 2012. The latest in a series of events honoring the man in black — an 80th-birthday tribute titled We Walk The Line: A Celebration Of The Music Of Johnny Cash — drew a slew of GRAMMY-winning performers to Austin, Texas, for a lively Friday-night show on April 20 at Austin City Limits Live at the Moody Theater.
Top billing went to Cash's surviving Highwaymen brethren, GRAMMY winners Willie Nelson and Kris Kristofferson, who teamed with Shooter Jennings (son of late GRAMMY-winning Highwayman Waylon Jennings) and Jamey Johnson in a reunion of sorts on the song "Highwayman." Under a large banner bearing an image of Cash strumming a guitar, flanked by two silhouettes, Nelson also teamed with GRAMMY winner Sheryl Crow on "If I Were A Carpenter."
Crow sounded almost as if she were addressing Cash when she joked to Nelson, "I would definitely have your baby — if I could. If I didn't have two others of my own. And if you weren't married. And if I wasn't friends with your wife."
Audience members cheered lustily in approval, as they did throughout most of the show, a taped-for-DVD benefit for the childhood muscular dystrophy foundation Charley's Fund. Just hours earlier, many of them had watched as Nelson helped unveil his new statue in front of the theater, which sits on a street also named after him.
The event was produced by Keith Wortman with GRAMMY-winning producer Don Was serving as musical director. Was recruited Buddy Miller, Greg Leisz, Kenny Aronoff, and new Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee Ian McLagan of the Faces as the house band. The handpicked all-star roster of performers ranged from Iron & Wine's Sam Beam, Brandi Carlile, the Carolina Chocolate Drops, Andy Grammer, Amy Lee of Evanescence, and Pat Monahan of Train to Ronnie Dunn, Shelby Lynne, Old 97's lead singer Rhett Miller, Lucinda Williams, and even Austin-based actor Matthew McConaughey, who, in addition to emceeing, sang "The Man Comes Around."
"We wanted a real broad, diverse group of artists," Wortman said backstage. "With Cash, you're as likely to find his music in a punk rock music fan, a heavy metal fan and a Nashville music fan, so he's not just a country music guy."
GRAMMY winner Monahan, who sang Kristofferson's "Help Me Make It Through The Night," commented before the show, "I think of Johnny Cash as a style, as you would think of clothing, or music or whatever. He was his own thing. No can can really describe Johnny Cash entirely.
"And no one could deliver a song quite like him," continued Monahan. "He sang hundreds of other songwriters' songs and he made those songwriters important because of the way he delivered what they were saying. There's not much that I don't respect about him, and I told his son [John Carter Cash] earlier that I'm almost more inspired by the love for his family than his music."
Lynne, who won the Best New Artist GRAMMY in 2000, sang "Why Me Lord," another song penned by Kristofferson, and delivered a spirited duet with Monahan on "It Ain't Me Babe," said Cash has influenced "all of us."
"We appreciate the majestic rebellion that Johnny gave us all in the music business. And he's also one of the great American icons of all time," she added.
Among the acts who earned the loudest applause in a night full of high-volume appreciation was the GRAMMY-winning Carolina Chocolate Drops, the bluegrass quartet re-exposing the genre's African-American roots. Their rendition of "Jackson" was among many highlights. Earlier, co-founder Dom Flemons revealed the personal inspiration of Cash's catalog.
"Johnny Cash's music has had an impact on me as a rock and roll singer, a country singer, as a folk music performer and great interpreter of song. I just love everything that he's done," said Flemons.
Bandmate Hubby Jenkins added, "Johnny Cash was really great about putting emotional investment into every song that he sang."
Co-founder Rhiannon Giddens said Cash’s core was his voice and his subject matter, and no matter how much production was added, it never diluted his message.
Miller, who named his band after "Wreck Of The Old '97," a song popularized by Cash, said their intent was to sound like "Johnny Cash meets the Clash." He also recalled always picking "Ring Of Fire," a classic inducted into the GRAMMY Hall Of Fame in 1999, on the tabletop jukebox during childhood visits to a Dallas diner.
"I didn't know what it was about, but I knew that the guy who was singing it was singing it with everything he had," said Miller, dressed in black in homage to "one of my all-time heroes." "And there was so much heart behind it, and so much conviction. And nobody could sell a song like Johnny Cash. He meant every word he said, and if he didn't mean it, he made it sound like he meant it."
(Austin-based journalist Lynne Margolis currently contributes to American Songwriter, NPR's Song of the Day and newspapers nationwide, as well as several regional magazines and NPR-affiliate KUT-FM's "Texas Music Matters." A contributing editor to The Ties That Bind: Bruce Springsteen from A To E To Z, she has also previously written for Rollingstone.com and Paste magazine.)
Photo: Christopher Polk/Getty Images
Recordings By Janet Jackson, Louis Armstrong, Odetta & More Inducted Into The National Recording Registry
Selections by Albert King, Labelle, Connie Smith, Nas, Jackson Browne, Pat Metheny, Kermit the Frog and others have also been marked for federal preservation
The Librarian of Congress Carla Haden has named 25 new inductees into the National Recording Registry of the Library of Congress. They include Janet Jackson’s “Rhythm Nation 1814,” Louis Armstrong’s “When the Saints Go Marching In,” Labelle’s “Lady Marmalade,” Nas’ “Illmatic,” Kool & the Gang’s “Celebration,” Kermit the Frog’s “The Rainbow Connection” and more.
“The National Recording Registry will preserve our history through these vibrant recordings of music and voices that have reflected our humanity and shaped our culture from the past 143 years,” Hayden said in a statement. “We received about 900 public nominations this year for recordings to add to the registry, and we welcome the public’s input as the Library of Congress and its partners preserve the diverse sounds of history and culture.”
The National Recording Preservation Board is an advisory board consisting of professional organizations and experts who aim to preserve important recorded sounds. The Recording Academy is involved on a voting level. The 25 new entries bring the number of musical titles on the registry to 575; the entire sound collection includes nearly 3 million titles. Check out the full list of new inductees below:
National Recording Registry Selections for 2020
Edison’s “St. Louis tinfoil” recording (1878)
“Nikolina” — Hjalmar Peterson (1917) (single)
“Smyrneikos Balos” — Marika Papagika (1928) (single)
“When the Saints Go Marching In” — Louis Armstrong & his Orchestra (1938) (single)
Christmas Eve Broadcast--Franklin D. Roosevelt and Winston Churchill (December 24, 1941)
“The Guiding Light” — Nov. 22, 1945
“Odetta Sings Ballads and Blues” — Odetta (1957) (album)
“Lord, Keep Me Day by Day” — Albertina Walker and the Caravans (1959) (single)
Roger Maris hits his 61st homerun (October 1, 1961)
“Aida” — Leontyne Price, et.al. (1962) (album)
“Once a Day” — Connie Smith (1964) (single)
“Born Under a Bad Sign” — Albert King (1967) (album)
“Free to Be…You & Me” — Marlo Thomas and Friends (1972) (album)
“The Harder They Come” — Jimmy Cliff (1972) (album)
“Lady Marmalade” — Labelle (1974) (single)
“Late for the Sky” — Jackson Browne (1974) (album)
“Bright Size Life” — Pat Metheny (1976) (album)
“The Rainbow Connection” — Kermit the Frog (1979) (single)
“Celebration” — Kool & the Gang (1980) (single)
“Richard Strauss: Four Last Songs” — Jessye Norman (1983) (album)
“Janet Jackson’s Rhythm Nation 1814” — Janet Jackson (1989) (album)
“Partners” — Flaco Jiménez (1992) (album)
“Somewhere Over the Rainbow”/”What A Wonderful World” — Israel Kamakawiwo’ole (1993) (single)
“Illmatic” — Nas (1994) (album)
“This American Life: The Giant Pool of Money” (May 9, 2008)
Press Play At Home: Watch Dodie Perform A Morning-After Version Of "Four Tequilas Down"
In the latest episode of Press Play At Home, singer/songwriter dodie conjures a bleary last call in a hushed performance of "Four Tequilas Down"
"Four Tequilas Down" is as much a song as it is a memory—a half-remembered one. "Did you make your eyes blur?/So that in the dark, I'd look like her?" dodie, the song's writer and performer, asks. To almost anyone who's engaged in a buzzed rebound, that detail alone should elicit a wince of recognition.
Such is dodie's beyond-her-years mastery of her craft: Over a simple, spare chord progression, she can use an economy of words to twist the knife. "So just hold me like you mean it," dodie sings at the song's end. "We'll pretend because we need it."
In the latest episode of Press Play At Home, watch dodie stretch her songwriting muscles while conjuring a chemically altered Saturday night—and the Sunday morning full of regrets, too.
Check out dodie's hushed-yet-intense performance of "Four Tequilas Down" above and click here to enjoy more episodes of Press Play At Home.
Photo: Scott Dudelson/Getty Images
Everyone's A VIP At Clive Davis' Pre-GRAMMY Gala: From Travis Scott To Jimmy Jam To Brandi Carlile
Pass through the velvet rope at the Beverly Hilton in Los Angeles for an exclusive look at the star-studded 2019 Pre-GRAMMY Salute To Industry Icons
On Feb. 9, on the eve of Music's Biggest Night, the 61st GRAMMY Awards, artists from across genres and decades gathered at the glitzy Beverly Hilton in Beverly Hills, Calif. for the 2019 Pre-GRAMMY Salute To Industry Icons.
Less than 24 hours before the big red carpet walk today, the likes of current GRAMMY nominees Ella Mai, Dua Lipa, Diplo, Shaggy, Alice Cooper and Weird Al Yankovich, and GRAMMY winners Melissa Etheridge and Quincy Jones, brought their vibrant energy and killer looks at the annual celebration hosted by the Recording Academy and Clive Davis. Onlookers tried to spy the glam looks on the red carpet as they peered into the hotel's glass—we'll let you past the velvet rope and walk it with us as at this exclusive music industry event.
Dua Lipa & Ellie Goulding | Photo: Steve Granitz/WireImage/Getty Images
This year's who's-who of music gala celebrated iconic industry veteran Clarence Avant, known as the Godfather Of Black Music, as the honoree of the evening. Like event host and fellow legend Davis, he helped launch the careers of many great artists, working with the likes of GRAMMY-winning greats Bill Withers, Kenneth "Babyface" Edmonds and Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis of The Time.
The video celebrating Avant had countless heroes such as Former President Barack Obama, Jones, Diddy and JAY-Z sharing how much they love Avant, the powerful impact he's made on their lives and music, and how he always knows the right thing to say. Recording Academy President/CEO Neil Portnow introduced him with a fitting complement, and a huge one given the company they were in: "You're the ultimate music person." The Time properly brought the funk on stage to celebrate Avant with a performance of their '80s hits "The Bird" and "Jungle Love," dancing as if no time had passed.
Current GRAMMY nominee Travis Scott set the mood opening the evening's performances with "Goosebumps" and "Sicko Mode," while sisters and fellow nominees Chloe x Halle brought home a rousing cover of the late GRAMMY-winning Queen Of Soul Aretha Franklin's "Sisters Are Doing It For Themselves." Brandi Carlile, another current GRAMMY nominee, returned to the stage to join the duo, along with past nominee Valerie Simpson and Broadway star Keala Settle, ending the evening on quite the high note.
Chloe x Halle | Photo: Scott Dudelson/Getty Images
Other musical guests for the evening included current nominees Bebe Rexha, Florida Georgia Line and H.E.R., along with past nominees Jazmine Sullivan and Ledisi, plus GRAMMY winner Rob Thomas. Sullivan and Thomas offered a powerful duet, belting out Aretha and George Michael's "I Knew You Were Waiting (For Me)."
As the evening rolled on, Davis made sure to highlight all the countless legends in the room, as the crowd continuously burst into applause and often up on their feet to celebrate the likes of music greats Barbara Streisand, George Clinton and Dionne Warwick, along with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Apple's Tim Cook and even former-L.A. Lakers star Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
Don't forget to tune in to the 2019 GRAMMYs live from Staples Center today. Start with the GRAMMY Awards Premiere Ceremony at 12:30 p.m. PST/3:30 ET, then follow us to the red carpet at 2:00 p.m. PST/5:00 p.m. ET—both will be live streamed right here on right here on GRAMMY.com.
Then the moment you've all been waiting for, the 61st GRAMMY Awards, hosted by 15-time GRAMMY winner Alicia Keys, will air live at 5:00 p.m. PST/8:00 p.m. ET / 7:00 p.m. CT on CBS.