Holly Williams sings 'Blue Is My Heart': exclusive video
You'd think there was more than enough inherent pressure on musicians who took part in the album “The Lost Notebooks of Hank Williams,” for which each participant was asked to complete a song left unfinished by the country music legend when he died in 1953. But one of the singers and songwriters chosen to be on the album brought along the added weight of family history.
That’s Holly Williams, the daughter of Hank Williams Jr. and granddaughter of the Williams family patriarch. When Bob Dylan, who helped spearhead the songs to completion, invited Williams to be involved, she was immediately drawn to a fragment of a song titled “Blue Is My Heart,” for which her celebrated forebear had written just eight lines of lyrics.
“When I read through them, I was super-excited to do them,” Williams said in an interview for the in-depth feature story on the project that appears in Sunday's Arts & Books section. “‘Blue Is My Heart’ is the first one that really stuck with me, the one that spoke to me the most. I wasn’t going through a bad breakup at the time or anything, but I could relate.”
Whereas some of the other participants -- including Jack White, Norah Jones, Sheryl Crow, Jakob Dylan and Lucinda Williams (who isn’t related to Hank) -- got complete sets of lyrics for which they needed to add the music that Hank Williams never got around to writing, Holly Williams had to fill out the lyrics as well as come up with a melody.
“I wrote two more verses and a bridge,” said Williams, who has put out two albums of her own and is readying her third for an anticipated spring release. “I made a rule that I wanted to make it so people couldn’t tell when my part came in. To finish one of his songs not only musically, but lyrically, and to get that beautiful, simple language was a lot. But it came very quickly. With my songwriting, the long ones don’t do very well. My favorite ones are the ones I write in 10 or 15 minutes. And this felt very apparent to me that it was one of those.”
Below is a video of Williams giving a solo acoustic performance of her across-the-decades collaboration with her grandfather. On the album, which will be released Tuesday, her father harmonizes on the verses with her.
“We just called him and he knew the [original] lyric,” she said. “We went into a studio in Nashville and did it very quickly. It’s just me on acoustic guitar, Vince Gill on acoustic and a drummer sitting in a circle around one microphone, the way Hank would have done it. To have my dad sing on it too, it was great.”
Beyond her track for the “Lost Notebooks” album, Williams said, she’s helping to revamp Hank Sr.’s website, and the new, improved edition is expected to go online this week in conjunction with the album’s release.
-- Randy Lewis
Photo: Holly Williams. Credit: Alex Koester.