When Sam Williams takes the stage at Songbyrd this weekend, on Saturday, December 4, opening for Brittany Spencer, he will have some big boots to fill as the grandson of the King of Country Hank Williams and son of outlaw legend Hank Williams, Jr.
Despite growing up in a musical dynasty, music wasn’t the usual topic of discussion. Williams’ father may have hosted Kid Rock and Pamela Anderson at their home in Paris, Tennessee, but preferred talking about hunting and fishing.
“My dad does not like to talk about music; he separated music and family long before I was born,” Williams says.
Three of his older siblings — Hank III, Holly Williams and Hillary Williams — also pursued musical careers, and it seemed a natural fit that Sam would follow suit. He considered attending college in Denver or Miami — somewhere far from Tennessee — to study international relations or politics. But he found himself drawn back home, to making music, to creating his own legacy.
“I hid from music, the legacy,” Williams says. “I was insecure about being from such a big powerful family that people know about. It didn’t feel normal as a kid but I knew I didn’t think like my dad and I don’t think like my grandpa. My dad says I have the best voice in my family and he always encouraged me, but I was scared. And I now know that I was put here to do this.”
He found his way to Nashville and played “small bars, honky tonks and hole-in-the-walls” around the country and across Europe, before setting out on a “real American tour.” Williams, charming and disarming in conversation, deflects when it comes to his achievements, not sharing that he also made his Grand Ole Opry debut in 2020 or performed on “Late Night with Stephen Colbert.”
Over the last several years, Williams has found his own voice in contemporary country music, and his debut album “Glasshouse Children” is startlingly different from his “pater familias.” His works are neither in the vein of his father’s style — bravado lyrics and masculine anthems — nor his grandfather’s honkey tonk lovesick lyrics.
“I wanted listeners to ask, ‘Who is this? Is this Hank Jr.’s kid? I think somebody’s lying.’ That’s what I wanted. I had to make this my own record, songs unique to me.”
“Glasshouse Children,” which was released earlier this summer on Mercury Nashville Records, took years to compose and finetune, and the album is a stunner. There may be touches of his grandfather’s heartbreak odes, but the production is crisp and modern, a contemporary country album with a sleek pop sensibility and diverse influences.
“Ironically, first and foremost, I look up to Nicki Minaj. She came from extreme poverty. She was an immigrant who worked her ass off to become one of the most talented musicians in the history of American music. I just look up to her as a person,” Williams shares about his musical heroes.
“Also I look up to Dolly Parton, her humility and her self-deprecation, her balance of business and faith. And also look up to my dad because he faced so much adversity. And sometimes I just have to remember who I am, where I come from and if he can do it, I can do it, too.”
The lyrics on his debut are vulnerable and honest, as on the title track, which he calls his “magnum opus… so far”: “Glasshouse children, throwin’ stones / We’re not willin’ to leave the pain alone / All this shattered glass layin’ in the past.” At times, the pain in his lyrics is like a palpable wound. Both “Glasshouse Children” and “Can’t Fool Your Own Blood” speak openingly of being a child raised in a family bedeviled by alcoholism and “demons.” The stirring video for the latter was shot on the grounds of his grandfather’s old home.
If the sins of the past haunt several of his songs, others, such as “Bulleit Blues” — a heartbreaker about drinking too much, making bad mistakes, and self-shame — hints at the fact that those same issues are coming in close to this generation, too.
“The World: Alone” is a song of lost love and missed opportunities to see the world together, a heartbreaker of a song that took on a new valence after the tragic death of his beloved sister, Katie, in a car accident just months before his debut was released. These are songs of heartbreak, loss, and redemption, too, as in his duet with Dolly Parton “Happy All the Time” about valuing love and self-worth over baubles and riches.
Williams, so raw in his lyrics, only finds it difficult to speak about what makes his works so very honest and open.
“It can be difficult for me to do an interview just about music because music, it’s about life,” Williams explains. “But what I would say is sensitivity and vulnerability should not be something that is only acceptable from one type of person, regardless of gender. My grandfather was very authentic. And I’m so glad that he didn’t have social media back then because he wrote songs about things that hurt him in hopes that they would help. And I do the same thing. I try to say the things that when somebody hears makes your heart feel some way.”
Joining Baltimore-born Brittany Spencer — a rising star of neo-country who has topped almost every “Artist to Watch” list in the last few years — for five stops on her “In a Perfect World Tour,” Williams is excited to make his first American tour opening for an artist he considers a true friend.
“Brittany and I come from a new generation of country artists that can be progressive, inclusive, outspoken, unafraid to say the wrong thing and unafraid to apologize.”
Sam Williams plays Songbyrd on December 4 at 7 p.m., opening for Brittany Spencer. Tickets are $17-20. To Learn more about Sam Williams, visit samwilliamsofficial.com or follow him on Instagram @samwillivms.
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