NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Holly Williams had one of those days recently. Her iPhone fell in the toilet, her air conditioner broke and the temperature soared.
But Williams kept her cool.
“Three years ago that would have been a big issue,” said the 28-year-old singer-songwriter, whose new CD, Here With Me, was released this month.
Williams’ perspective changed after she and her older sister, Hilary, were nearly killed in a car crash near Memphis in 2006. Headed to their grandfather’s funeral in Mississippi, her sister was driving, and just before the wreck she told Holly to put on her seat belt. Holly says it saved her life.
About all she remembers is Hilary looking down to change the song on her iPod and the car veering into some gravel on the side of the road. The wreck crushed Holly’s right arm (she couldn’t play guitar for five months) and forced Hilary to learn to walk again.
“It made me appreciate the simple things, like taking a shower,” she said of her recovery. “Professionally, my work ethic changed. My songwriting became more serious.”
Her new CD includes a song inspired by the accident, Without Jesus Here With Me, in which she sings, “I don’t know why I’m still here, or why I lived that Wednesday morn’.”
Here With Me is the sophomore effort for Williams, the daughter of Hank Williams Jr. and the granddaughter of Hank Williams Sr.
Growing up, she was largely sheltered from her father’s well-documented rowdy life on the road. She was even less connected to her late grandfather’s legacy, even though he is enshrined in both the country and rock halls of fame.
“My dad was so famous that it overshadowed Hank Sr.’s legacy,” said Williams, whose half brother is alt-country singer/punk rocker Hank Williams III. “I knew he was a singer and I knew he wrote a couple of songs.”
It wasn’t until she discovered singer-songwriters like Joni Mitchell, Neil Young and Bob Dylan that she realized the full extent of his influence.
“Even Stevie Wonder,” she recalled. “I met him and he mentioned Hank Sr. So I was really brought back to the Hank Williams stuff from the stuff I was listening to. Artists who were influencing me were influenced by my grandfather.”
Her parents divorced when she was only three, leaving her mother, Becky, to raise her and her sister (Williams is quick to credit her father as a good dad who was involved). She says it was her mother — to whom she pays tribute on the new CD with the song Mama — who had the most musical influence on her.
“She was more key because my dad did not play music around the house at all,” she recalled, explaining he wanted just to be dad at home.
“He never played songs or played guitar, and my mom every night of my entire life played piano. She’d sit down and play two hours of piano and singing.”