Lucinda Williams was born in Lake Charles, Louisiana but most of her childhood was spent moving throughout the southern United States - and even as far as Mexico and Chile - for her father's academic work as a professor. Unlike others with a similar tumbleweed experience, Lucinda doesn't lament those restless days. "I think I saw it as a kind of adventure," she told The Telegraph. It gave her a "global view of the world at an early age."
Lucinda later wrote a song called "Lake Charles" which dealt with the pain of losing her ex-boyfriend.
Lucinda has a weak back due to a birth defect called Spina bifida, a congenital disorder affecting the spinal cord, she inherited from her father. Some sufferers have partial or total paralysis in their legs, but Lucinda finds she just gets tired if she has to stand for long periods of time.
John Mellencamp and the late Hank Williams were also born with Spina bifida.
Lucinda's favorite place to write songs is at her kitchen table where she keeps a folder bursting with decades worth of ideas. She described her work station in an interview with Electronic Musician: "They say when you go to people's houses you always end up in the kitchen. It's the heart of the home. I write a lot when I first get up. I make coffee or tea and I feel comfortable in the kitchen, I spread everything out on the table. It's a handmade Formica-covered wood table, left by the people we bought the house from. It's in the corner of kitchen, lot of light, skylights, mid-century split level house. It's all very open. See a lot of plants, foliage out the window."
This is where she wrote and recorded her aptly titled Kitchen Tapes, disc 2 of the deluxe edition of Blessed.
Lucinda's friends call her a perfectionist, while her exasperated colleagues go a step further and call her a control freak. As a result, her breakthrough 1998 album, Car Wheels on a Gravel Road, took five years to make. She clashed with producer and guitarist Gurf Morlix, her longtime collaborator, when she insisted on revamping the near-finished album to meet her satisfaction.
Steve Earle, who was on the sidelines as a guest guitar player, said it was the "least amount of fun I've had working on a record." He and Lucinda are back on good terms, but Gurf is still licking his wounds far away from the singer. He told the music website No Depression: "After 11 years, I realized that making music doesn't have to be an ordeal, and I chose to move on."
For her 2001 album, Essence, she recorded with members of both Bob Dylan's and Neil Young's backing bands. While she calls both singers major influences on her work, Dylan in particular is woven into the roots of Lucinda's music. In an interview with MOJO, she remembers the moment she first heard one of his albums: "A student of my dad's, a young poet, came over to the house one day in 1965 with a copy of Highway 61 Revisited and it just changed my life. All of a sudden here was someone who had taken both of the worlds that I was from - the traditional folk music world that I had come out of and the creative writing world and put them together and made it work. I decided from that moment on, I want to write songs like that."
Nashville has earned the ire of Lucinda Williams ever since the town proved to be little more than a fair-weather friend to the singer. When her "Passionate Kisses" became a hit for Mary Chapin Carpenter and earned them both Grammy Awards in 1994, she rode the wave of that success all the way to Nashville only to be snubbed. Everyone clamored for a piece of her after the release of Car Wheels on a Gravel Road but she wasn't willing to change herself to fit the image of a typical Country music star. They hated her for it and she hates them right back. At one show, she dedicated a song to "those people in Nashville who have been talking me down. You can kiss my pretty white ass!"
Since she started songwriting at 6 years old, Lucinda has had plenty of time to hone her skills and has a surefire way to tell if she has a good song. She told Harp: "When I'm writing a song, I always know that I've got a good one, that I've connected to the spiritual core of the song, like I've found that spot, the g-spot of the song [as it were] when I cry."
Greg Sowders, Lucinda's ex-husband and former Long Ryders drummer, remembers when the singer had to take on odd day jobs to supplement her music career. He told Mojo : "She had this day job demonstrating luxury sausages in a supermarket – she'd be standing in the aisles with a hotplate cooking them, surrounded by 300-pound housewives, and my God, she hated it! I'd collect her and she'd come home and have to try to write songs."
Lucinda Williams' father was the Arkansas poet Miller Williams (1930-2015). A prolific writer and teacher and friend of Bill Clinton, the President chose him to read his poem "Of History and Hope" at the 1997 inauguration.
In 2014 Williams put her father's poem "Compassion
" to music as the lead cut on her Down Where the Spirit Meets the Bone