Cash, Carter, Haggard, Nelson and Lynn are some of the many famous last names in country music. These are also last names with multiple generations populating the family tree of country music history, but as famously beloved as the aforementioned lineages are, there’s arguably no last name grander than Williams.
Singer-songwriter Sam Williams is the youngest son of renegade country legend Hank Williams Jr., which of course, also means he’s the grandson of perhaps country music’s original outlaw superstar, Hank Williams Sr. The 22-year old Nashville resident has been gradually stepping into the music business, releasing singles “Darkwater” in 2016 and “The Lost Grandchild’s Plea” in 2018. His latest offering, “Gemini” is a folk-driven Americana gem that Williams originally wrote as a poem before he realized its potential as a song.
It’s not that his father and grandfather are the only notable musical talents in Sam’s family. His half-brother Hank III and half-sister, Holly Williams have also carved out their own countrified niches over the past decade or so, though neither have been actively recording in the past couple of years.
When asked about what it was like growing up in his particular household with ambitions of making a go of it as a musician, he says “I was always extremely hesitant and didn’t discuss music growing up.” We chatted with Williams about turning poetry into songs, becoming a part of the “Family Tradition,” and what life’s like for him day-to-day in Music City.
“Gemini” started out as a poem before you turned it into a song. How did that happen? Where does the difference lie for you between writing a poem and a song?
When I started writing songs before securing a pub deal, I’d write poems that I knew could be my songs. “Gemini” was a co-write with the lovely Jaida Dreyer. I’m pretty good at knowing what I want to say and what I don’t, and that day I wanted to outline all these opposites in my life. One day I can be as impressive as can be, the next day I might fault harder than I ever have. We all deal with that. “Gemini” was written at a time when I was really digging into Billie Eilish music and that’s how I figured I wanted the chorus to fall much different than the listener may expect.
What’s an average day for you in Nashville as a young father trying to make it in the music business?
On an average day I finish writing by 4, head to school to pick my boy up, get somewhere to eat a bite, get home. Re-evaluate and do it all again. I’ve got to see the vision before anyone else can, and I’m grateful for my champions like my publisher Missi Gallimore.
On your Facebook page you’ve made a point to list other Geminis as you prepared to release the new song. What’s your understanding of what it means to be a “Gemini?” Do you put a lot of faith or belief into Astrology?
I posted some on my Dad’s birthday, because we both are Gemini’s. I don’t get too into astrology but there are for sure so many crazy truths to the signs. A Gemini for me is very unpredictable, they usually turn their hurt into drivenness, I know I do, and are very inquisitive people.
Some sons or daughters of famous musicians are hesitant to get into whatever it is that their parents have become famous for. But you seem to really enjoy taking part in the “Family Tradition,” shall we say? What’s it like to get on stage with your dad and sing that song with him?
My dad didn’t play music in the house, and it was a thing I had to grow into. I had to learn my family’s catalogue on my own and see what it meant for me. My sister Holly is also a tremendous influence for me. I’ve been the tipsy guy singing that song with him on stage before, but nowadays I take it very seriously and feel so blessed to get to sing beside him. He is a miracle in every sense and entertains like no other. I’m just waiting on singing “Weatherman” together.
Your Dad famously broke away from his father’s musical style to forge his own path, and Hank III and Holly have also put out some great music over the years that felt very unique to them as individuals. It doesn’t seem as though having a famous lineage has kept any of you from wanting to sound like anyone other than yourselves. How driven are you to simply sound like “You?”
I almost have to remove myself from the comparisons and pressure because it can be too much. I know what music I love. I know what I’m comfortable saying and what boundaries I want to push. I love being authentic and introspective while writing, and I also love pop music and the influence it has. I have no choice but to sound like me. Vocally I’m influenced by the pop stars like Ed Sheeran, and my personal favorite, Tyler Childers. Writing is therapeutic for me so sometimes that’s just getting out what needs to be gotten out. I heard Vince Gill say yesterday, “I heard someone say ‘Let your eyes leak so your head won’t swell.’”
You recently performed at the Bluebird Cafe with Vince Gill and Bill Anderson. That seems like it might be the greatest possible “Nashville night” a songwriter could have. Can you tell me about that experience?
One of my best friends, Bobby Tomberlin, invited me to sing there. I sang my song “The River Will Flow” which may never come out; it’s about where I was raised and not having any family roots in the area and my grandparents leaving the world way before I came into it. He [Gill] appreciated my writing and my voice very much and told me how refreshing it was to hear. Told the crowd I was royalty, which is weird for me to hear because I feel like an underdog. Getting to see Vince croon with so much emotion and to also see the living legend Bill Anderson span his career was such an honor. I’m just a kid still.