Lucinda Williams: Outtakes from the Riverfront Times' interview and music feature this week

For the music section this week, I wrote a piece pegged to Lucinda Williams' July 15 show at the Pageant (Charlie Louvin opens). The cost of newsprint limited the ground we could cover, but the Internets ain't made of newsprint. (And P.S.: The great photo was taken by Cary Swain Melton.)

So, for example, I can tell you here that Williams was in the studio early this month recording songs for two upcoming CD compilations. One, to benefit victims of Hurricane Katrina, is a tribute to New Orleans' own Fats Domino that will feature, in addition to Williams, Paul McCartney, Tom Petty, Neil Young and Elton John, among others. Williams' contribution: a song called "Honey Chile." For the other disc, aimed at raising funds to help kids with cancer, Williams recorded a version of the Waylon Jennings/Willie Nelson staple "Mamas Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys."

Here's some more of what Williams had to say about...

...the "myth" of the suffering artist: I saw that proven time and time again, growing up around poets and novelists, short story writers who were married, with families, and most of them were college professors -- one of them being my dad [the poet Miller Williams]. And I saw them all living in those situations while I was growing up -- they weren't all running around, you know, having one-night stands. Certainly they stayed up all night in each other's living rooms, drinking Jack Daniel's and talking about writing and stuff, but they'd get up the next day and teach a class, so they could make a living.

And there were, like, three kids around the house, yelling and screaming, and I'd see my dad, and somehow he was just able to block it out. Most of the time he just went into his office, and he'd be in there with the door closed and you couldn't go in. So, I saw those lifestyles, and I saw the creativity, I saw all this abundant creativity.

I remember when I left home, went out into the world on my own -- I remember feeling bored. I was around a lot of musicians and all they wanted to do was sit around and smoke pot. I wasn't in that academic environment any more.

...her early career: I never really saw myself as a folk singer, really -- which shouldn't be surprising when you look back at all the different kinds of music I grew up listening to. But when I got out there on my own, I was just -- sort of by default, because I sang and played guitar -- I was thrown into that singer-songwriter folk singer thing. But I always used to sing other songs.

I just took whatever gigs I could get back then. It didn't matter to me if it was a heavy-metal crowd or a honky-tonk or a biker bar. I didn't discriminate. And if the audience wasn't listening to me, then I'd go home that night and try to figure out: How could I make them listen? I started learning blues songs, and it just kind of grew from there.

I worked up a version of Jimi Hendrix's "Angel," and I played J.J. Cale songs -- I was writing, but not in the way that I am now. I hadn't really become self-assured as a songwriter yet. But I'd do Bob Dylan, Hank Williams -- just any song that I thought was cool that I could work up. Didn't matter what style it was.

...songwriting: I save everything, in case there's a line here or there that I haven't used yet. The only time I throw something away is once I've used it all; then I thrown the notes out. But I keep everything. I've got a whole parcel of them, collected over years and years and years, stuff from way back in the early '70s, stuff I wrote then and held on to.

I've been running across these old demo tapes from way back then, songs that I'd forgotten about. There's a song that was on an old demo of songs that ended up on -- the song is called "Letters" -- Laura Cantrell, she's a country/folk singer out of the New York City area, really pretty voice, and she came out with this album a couple years ago [Humming by the Flowered Vine, 2005]. Somehow she got ahold of this old demo tape of mine, and it had this song on it that I'd never recorded and I didn't think anybody had ever heard, and she put it on her record.

...performing live: It used to make me uncomfortable to play theaters, and I still struggle with that a little bit. I have trouble reading the audience, because they can't move around. And a lot of times the bar will be out in the lobby, so they have to get up to go out there to get a drink. They come and slam the drink down and sit back down -- it's a little distracting.

I like them to be comfortable. But I've been working on trying to transcend that a little bit, just get into the show and not worry so much about whether they're sitting down or whether they have a drink or not.

That happened at Radio City Music Hall. We were in the middle of the show, and this couple was sitting right in the front row and got up and started walking away up the aisle, and I was just horrified. And I'm like, God, why are they leaving? And I just tried to be kind of self-effacing and go, "Well, we've lost a couple," and there's a little laughter, and I said, "Well, the ice is broken now, what the hell, let's just try to have a good time."

Well, later someone told me they came back, decided not to go get a drink. And I just felt terrible. It's easy to get paranoid. And that's what I'm working on right now: Just don't let it get all get blown out of proportion.

-Tom Finkel

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