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Too country for rock, too rock for country

Lucinda Williams chooses acclaim over fame any day

Web posted on:
Thursday, February 04, 1999 11:04:27 AM EST

NEW YORK (CNN) -- Lucinda Williams' "Car Wheels on a Gravel Road" was on practically every music critic's list of the top 10 CDs of 1998. It earned her two Grammy nominations this year -- but you've got to look hard to find her on music TV or radio.

"Too country for rock and too rock for country," says Williams with a laugh. "It's been like that from day one, pretty much."

She's already won one Grammy -- in 1994 -- for writing the Mary-Chapin Carpenter hit "Passionate Kisses." Williams didn't show up at the ceremony. But that's not an out-of-character occurrence -- she often doesn't play by the rules.

"I refuse to let them edit my songs for radio," she says.

And the same goes for television. She rejected a request by ABC's "Good Morning America" that she leave out a potentially offensive verse of her song "Right in Time" -- a tune recording label Mercury Records calls "more passionate than 'Passionate Kisses.'"

"I said, 'I'm not going to leave it out. I'm going to do the verse, do the song as it is, or forget it,'" Williams says. "So we did it. Nobody got hurt."

Writing is in her blood. Williams' father, poet Miller Williams, read at President Clinton's second inaugural.

"A lot of it comes from just watching him, reading his work, being around other writers, friends of his, his cronies who were always around the house," the poet's daughter says. "I grew up around writers. And it's all about attention to detail."

Indeed: Williams' godfather is George Haley, brother of "Roots" author Alex Haley. And she grew up well-versed in the quintessential Southern literature of Eudora Welty, Flannery O'Connor, and William Faulkner.


Lucinda Williams performs "Car Wheels on a Gravel Road"

Audio clip: 270k MPEG-3
Audio clip: 375k WAV

Due acclaim

Despite the rave reviews, Williams' fifth album in 20 years did not get a Grammy nomination in the best album category -- nor the notoriety that would have accompanied it. But still, she says, she wouldn't trade the critical acclaim she has gotten for widespread fame and fortune.

"'Cause that's so fleeting," she explains. "It's here today, gone tomorrow. Y'know? I think you need to do what you believe in to begin with and do what you're happy with artistically. Just do your own thing and just let it go from there. And whatever happens after that is kind of out of your hands."

At 46, Williams isn't about to let a record company -- or radio or television -- manipulate her into changing what she does.

"I'm doing it my way, as much as I can," she says, adding that she believes that's the way it should be. "I think the artists have to have a lot more power within the industry than they do."

Lucinda Williams is doing her best to keep it that way. She goes up for Best Contemporary Folk Album and Best Female Rock Vocal Performance on the Grammy Awards broadcast February 24.

Correspondent Mark Scheerer contributed to this report.

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