Like many successful musical artists, Lucinda Williams had an unusual childhood. Her father was a poet, critic, and English lit professor who traveled all across the American South teaching at various colleges throughout Williams' childhood. The one consistency in her childhood was music.
She was singing and playing the guitar by the time she was 12. She found inspiration in Bob Dylan, Skip James, Bukka White, and Robert Johnson. As she blossomed into young adulthood she began playing her own shows.
Her shows incorporated her own original folksy tunes as well as traditional favorites. She played around the south for a few years before settling in the musical center of Austin, TX in 1974. After establishing herself in the Austin clubs she moved on to Houston and became part of a folk scene that included Nanci Griffith, Lyle Lovett, and Townes Van Zandt.
By 1978 she was signed with R&B studio Malaco Records. Williams recorded her debut, Ramblin' on My Mind, in 1979. The album was a collection of traditional blues and country standards. The following year brought a second album, this time comprised of original material.
Happy Woman Blues was recorded in Houston. The songs featured a full band with acoustic guitar, fiddle, pedal steel, bass, and drums backing up Lucinda Williams' powerful vocals. Williams took an eight-year vacation from the recording studio. During the time away from recording she continued to play live shows and reinvent herself and her sound.
She moved from Houston to Austin and finally made the plunge and migrated to Los Angeles. Several labels approached her during the hiatus but Williams did not sign. She held out for complete creative control. She found that control with Rough Trade, an indie-rock label. Williams was impressed with the label's integration of traditional folk, country, and blues influences into a rock and roll format. After eight years out of the recording studio Williams had returned with a vengeance. Her new album, Passionate Kisses, marked a new, more rock-oriented direction for her music. Songs like 'The Night's Too Long', 'Passionate Kisses', and 'Changed the Locks' introduced this new style to old and new fans alike. Guitarist and co-producer Gurf Morlix became a vital influence on her music. She has included him on her recording roster ever since.
RCA coaxed Williams into signing, but she was unhappy with the control the company was taking over her music so she left the label before recording anything. She again moved towards an independent label. In 1992 she released Sweet Old World on the Chameleon label. The new album featured more of the twangy, southern-infused rock and roll that the previous album introduced. Critics and fans flocked to record stores and bought the album in mass. They appreciated the integrity of Williams' career, even though it had slowed down the release of her new album. People agreed that it was worth the wait. Another long-awaited release followed in 1998. Car Wheels on a Gravel Road was released on Mercury Records to much critical acclaim. Williams soon hit that gravel road and went on tour to promote the new album, selling tickets across the country.