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Sam Williams, Grandson of Hank Williams, Signs With Universal Music Group Nashville (EXCLUSIVE)

After he initially announced plans to release his debut album independently, singer-songwriter Sam Williams has signed with Universal Music Group Nashville, the company is announcing today. The 24-year-old son of country icon Hank Williams Jr. and grandson of pioneer Hank Williams will issue his first full-length recording, “Glasshouse Children,” via Nashville’s top label group this summer.

“It’s been an amazing surprise,” Cindy Mabe, president of UMG Nashville, tells Variety. “I’m more excited about this kid than I have been in a really long time.”

Williams has flown largely under the radar till now, even though he’s released a handful of tracks independently over the last two years, made his Grand Ole Opry debut last year, toured Europe as an opening act for Cam, and made his late-night premiere on Stephen Colbert’s show in April.

“There is a finished album, and frankly, all the credit goes to Sam and Missi (Gallimore, his manager) and the team that’s been working with him,” Mabe says. “All of that happened prior to me being involved at all. I’m the person that just fell in love with it. I stumbled upon him, and it was just like, good God, this kid’s rich and deep. I mean, I feel like it was one of the biggest gifts I’ve been given in quite some time, because I think he’s that special.”

(L-R): Missi Gallimore (Owner & CEO, T.R.U.T.H. Management), Sam Williams, Cindy Mabe (President, UMG Nashville), Mike Dungan (Chairman & CEO, UMG Nashville)
Katie Kauss

Genre-wise, the company expects Williams to touch a lot of different bases, with the mainstream country format very much being one of them.

“The format’s gotten pretty stale, in what you hear from them from the most commercial parts of it. What’s fringe is not so stale,” Mabe says.” I think this kid has the potential of being as commercial as a lot of things, but always being on that fringe. I think he’s going to walk both lines. There’s a big stirring around the format anyway, and I feel like he’s coming in at the perfect time, especially as a 24-year-old man that has a lot to say — a lot of story, a lot of life that he’s lived, well beyond his years. I think that he is firmly entrenched in country, but also he has a pop reach. He has an Americana reach. He has a triple-A reach. I mean, he can go any direction he wants to. And as a writer, and just in the way that the guy emotes, he really does not have a fence around him.”

Much of the story will inevitably focus on how Williams fulfills a (to borrow dad’s phrase) family tradition. He is the youngest of several Williams family children/grandchildren to take to music, after Hank III, Holly Williams and Hilary Williams. Perhaps ironically, he has said that he resisted the family business initially and, as a father at 19, enrolled in college as a business major before determining this would be his path as well.

“I think that he could have tried to avoid it his whole life and it still would have been right there,” Maybe says. “You don’t have that kind of talent and you can’t be in touch with the things and as connected  to what he’s connected to as he is and run away from it.

“He’s really unique in that, number one, he’s just a real vocalist, which is not so super common in our format, as a male.He’s so powerful, but yet he’s one of the most vulnerable lyricists that I’ve ever heard, and this kid makes you feel every word that comes out of his mouth. Not even knowing everything that the kid has experienced, you just feel like you you’ve been through it with him by the time that you listen to these records. So I just think he can do anything he wants, and the format is really in need of something like that right now. There’s a lot of sameness in what country music is currently representing. He doesn’t sit in the center of anything. He’s definitely walking that line of on the outside here. And I think that that can really influence the format.”

Indications for where Williams might lean, or go, may be found in his previously cited love of artists like Adele, Amy Winehouse, Lewis Capaldi and even Miley Cyrus as well as native country favorites like Dolly Parton. The Americana influence may also be felt in Williams’ choice of co-writers for the album, including Lori McKenna, Jim Lauderdale and Mary Gauthier.

Williams has not resisted referring to his legendary family and his part in it. For his Colbert debut, he sang the song “Can’t Fool Your Own Blood” from his grandfather’s empty Franklin, Tenn. mansion. Referring to more recent events, he has dedicated the song “The World: Alone” to his late sister, Katie Williams-Dunning, whose death in a car crash in June 2020 made national headlines, even though the song was written prior to her passing.

Says Mabe, “You first go into it and you’re like, he looks a lot like his grandfather, as a starting point. And you hear him talking about these things and you hear him sing and you’re like, well, he doesn’t sound like either one of them (Hank or Hank Jr.), but God, he’s got some depth to him. He really is making completely different music. Their fan base may not be Sam’s fan base; they most certainly won’t be. If his name was anything else, it wouldn’t really matter, but the purity and realness of those two artists is completely within Sam, and the life that he has lived really is an entry point.”

Mabe is still amazed that Williams has had a low a profile as he’s had until now. “They weren’t even shopping this record,” she says, noting that, although she’d heard about his Opry debut, Williams wasn’t on her radar until he came up in conversation with his publicist, Luke Burland. “We know about a lot of Williams kids, but I had no idea there was someone this talented sitting right in front of me. No one ever really pushed him to be that artist, and he wasn’t sure he was going to be that himself. And he certainly didn’t have the advocate that was saying (to the A&R people of Nashville), ‘Hey, look, come check out Sam.’ That’s not how I discovered him, frankly.” His having stayed low-key is “even more a brilliant part of the story,” she says, “and I think it all goes to who Sam is.”

 

 




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