|
|
|
Morning Sun
  • PATRICK'S PEOPLE: Leona Williams has made music for many years

  • Name any country music legend over the past five decades, and chances are that he or she has either performed with Leona Williams or recorded one of the many songs she has written.

    • email print
  • Name any country music legend over the past five decades, and chances are that he or she has either performed with Leona Williams or recorded one of the many songs she has written.
    She’s still active and touring, and is scheduled to perform March 29 at the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville.
    However, local audiences will get a chance to see her at 2 p.m. Sunday in a country music show at the Fort Scott Memorial Hall. Admission will be $12.50 at the door.
    “In the past year I’ve been to Scotland, Sweden, Ireland and now I’ll be in Fort Scott,” Williams said during a telephone interview from Nashville. “The way it worked out, I’m working Saturday in Springfield, Mo., so it’s not too far to drive from.”
    She started out in Vienna, Mo., in central Missouri.
    “There were 12 kids in our family,” Williams said. “I had seven brothers and four sisters. One sister died, but the rest of us still get together when we can.  Our mother died in 2006, but I still have my house in Vienna.”
    The whole family was talented musically, and little Leona Belle Helton performed with her siblings in the family band during childhood. When she was 15, she got her first radio show, called “Leona Sings,” in Jefferson City, Mo., which brought her to the attention of Loretta Lynn, who asked the teen to join her touring band as a bassist and backup vocalist.
    “I played upright bass and traveled with Loretta Lynn for a year,” Williams said. “I was a kid on the road.”
    In 1968 she signed on as a solo artist with Hickory, where her records included “Once More” and “Country Girl with Hot Pants On.” She later switched her label to MCA and made history in 1976 by becoming the first woman to record a country album, titled “San Quentin’s First Lady,” inside a prison.
    Williams had joined Merle Haggard’s backing band in 1975, and that proved significant personally and professionally.
    “I was with Merle for nine years, and married to him for six,” Williams said.
    In 1978 the two released a Top 10 duet titled “The Bull and the Beaver,” and a duet album followed called “Heart To Heart.” She also wrote some of his biggest hits, including “You Take Me for Granted” and “Some Day When Things are Good.” In 1983, their “We’re Strangers Again” made the charts.
    Williams’ songs have been recorded by many other artists as well, including George Jones, Moe Bandy, Randy Travis, Hank Thompson, the Forester Sister, Tammy Wynette, Gene Watson, Loretta Lynn, Ray Price, Johnny Bush, Willie Nelson and Connie Smith.
    “My first Top 10 single was ‘Dallas,’ recorded by Connie Smith, a great singer,” Williams said. “It seems like there weren’t as many women writing songs back then, but some of the new little girl singers now hook with experienced songwriters and learn from them. Bill Anderson is the one I think about, and I’m real proud that he’s still out there working with the new artists.”
    Page 2 of 2 - Williams is still writing and recording. She has teamed up with other artists on recordings such as Gene Watson’s “Gold Summer Day in Georgia,” Vince Gill’s “Living the Way I Do,” Jimmy Martin’s “If Teardrops Were Pennies” and George Jones’ “Best Friends.”
    In 2008 she recorded “Leona Williams Sings Merle Haggard,” and in 2009 she released a duets album featuring artists such as George Jones, Merle Haggard, Johnny Bush, Frankie Miller, Floyd Tillman, Ferlin Husky and others.
    “I’ll be at the Missouri State Fair this year, and on July 4, 2012, it will be Leona Williams Day in Vienna, Mo.,” she said. “I’ve been lucky. I’m thankful I’m still out there going.”
    Williams is also thankful for her family, including sons Ron and Brady and daughter Cathy.
    “Cathy sings, but she also has a real job at Bank of America,” Williams said. “Brady is finance manager for a large auto company in Ozark, Mo., and Ron sings. I wish he could be with us in Fort Scott, but he has an engagement in Springfield.”
    But she’s still looking forward to being in Fort Scott.
    “I have some great friends in the band that plays in Fort Scott, including Dewayne Bowman and Scotty Henderson,” Williams said. “With that band, I know we’re going to have a great show.”

        calendar