Jett Williams at the age of 2.
Jett Williams came into the world five days after the passing of her father the legendary Hank Williams. Adopted by his mother Lillian who went on to die two weeks later Jett was left a ward of the state of Alabama until she was later adopted. Jett herself made her singing debut in 1989 and was later backed by her father’s old band The Drifting Cowboys. She has since appeared in numerous shows in the U.S, Japan, Holland, Germany, Switzerland, Italy, Spain, and Canada. Her autobiography Ain’t Nothing As Sweet As My Baby sheds light on a life that is hard to imagine. She has undertaken the role of continuing the legacy left by her father with a passion that is highly admirable. Jett can be heard on the soundtrack for the film The Last Ride, which details the last hours of her father’s life. It was an honor to sit down with her and catch up on what had made her who she is today.
Maximum Ink: For those who haven’t read your book and might not be familiar with your story, can you tell us a little about that?
Jett Williams: On October 15, 1952 Hank Williams signed a notarized document admitting paternity and taking custody of his unborn child, boy or girl, healthy or unhealthy. It also provided that his mother, my grandmother, would raise me for the first two years of my life. Additionally, my mother, who lived with my dad in his mother’s boarding house in Montgomery, AL during the 5 or so months of her pregnancy, got and took a one way ticket to the place of her choice in California.
My father, who prepaid all the expenses for my birth before leaving on his last ride to the concerts he never gave, just didn’t count on dying at 29. He was pronounced dead January 1, 1953; his funeral was on the 4th and I was born before the sun came up on the 6th.
My grandmother insisted on taking and raising me. My mother did not object. A compromised lawyer suggested to her that she should adopt me. She did for the right reasons. He made the recommendation for the wrong ones, because under Alabama law at the time an adopted child could not inherit.
It took my grandmother 2 years to complete the adoption and she died two weeks later. The family no longer wanted me and while she lay in state in the parlor Hank’s sister and his ex-wife Audrey decided to make me a ward of the state and the next day I was an orphan going to foster homes and then later adopted again.
I grew up not knowing who I was, until I met an attorney, Keith Adkinson, whom I later married. He got his hands on the October 15th agreement. I was satisfied at having my questions answered with the bonus of knowing I was wanted and provided for. He was not satisfied and we ultimately sued those motivated by keeping my inheritance from me and for themselves. We prevailed, after 9 years of litigation.
MI: What were you like as a child growing up? What is your fondest memory from that time?
JW: I was a tom boy committed to sports. One high point is when my team won a state championship in soccer.
MI: As someone who came up in the foster system what are your thoughts on the current state of that system?
JW: The current state of the foster system today is a mixed bag. I firmly support the concept but know that in the urban areas it is different than in rural areas. And even in rural areas a small percentage provide such care for the wrong reasons, a monthly check. But many caregivers are motivated for the right reasons. Mine were. And it gives a child with challenging circumstances a chance.
MI: Who were some of your earliest musical influences?
JW: I grew up in the ‘50’s and was a teen in the ‘60’s so I listened to what was popular then. Of course, we all knew Hank songs in the south so he and his contemporaries were influential.
MI: When did you first decide to become a musician yourself?
JW: The records show I was pickin’ and playin’ and trying to sing when I was two, or I was trying to. Where ever I was sent I took my little guitar. I even studied classical guitar in Mobile. As I grew older, I always played and sang and wrote songs, but just for me and my friends. I made my professional singing debut as the daughter of Hank Williams at a tribute to him in Evergreen, AL in the late 1980’s.
MI: What was it like to learn that Hank Williams was your father? What are yourfeelings on the steps he and his mother took to see that you were taken care of as a baby?
JW: Adoption is a legal contrivance, like a corporation. But adoption is conceptually rejection, no body wanted you. That’s why it is prevalent for foster and adopted kids to fanaticize that their parents were killed in a car accident or a plane crash. To be one of the chosen and learn that not only were you wanted, but you were to be provided for is a gift of unspeakable value.
MI: Do you consider it an honor to be able to continue his legacy now with your role in his estate? Why do you think his music is so timeless?
JW: His music is timeless because he was a genius. Not much education, but possessed of some X factor that made him so very special. Hank is one of the few country music stars in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, because he was on it. He is the only country music star to ever receive a Pulitzer Prize and his was for his lyrical genius. He was every man…he was the Hillbilly Shakespeare. And he influenced the lives and careers of so many. He could capture in 3 minutes the hurt or joy of a lifetime. He connected with his audience and the soul of the common man.
MI: What has this whole ordeal taught you?
JW: Never give up. When you are down and out a chance encounter causes the stars to align and life changes. The perpetrators of the fraud against me tried their best to beat a dead man and a baby and they got away with it for 30 years. Then along came my knight in a three piece suit and with a law degree and the rest is history.
MI: What was is it like to perform with his band The Drifting Cowboys?
JW: My 15 or so years on the road with Don Helms, dad’s steel player, and Jerry Rivers, his fiddle player, were among the most special anyone could hope for. The band, now my band, is still the Drifting Cowboys, but it is different and it is still special to carry that legacy on.
MI: Can you tell us a little about the movie The Last Ride? How did that come about?
JW: The best way to learn a bit about THE LAST RIDE is to go to the web site and see the trailer. It is a two man Odyssey. Dad doesn’t sing a note or strum a chord. It is a fictionalized version of the mysterious 72 hours of my dad’s life and it is very special. I am honored to have 4 cuts on the sound track which Curb Records has picked up. The movie itself is a labor of love by Harry Thomason and Benjy Gaither. You will love it.
MI: How have you changed most since your early days?
JW: I’ve gotten older, wiser, and more appreciative of my knight and my life and the awesome talent of my father.
MI: Are there any little known things about yourself that your fans might be surprised to learn?
JW: I live to hunt, fish, shoot and entertain.
MI: What do you love most about performing?
JW:The fans and my apparent ability to interact with them.
MI: What projects are you currently working on?
JW: My current projects include my SIRIUSXM radio show on Willie’s Road House, promoting the movie and the sound track and entertaining.
MI: Is there anything you’d like to say in closing?
JW: That’s all folks.
(author’s note: Please stay tuned for an upcoming interview with author John Gilmore on the legendary Hank Williams)(3375) Page Views Jett Williams Online:
• Website • Facebook • Wiki
CD: The Last Ride Record Label: Curb Records
• Download The Last Ride on Amazon