Born Leona Belle Helton on January 7, 1943, Leona Williams picked up her professional last name from her first husband. A native of Vienna, Missouri, she spent nine months as a member of Loretta Lynn’s band in 1966, playing upright bass and singing harmony during the time Loretta had “Don’t Come Home A-Drinkin’ (With Lovin’ On Your Mind)” in release.
Williams’ goal, however, was to have her own show and her own hit records, and a couple of years later, she made her very first single for Wesley Rose’s Hickory Records. During that period, she embarked on a nine-week tour of the Far East and Southeast Asia, at the height of the Vietnam War.
Merle Haggard first heard Leona on the radio in the early ‘70s and immediately became a fan. But it wasn’t until January of 1975 that he finally met her. Bonnie Owens had stopped touring with Merle’s band and Louise Mandrell replaced her, but she ended up working the road for just six months. Williams was asked to join the Haggard entourage.