Gretchen Wilson doesn’t like her show billed as “An evening with Gretchen Wilson.” “I get kind of [peeved] because this isn’t a wardrobe changing, dressy kind of show, this is like seeing Skynyrd,” Ms. Wilson said. It is probably safe to assume that she was not fazed by performing at Chautauqua Institution, NY, an epicenter of culture and refinement, on the stage that has hosted some of our most prominent intellectuals, symphonies and ballet companies. Indeed, she is a face-melting vocalist whose ability to wail is up there with the likes of Ann Wilson of Heart (no relation), Martina McBride and Melissa Etheridge. Her greatest hits album was released only six years after her chart topping breakout single “Redneck Woman” burst onto the scene in 2006. I caught up with her after she performed a generous 15-song set on the I Got Your Country Right Here tour.
What is it like having your own record label?
It’s amazing. It’s freedom, I have the ability to do whatever I want, to record what I want when I want. I don’t have to ask anyone’s opinion anymore. I don’t need permission to do something on a creative piece of work from some suits that don’t have a musical bone in their bodies. It’s always been amazing to me how that works when you’re with a major label. There are so many departments involved. You don’t stand over a painter’s back when they’re painting and say “Oh! I wouldn’t use that color, I’m not sure if it’s safe.” A song is a piece of art. If you’re not involved in the creation of the music you should just let the artist put it together and then the business people take it from there, but it doesn’t work like that at a major label. It was very frustrating.
It’s no secret that country music fans are labeled as hard partying roughnecks, but some equate that with ignorance. Does that bother you?
I don’t think anything about country people is ignorant. If your goal is to grow up and stay in the same small town you’ve always been in, work at the corner market and own a double wide trailer on a half acre lot, that’s fine. If that’s your dream that should be good enough for everyone else, too. If you see your life as small, home, community, family, that’s great. I think we’ve lost a lot of that in this country and there’s nothing ignorant about holding onto your values.
I ran into an 80-year old woman who knows the lyrics to “Redneck Woman” Why do you think that song resonates across all demographics?
A redneck isn’t a country bumpkin or white trash. It’s a way of life, it’s about pride and being comfortable in your own skin and it really hit a nerve with women. The attitude of the song goes against what we’re all tired of seeing; which is that we’re all supposed to be the same; 6 feet tall, have big boobs and tiny little waists; drive expensive cars and live in beautiful homes. Women just wanted to go hey, ‘what’s wrong with me and the way God made me?’ It’s not about being country or a redneck. It’s about being yourself and proud of that.
When this era of country music ages enough to be labeled as “classic” who do you think will be labeled as pioneers; who are the future Dollys, Tanyas and Tammys?
Reba, Martina. Dolly’s still there. I hope I make enough of a mark in country music. I would like to be remembered as the redneck woman that came along just in time to tell the world to heck with everybody else. Be yourself.
Do you think there is a changing of the guard with artists like you, Carrie (Underwood), Taylor (Swift) and Miranda (Lambert) on the rise? We don’t hear as much about Faith, Shania and others.
Country music does an S all the time around what’s straight and traditional. There were times when I was bitter about how pop country had become. But I’ve realized it’s a great thing. It’s opened up the format to everyone. It’s the only genre of music that is family music. You can’t listen to a rap station with your kids or even some of the pop stations. So having the diversity of Taylor, Carrie, Miranda, and Martina is great. I think it’s awesome that we can go so far in different directions. It makes me believe that there’s a place for this kind of country music
Loretta Lynn was one of your great influences, why?
She never held back. She was singing songs they put on the radio that today’s country market would never play; “Now I’ve got the Pill” “Your Squaw is on the Warpath” I mean are you kidding me? She knew in her heart that there was a core audience that felt the same way.
Do you consider yourself a “crossover star?”
No, but If I ever crossed over, it would be to the dark rock and roll side. I’m good friends with the gals from Heart, Alice in Chains; and Ozzy’s band. If I were to go into the studio and do a different kind of album, it would be a rock album.
With all of your professional and financial success, why was it so important to get your G.E.D.?
Because I’m a mom. I want to set a good example as all parents should. I don’t want my daughter to grow up thinking the world is going to be handed to her. I want her to realize you have to work to make your mark. The chances of this happening to me were slim to none. You never know, this thing could go away in 2 years. Had this not happened, my little girl’s mother would be tending bar and doing nothing with her life.
Who would you most like to duet with?
I’ve always wanted to sing with George [Strait]. And Tony Bennett came to one of my shows. How cool would it be to sing with Tony Bennett? I’d like to try a full on Tammy and George duet with John Rich.