JAM Magazine Main Features

Gretchen Wilson - Country Fever 2008 - Jun. 12-15

One For The Boys

There is no substitute for actually living the life you are singing about. When Gretchen Wilson asserts on her mega hit “Redneck Woman,” that she would bypass a pricey Victoria Secret’s product in favor of a half-priced Wal-Mart look-a-like, it wasn’t a joke. It was life as the singer lived it growing up in the Midwest.

Gretchen Renee Wilson was born on June 26, 1973 to a 16-year old single mother. She was raised in Pocahontas, Illinois, a rural trailer park town of approximately 727 people located 36 miles east of St. Louis. Wilson’s father abandoned the family two years after her birth, leaving the pair to grow up in poverty. Mother and daughter were regularly forced to pack up and move to a new trailer when waitress mom fell short on making the necessary tips to pay rent. Wilson’s formal education concluded in the eighth grade when she traded books for tending bar at Big O’s, a rough and tumble joint on the outskirts of Pocahontas. By the time she was 15, Gretchen was managing the place, alongside her mom, with the help of a loaded 12-gauge behind the bar to keep folks in line. Though he was long gone, Wilson’s father had instilled a love of music in his daughter that blossomed on stage at Big O’s, where she found herself fronting a cover band and eyeing a move to Nashville in search of something more.

After a failed marriage to a former band mate, dream and talent combined to send Gretchen to Nashville in 1996. There, she put her bartending skills to use at Printers’ Alley, sitting in with the house band now and then. It was there that John Rich and Big Kenny ran across her. Realizing the singing bartender’s potential, the two subsequently invited Wilson to join their group. At first she ignored the invitation. Eventually, John Rich battled his way through Gretchen’s natural skepticism to convince her he could be helpful as she sought recognition as a singer. Wilson started working with Rich as a member of the Muzik Mafia, a loose-knit group of singers, songwriters and musicians who would get together to jam – and party – every Tuesday night in a local Nashville nightspot. Gretchen Wilson hadn’t hit the big time just yet, but she was learning how to express herself in song, and more important, how to pitch herself to record labels.

Response to the Illinois native’s talent was lukewarm at best. The turning point in her life came during a songwriting break at John Rich’s house. Wilson was watching a commercial on television when it dawned on her she simply was not the kind of country singer so common in Nashville at the time – the Faith Hill ‘Barbie doll type’. In order to establish her own identity, she needed to focus instead on what she was not. Presenting her idea to Rich, the two of them dug into her past and promptly sat down to write “Redneck Woman.” Wilson, who had been singing demos for Sony Music, pitched the song she had penned with Rich to the label. Response to the Rich / Wilson tune was immediate and Sony brass green-lighted production of “Redneck Woman”. Wilson went into the studio immediately to cut the track.

Released to radio in January 2004, “Redneck Woman” was a smash hit. The song skyrocketed to No. 1 on the Billboard country singles charts and reached No. 22 on the Billboard Hot 100. Sony executives were amazed at how the public took to the song. Blue-collar working women made “Redneck Woman” their anthem. It had been ten years since a song had created such a sensation. Suddenly, Wilson had gone from worrying about her car being repossessed to finishing an album way ahead of schedule. To the rescue came Rich and the Muzik Mafia. Four months after “Redneck Woman” rocked the airwaves, her highly anticipated debut Here For The Party, was on the shelves.

The response from the general public was overwhelming. The album topped the Billboard country chart and peaked at No. 2 on the Top 200 list. Three more singles from the disc, “Here for the Party” (#1 US Country), “When I Think About Cheating” (#4 US Country), and “Homewrecker” (#2 US Country), boosted sales into the millions. The ‘redneck woman’ phenomenon wasn’t limited to just the United States. By July 2004, the monster hit had reached No. 1 on a world composite country chart, with Here For The Party climbing to No. 4. As for Wilson, she nabbed a 2005 Grammy for Best Female Country Vocal Performance. Gretchen also took home a Horizon and a Top Female Vocalist award from the Academy of Country Music.

Wilson’s 2005 follow-up All Jacked Up debuted at #1 on both the overall Billboard album and country charts. It contained the hits “I Don’t Feel Like Loving You Today”, “California Girls”, “Politically Uncorrect” and the title track. Though not as successful as her debut, All Jacked Up went platinum and led to an offer from Warner Books for Wilson to pen her memoirs, Redneck Woman – Stories from My Life, released in 2006.

One For The Boys, Wilson’s less hurried third album was released in 2007. Once again, she put her authentic working-class feminist spin on country archetypes – temptation, whiskey, work and Mom. Funny, feisty, rocking and best of all, true to her self, Wilson didn’t really need a comeback album, but she proved her take on country music was still a force to be reckoned with.

Despite her musical accolades, perhaps the greatest accomplishment Gretchen Wilson has attained happened on May 16, 2008. On the date, the ninth grade dropout successfully completed her high school exams (along with a cousin) to earn a G.E.D. at the First Baptist Church in Lebanon, Tenn. The surprise speaker at the public graduation ceremony was Charlie Daniels. The award winning superstar had made it a priority to earn a diploma because she wanted her eight-year old daughter, Gracie, to understand that completing one’s education is very important.

Wilson is currently recording her fourth album due this fall. The first single from the disc, “Growing Up, Down South” has been shipped to radio, and is now available as a download.

-Record Label: Sony BMG