Much of Nashville’s most interesting and important music this decade has come from the combined talents of the MuzikMafia stalwarts John Rich and Gretchen Wilson, two of the closest pals on the Row.
“If I were a boy, I’d probably be John Rich,” Wilson says with a chuckle during a phone conversation in mid-July, as she and her band prepared to head out on a tour that will last into late October.
So it’s fitting that Rich held the album release party for Wilson’s new CD “I Got Your Country”– the first on her own label, Redneck – at his sprawling house off West End, and fitting that during the fiesta John said something Gretchen says was “the coolest thing anybody ever said about me.”
As she recalls it, Rich was talking about Wilson and the music industry, and he said: “Some of the most famous outlaws and country music legends were actually more despised than adored by some within the industry. Folks like Waylon and Hank Jr. . . . Gretchen Wilson is a straight line,” Rich said. “There’s nothin’ about her that curves. Country music does this kind of `S’ thing where it crosses that line. And sometimes when the timing’s right, country music finds Gretchen Wilson.”
And now the timing is again right, six years after her breakout success during her Sony Nashville days with the No. 1 “Redneck Woman” single and phenomenon, and the 4-Million selling “Here For The Party” album.
“Work Hard, Play Harder,” the autobiographical debut single from the new album, is a song Wilson, Rich, and Vicky McGehee co-wrote, is already in the Top 20 on Billboard. The world has long known Wilson as a country star, but now she has an additional job title – label head. Does she like that huge responsibility?
“I actually do like it,” she says. “I always kept my eyes open and soaked up as much as I could. Somewhere deep down, I always figured that eventually I would have more control.”
She continues: “I’m totally fine with it. Are you kiddin’? I’m a woman! I’m a control freak. Everything has to be my way. I just love that I finally put together an album from front to end that I’m completely happy with, and I didn’t have to ask anyone else’s approval on.”
Gretchen knows that launching a label in this brutally tough economy and music biz environment is a big-time gamble.
“It’s been a huge risk financially. I didn’t partner up with another major label, and most artists who have done this have partnered with a big corporation for distribution and manufacturing,” Wilson says. “All of that stuff, and if you add it all up, it takes a lot of money to launch an album and single, when you talk about media and manufacturing.”
But then she smiles and says: “In the long run, it’s kind of all on me now. I don’t have anyone else to blame.”
Her live show, always a highlight of Wilson’s career, has shifted into an even higher gear with the new album. “It’s so much fun to go to work again, and lot of that comes with be- ing in a different place in my life,” she says. “The show now has kind of a good country-rock balance – a lot of Skynyrd and Hank Jr. influences. I love bein’ a bad-ass on stage.”
She also loves being a high school graduate, which Wilson recently proudly achieved by earning her GED. That’s made her truly a rule model in the campaign for adult literacy.
“I had to leave my house at a young age, my parents were half nuts lots of the time,” she says. “I had to make my own way of life. But the lack of education and having to leave school always bothered me. I should have been graduated, and that really didn’t hit me till my own daughter started going to school.”
That was a defining moment for Wilson. “I realized,” she says, “that being a Mom and a role model not only for my daughter was very important. I knew that when you become a celebrity you take on role-model status for the fans as well. Little kids and young Americans are looking up to me – I was even just nominated for a Teen Choice Award. Those kids follow in their parents’ footsteps.”
And it’s not only the kids who Wilson feels need proper education. “There are 36 Million American adults who don’t have a high school diploma or a GED, and that will hurt them in the job force.”
Gretchen Wilson has been a star as a singer and song-writer for a long time, and now she’s expanded her profile into all of these other exciting areas of management and leadership, and she seems to be enjoying every moment of the ride.