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Gretchen Wilson Makes Country Music Her Business -- And Pleasure

Of the Oakland Press

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Gretchen Wilson has learned that with success — of the multiplatinum variety — comes responsibility, both on stage and off.

“I just think when you sell 5 million records, you want to go out and just kick their butt every night,” says Wilson, 33, who hit that mark with her 2004 debut, “Here For the Party.” “You want it to be awesome. That’s the pressure I feel — that and the fact that I’ve got 40 or 50 employees and have become, like, a huge corporation here.

“I’m not just a singer anymore. I’m a business.”

Fortunately for Wilson,

business is good. Besides its sales, “Here For the Party” scored a slew of awards that included a Grammy for Best Country Female Vocal Performance for her hit “Redneck Woman” and an American Music Award for Breakthrough Favorite New Artist — in all genres.

Her sophomore outing, “All Jacked Up,” debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 and country charts when it was released in September and has sold more than 1 million copies so far.

“I am surprised, of course — by everything,” says Wilson, who also dueted with Kid Rock on the version of “Picture” that appears on his “Live Trucker” album.

“Nobody can try to guess what a record’s gonna do. I guess the only thing I really knew was people that I grew up with and people where I’m from would love this (music).

“But I had no idea that it would go over internationally like it has. There was no way for me to ever fathom that in Australia people would be singing ‘Redneck Woman.’ It’s pretty amazing.”

Wilson’s journey to “amazing” began in tiny Pocahontas, Ill., which sits about 36 miles east of St. Louis. Her mother was 16 when she gave birth to Wilson; the singer’s father left when she was 2, and she was raised poor, ultimately quitting school after the eighth grade to work as a waitress and bartender and sing in rock, oldies and country bands.

“Country music is my soul,” says Wilson, who has a 6-year-old daughter. “That’s where I come from, and that’s who I am. When it comes out of my mouth, it seems, it’s always country.”

That affinity led her to move to Nashville in 1996, where she tended more bar but also landed gigs singing in clubs and at demo recording sessions. She also become affiliated with the Musik Mafia, a coalition of writers and performers who’d gather weekly to play and write together. Mafi a organizer John Rich, a former member of the band Lonestar, co-wrote “Redneck Woman” with Wilson when her career was “nowhere,” helped her get her record deal and helmed “Here For the Party.”

The big difference on “All Jacked Up,” Wilson says, was control.

“I didn’t get to produce on the first record,” she notes, “and this time, I feel like I was a lot more involved in the songs and the flow of the record and the sound of the music this time. I was excited about being able to be more of a decision-maker this time around.”

Wilson already is well on her way toward her third album, too, with more than 20 songs in various stages of completion. She also plans to publish a book, which will draw from her own experiences but not be a traditional autobiography.

“I think it’s important for an artist to show different levels of what they can do and how they feel,” Wilson explains. “It’s important to show I’m not just a redneck woman party girl. There’s more to me than that, so I guess that’s just what I tried to show on (‘All Jacked Up’) and what I want to show on everything else I do.”


The annual Downtown Hoedown was held three months ago, but the Motor City gets its twang on again Saturday (August 26th) when country music fills the air in downtown three locations. Put your hat and boots on and check out any of these festivities:

* Kenny Chesney (with special guest Uncle Kracker), Gretchen Wilson, Dierks Bentley, Carrie Underwood, Blaine Larsen and Jake Owen perform at 4:30 p.m. at Ford Field. Tickets are $81 and $68.50. Call (313) 262-2000 or visit www.fordfield.com.

* WYCD-FM (99.5) hosts a Beach Bash before the show starting at 11 a.m. in Ford Field's Lot 4. The national band the Lost Trailers perform at 1:30 p.m., bookended by local acts Sarah Lenore, Redhill, the Hunter Brucks Band and Wildfire, which will perform a Jimmy Buffett tribute set. Admission is free.

* Five more local acts -- the Wrenfields, Terrie Lea & the Mustangs, Tim Diaz, Horse Crave Trio and the Red Ryder Band -- will perform a free show starting at 11 a.m. at Campus Martius Park.

Send your thoughts and comments to Gary Graff


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