Gretchen Wilson: Keeping It Real

Andrew Kruse-Ross

andrew kruse-ross | gretchen wilson | july 2019

Wilson headlines the Outagamie Co. Fair on July 26.Fifteen years ago Gretchen Wilson's debut single “Redneck Woman" took the charts by storm, signaling to her contemporaries and women everywhere that there was nothing wrong with keeping things real.

Wilson has gone on to produce over a dozen Billboard hits including “Here for the Party," “When I Think about Cheatin'" and “Homewrecker." It's with these hits and more that she'll take the stage on Friday, July 26 to headline the Outagamie Co. Fair with opening act, her protégé, Jessie G.

Wilson took some time away from a busy morning to discuss “Redneck Woman," Jessie G and the upcoming show with Frankly Green Bay.

The effect your debut hit 'Redneck Woman' has had on the industry cannot beunderstated. A few months ago Taste of Country listed the song as one of 11 songs to significantly change the face of modern country music. That song has gone on to influence a new generation as well as influence other contemporary voices at the time. I wonder how you feel about having had such an impact on the industry with your voice?

Well, first of all, I love hearing that it was as influential as it was—especially as I hear it was influential with women, but to hear that it was influential in the face of country music I think is pretty awesome because more and more today, if there's any change happening to country music, it seems like it's more distant from its traditional value. So if a song like 'Redneck Woman' helps to keep country music a little more traditional for a little while, that makes me happy.

Obviously, none of us, not John Rich, not me — we were the two that wrote the song — not the record label, certainly not the radio staff, I don't think any of us were prepared for it to do what it did and I think it was surprising to all of us. We thought we had something great but we had no idea that it was going to impact the rest of country music listeners the way that it did. I feel like it was a moment in time where women like me just weren't being talked to; they weren't being spoken to the way that they understood.

When I wrote that song, I was sitting there watching Faith Hill on TV rolling around in silk sheets looking like a supermodel that just woke up like that. For me and a bunch of other women in the world, we are like, 'I don't look like that when I wake up, I don't feel like that when I wake up, I don't sound like that when I wake up' and we needed to hear a woman speaking to us about just being real women. I think that's why it went crazy.

Yeah, things got a little glossy there, didn't they?

And they are again! I mean I think it's great that country music has gotten so wide that, really, there's something in it for everyone … but it is kind of sad to me to turn on what the call letters are saying is a country music station and you don't really hear much traditional; nobody is making anything very traditional anymore for them to play. I feel like we've lost a little bit of that, so, if 'Redneck Woman' impacted country music I think it's a wonderful thing.

You're no longer just firmly in that singer-songwriter category now as you've moved on to start your own record label aptly titled Redneck Records. I guess it's been about 10 years now. Can I ask what facilitated the desire to start your own label and has it allowed you to stay truer to your brand of music.

Sure, I started my label as a result of my longtime record deal with Sony coming to an end. When I got out of my record deal with Sony, I really just didn't feel like I was done; I was in the middle of making an album that was not being approved by my label. I still had a lot to write about, a lot to say and a lot I wanted to do so the obvious next step for me was either to go shop it to another record company to get back into the same situation I was in or to try and handle it myself and so I chose road less traveled.

I only wanted to start my label just for myself. I wanted to have, exactly like you said, I wanted to have more control over my own content … I wanted to be able to create music freely. I didn't want to have to walk my music into a room with a guy who wears a suit and isn't really very musical at all and have him tell me what was wrong with it or what was right with it. I wanted to be able to do it, to write it, to produce it, to create it, to mix it and to do all of that myself.

Man, it's been a challenge. I can tell you that getting all of that creative freedom comes with a lot of extra work. I don't think people really know what it's like to go out into the world and secure your own barcode.

I understand Jessie G will be touring with you and opening the show when you visit the Outagamie Co. Fair. I understand there's a cool story about how you two first met. Obviously, she left an impression on you. I wonder if you mind speaking about working together and how that relationship has grown?

That's right, I met Jessie out in Portland, Oregon, she won a battle of the bands contest to open for me and she ended up bulling her way backstage just like a good redneck woman would and was determined to meet with me and talk to me and get my opinion on what her next step should be. I'm telling ya, what I've grown to know about this girl is that she might as well be a part of my family; she feels like, acts like and takes the world on with the same kind attitude that the women I grew up with in southern Illinois are all about. She's got a work ethic that you wouldn't believe. She comes from a family of deep-sea fisherman like you'd see on that crazy program on television.

She has grown so much as a songwriter, as a performer, as a vocalist in the studio. I think maybe it's been great for her to have me by her side and to kind of show her Well, here's what I do when this happensand Here's how you can take control of that. It's been really awesome for her to have me to kind of lean on for all of that but in the same respect, just having her energy and youth and her charisma around me, I'd say we're getting a great deal from each other … She's really helped my career, I would say as much as I've helped hers.

I suppose this is mandatory, but for the folks coming out to see you and Jessie during the Outagamie Co Fair in July, what can those folks expect to see when you take the stage?

My band is myband but my crew is Jessie's band. So Jessie's guys work regardless if she doesn't play. It's really worked out for her. What's really interesting is if the fans come out early enough to see Jessie's show … you'll see her band rocking it and kicking butt up there and then she says Thank you, good nightand they jump off the drums and put the guitars down and put on their crew hats and start wiring things for my band. They're a great bunch of kids and they're really talented. As much as Jessie has grown in her stage presence, they've grown as well.

When I get to describe her I love to say I think it goes Tanya Tucker, Gretchen Wilson, Jessie G. She is going to be the new rowdy girl.There's not many of us that can pull this off. There's only been a few of us in the history of country music and she's poised to take that over.

And then in my show, it's kind of the same as it always has been; I play the hits, the songs that they know, that they can sing along to. I sneak in a couple of new things—whatever we're working on right now—Jessie usually comes back out and does at least one song during my show and then we rock out; we end up doing some Foreigner and some Heart and some Zeppelin. We go with those classic rock songs that at least people of my age group loved and young people love even if they're hearing it for the first time.

Is there anything we haven't discussed that you'd like us to mention?

I just wanna say thanks to anyone that's reading; thanks for keeping me relevant after all these years. I appreciate it from the bottom of my heart and from my daughter's college tuition (laughs).

Catch Gretchen Wilson and Jessie G in action on Friday, July 26 at the Outagamie Co. Fair in Seymour, Wis.

Grandstand tickets are $30 with a limited number of VIP tickets available for $35. Tickets by visiting www.outagamiecountyfair.com. Advance tickets include admission to the fair.

The Outagamie Co. Fair runs July 23-28. Visit their website for complete event details.

Also look for a new EP from Jessie G out June 28. More info at jessiegmusic.com.

More on Wilson at gretchenwilson.com.

More from Category

Stay up-to-date

Sign up for a monthly digest of everything new in GB.