Getting to Know Gretchen Wilson (Part 1 of 2)

The "Redneck Woman" Singer Talks about Hank Jr., Kid Rock and Rapping

Is there anybody who hasn’t heard “Redneck Woman”? It has been rip-roaring up the country charts for less than two months but has already emerged as one of the year’s smash hits.

Gretchen Wilson, 30, recently invited CMT.com aboard her tour bus to talk about the washing machine scene in her video, the consortium of songwriters and musicians known as the Muzik Mafia — and being recognized as the “Redneck Woman.”

Wilson’s debut album, Here for the Party, arrives in stores Tuesday (May 11). The same day, CMT will run the second half of this two-part interview.

CMT: Where did you film the video?

Wilson: One of the members of the Muzik Mafia — Pino, the Italian immigrant bongo player — has a club close to Music Row, and he let us use his building for the first day. And the second day of shooting we did at Fontanel in Whites Creek, which is Barbara Mandrell’s old home.

Was it cleaned out? All traces of Barbara are gone?

Oh yeah, yeah. We actually didn’t use the house at all in the video. We just used the property out in front for the four-wheeling and stuff like that.

What do you remember the most about making that video?

I’d have to say it would be the trailer scene with Bobby [Kid Rock] and Hank [Williams Jr.]. That was really the first time I got to hang with Hank for a little while and talk to him. He’s a riot. He’s a lot of fun.

Were you thinking, “I’m grabbing this cigar out of Hank Jr.’s hand!” Did that freak you out a little bit?

Yeah. Every time he did the jump thing, I almost jumped too. I had to keep myself from jumping because he really looked like he was sleeping there with that cigar lit.

Was it your idea to take off the shirt and throw it into the laundry? Where did that come from?

I just thought that after a long day of muddin’ and hanging out with the boys and stuff that it would be cool. … Actually that scene is supposed to be about the washing machine. I know it’s not, but … . (laughs). I’ve been told, “Yeah, right.” When the director and I were all discussing all this in the beginning, I’d written it in because it’s just something that I’ve done in the past, and I always thought it was pretty funny. I don’t know if every woman in the world does this, but I do, and I’ve got to think that some other women do. But when you’re at the end of a long day, and you’re running around, and you’re gathering up the kids’ clothes and the old man’s clothes, and you’re getting everything together, and you get to the washing machine, and you’re throwing it all in, you realize, “I’m about to jump into the shower, so I may as well wash this stuff, too.” That’s the way it was supposed to come out, you know. (laughs)

How often are you recognized on the street now?

Not too bad. It’s really not too bad. I don’t mind it actually. I still go to Wal-Mart kinda looking pretty shabby (laughs) … so I’m really hoping that I don’t run into any fans there. I guess once the record’s on the shelf there, I might have to be a little more careful. (laughs) Be standing over there looking at my own record and somebody going, “Wait a minute.” I know I’ve been told that I look a lot like her, but … .

Do you have any girls yelling “Hell yeah” at you?

No, I have a lot of women just saying, “Hey, are you the Redneck Woman?” At the airport the other day, there was a young girl when I was flying out to New York, and she was with her family, her dad, and I guess a whole group of them were musical. They had come to town for some kind of band thing, probably a school band thing or something. But she looked at me from across the room … she said, “You look like that Redneck Woman, Gretchen Wilson.” And I just kind of smiled and went, “Yeah,” and I didn’t say anything else, and she sat like three seats away from me on the flight, and she kept kind of staring at me a little bit here and there, and she was really polite and didn’t say much. But when we were leaving the plane, her mother walked up to me and she said, “My daughter’s just too shy to say anything to you, but are you that girl? Are you the Gretchen Wilson that she thinks you are?” And I said, “Yeah,” and she started screaming, and her mother [said], “I told you it was her! Come over here and talk to her.” It was pretty cute actually. She was really cute.

Listening to “Redneck Woman,” I have to ask … . What’s your favorite Charlie Daniels song?

Everybody would probably say “Devil Went Down to Georgia,” but I think my favorite is probably “In America.”

How about Tanya Tucker?

Gotta be “Delta Dawn,” it has to be.

How about Bocephus?
Oh man, (sings) “I get whiskey bent and hell bound.”

After listening to your song “Homewrecker,” I’m also curious about your favorite Loretta Lynn song?

My favorite Loretta Lynn song is “You Ain’t Woman Enough to Take My Man.”

Have you been a fan of her music for a long time?

My first live performances that I ever did, I had eight songs — background music tapes that I was singing along to. And I had eight songs — and four of them were Patsy Cline, and four of them were Loretta Lynn. And I’d book three-hour gigs and sing the same eight songs over and over again. (laughs)

At least until you get a few more hits, I have a feeling you’ll be known as “The Redneck Woman,” like you were talking about. Are you OK with that, or are you worried that maybe they’re going to miss the rest of the stuff on your record?

No, I’m not worried. I think we put a great record together, and I like the record. I was hoping to put a record together that was something that I would want to go buy. And I think there’s a lot of stories on that record, and there’s a lot of different attitudes on that record, and it’s definitely all me. But no, I don’t think they’re going to miss anything. I think it’s all right there.

One song I really liked a lot was “Chariot,” but although I must say I was stunned a little bit by the rap in the middle of it because I wasn’t expecting it. Did you have to practice that one a lot, or did that just come naturally once you got into that point of the song?

No, it just kind of came out. I listen to all different kinds of music, and for me it’s just a different way of singing. It’s just more of an attitude, talking-in-time thing for me. I wouldn’t consider myself to be a rapper. I have to be honest: I was a little bit hesitant about doing it. I mean, I think I made the comment that, “Oh, I’m going to be known as the redneck rapping woman.” But actually I like the way it came out, the way they put some little effects and stuff on the vocal and the way they moved it back and forth from the left to the right. It’s really kind of neat.

CMT has a lot of viewers who enjoy Kenny Chesney as much as they enjoy Kid Rock. Why do you think that rap and country audiences are starting to complement each other so much?

I don’t think that it’s just really rap. I think it’s just that people are starting to learn from each other. I think that by combining different styles of music, everybody gets a chance to learn from each other and gets to interpret different things into their musical style, and it makes them grow in their own genre.

At the Muzik Mafia, you get the chance to sing some edgier country music. Do your audiences there accept everything that you play, no matter the style?

Absolutely. Good music is good music. … I grew up listening to Tanya and Hank and Merle and all that kind of stuff. But at the same time, I was listening to Skynyrd and AC/DC. … Today, if you were to look at my CD collection, it might scare some people. (laughs) It just depends on what mood you’re in. I think music can heal your soul if you’ll let it. It can also bring you up if you’re down. It can also bring you down if you’re too up. It’s a mood thing. I think everybody should like all different kinds of music. I don’t think anybody should be stuck to just one thing. It should be what you like, not what it’s classified as.

So what has been the biggest benefit of playing with the Muzik Mafia?

Oh, just exactly that — just being able to watch their artistry and every different person and learning. I learn something new about myself every time I deal with Muzik Mafia.

Such as what?

Just different things that I didn’t know I liked before. … A chord change in one of John Nicholson’s songs can send me into a place where I might have been thinking about a song that I’m going to write in a couple of months — some idea that’s been floating around in my head. And something that I hear him do might make me think, “Ooh, that’d be a great place to go in this one part of my song.” Something that typical country music wouldn’t have allowed for, but I can hear it there, and I can find a way to make that work in my head and make my song a little bit spunkier.

Is it hard to find a balance between what you have in your head and what Nashville expects you to be?

No. I mean, I think I was born to be a country singer. I think that regardless of what the tracks do or regardless of … where the music goes, my liking it’s always going to be country when it’s all said and done. I mean even “Chariot” says “redneck” in it. I mean, come on! (laughs)