Gretchen Wilson Interview (Part 2 of 2)

She Talks About Small Towns, Bartending, Her Ultimate Goal and Year-Round Christmas Lights

In the second part of a two-part interview, Gretchen Wilson — who has launched her career with “Redneck Woman — tells CMT.com about rednecks in Illinois, trying to make an “Eight-Liquor Ass-Kicker” and whether she really does keep her Christmas lights up all year.

What do you remember the most about growing up in Pocahontas, Illinois?

Not much of anything. Riding bikes and hanging out with friends. There’s really not a lot to do in Pocahontas, except watch the cars go by and do the old finger wave and the head nod and try to keep out of trouble. We’d ride motorcycles and three-wheelers and find a rock pile to climb up and sit up there and sing, and just try to stay out of trouble mostly. Most people that live there either work on a farm or get up at 4 o’clock in the morning and drive an hour and a-half into the city to work in a factory. There’s really not a lot going on outside of just your family things and getting together with your friends.

Do people say, “You’re from Illinois. You can’t be a redneck”?

That’s when I tell them, “You can come home with me sometime. … (laughs) Look around.”

What were the circumstances that led you to start working as a bartender when you were 15?

Well, one thing is we needed money, and I started singing. My mom was always with me at all these things. We worked for [the bar] Big O. My mom was already working for Big O, so I initially came in and started singing my little karaoke thing and then graduated into picking up the plates after the lunch crowd came in and helping my mom in the back with the dishes. And then pretty soon before you knew it, I was covering for her an hour here, an hour there. It was one of those things that everybody knows everybody around there. It might sound ridiculous to some people to think that a kid would be in there handling something like that. You know, if I was behind the bar, I knew every single person sitting at that bar, and I knew their moms, and I knew their wives, and if they caused me any trouble, I’d get them in trouble. (laughs) So it was one of those things. I don’t feel like I was ever in any danger.

When you moved to Nashville, did you enjoy the anonymity of it, or did you kind of miss the familiarity?

No, I like it. I can’t wait to move further out into the country. I like my privacy. I guess it’s probably because of growing up with everybody knowing your business. There’s something about having some privacy that’s really appealing.

What does your mom think of all this now?

Oh, my mom doesn’t know what to think. Every time I look at her, she’s getting all red in the face, and she starts sweating. She says, “I just don’t know, maybe I need some kind of medication because I’m so nervous about this and nervous about that.” I say, “Mom, I’m the one that has to sing and do this.”

Does she still live in Pocahontas, or did she move down here with you?

She’s moved down here and she’s living with us. … She’s living with us, and [my boyfriend and I] have a 3-year-old daughter, and my mom has decided to move down here and help us and be a mainstay in my daughter’s life.

Is there any difference between a small-town barfly and a big-town barfly?

No, just one’s wearing a suit, and one’s wearing overalls. Not between the barflies. There’s a big difference in working behind a bar in a city like this as opposed to there. I think the most difficult drink I ever made up there was a Jack and Coke. I moved down here, and they’re asking for Mai Tais and one of those drinks was called an Eight-Liquor Ass-Kicker. I had to have a Rolodex with drinks on them, just trying to figure out everything was. I walked in and applied for the job acting like I’d bartended. “I’ve been bartending all my life.” I had to have the job. So I was telling them all kinds of lies like, “Well, I can handle this. There’s nothing to it. I’ve been bartending since I was 15 years old.” I had to struggle for the first few nights. I think I made a lot of wrong drinks for the first few nights and took my Rolodex home and studied.

As a bartender, you probably see a lot of people develop drinking problems. How have you personally avoided that situation, being in the bar for a lot of your life?

I think that growing up early like I did and being around in the bars and stuff, I was a firsthand witness to a lot of things. You can learn from other people’s mistakes, and you can be a silent eyewitness to a lot of catastrophes and things that go wrong and watch alcohol be the reason behind 90 percent of it. And secondly, any wildness that I did have certainly came to an end when I had my little girl. I mean, it gives you an entirely different outlook on life. Going out and having a couple of drinks is always fun, but hangovers and 3-year-olds aren’t. (laughs)

What’s your ultimate goal in your career?

I can’t sit here and tell you, “My goal is to make lots of money and retire on a private yacht in the ocean,” because what I want to do is just keep doing this as long as I can. I’ve been doing this my whole life and this is home. … I mean, not this. (looking around her bus) This is new to me, but the whole performance thing and songwriting and studio stuff is home for me. That’s what I love to do. So as long as time will allow me to do it, that’s what I want to do.

How are you adjusting to life on the bus?

I haven’t really had to do a real hard bus run yet, but it’s coming soon. And as long as I’ve got digital pictures coming in of my little girl and cell phones and stuff, I think I’ll be all right. I’m sure I’ll be busy, probably too busy to worry about how I feel about it. (laughs)

Is there anything else you want readers to know about you?

I just want to make sure that they hear me say, “Thank you.” I’ve been keeping up and reading some of the chat room stuff, and I’ve been itching to post something on there and they keep saying, “Oh no, no, just let them talk a little bit.” But I’m e-mailing my manager in the middle of the night saying, “C’mon, c’mon. I’ll make it anonymous. Let me put something.” And, “Oh no, no, just let it go. We’ll figure out a time for that, and you can just say something, and we’ll work it out”

So what do you want to say?

Oh, I just want to say thank you. I just want to say thanks for everybody who’s … . (laughs) There are friends and family out there that are on there all the time, and I think they take things to heart too much. And they get on there and they’ll start yelling and screaming at somebody, “I don’t know if you know what you’re talking about, but where I come from you can hang a Kid Rock poster next to a … .” I’m sitting there reading all this stuff, and I don’t want my family and friends to be upset by things that other people say, because, you know, everybody has an opinion, and I’m enjoying hearing them all really.

One more question about the song “Redneck Woman.” Do you have your Christmas lights up all year?

Last year I did. This last time I took them down, but we did leave the Christmas tree on the porch until last month when we did the spring lawn care and trimming of the bushes. Then we finally had a pile for the chipper service to come by and pick up, and we threw the Christmas tree in that pile. It still had the shiny tinsel around it. You know they left that in the yard. They yanked that off the tree and left it in the yard. (laughs)