Let’s Hear It for “Redneck Woman”

Gretchen Wilson, John Rich and Friends Celebrate Surprise Hit

Rednecks both real and honorary stomped into Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge in downtown Nashville Monday (July 12) to shout their “hell, yeahs” to Gretchen Wilson and John Rich, the writers of this year’s turn-the-tide hit, “Redneck Woman.” ASCAP, the performance rights society, hosted the bacchanal.

Wearing blue jeans, a white tank top and a belt-buckle the size of Zambia, Wilson slipped through the crowd unobtrusively until she reached the TV crews waiting for her. True to her credo, she was carrying a Miller Lite.

Wilson stood patiently while one music executive after another told the crowd how good she is and how providential her coming has been to the health of the industry. Connie Bradley, ASCAP’s senior vice president, noted that “Redneck Woman” went No. 1 after only 12 weeks on the charts — and then stayed at the top for five weeks. Donna Hilley, president and CEO of Sony/ATV, Wilson’s publishing company, said she signed the singer-songwriter “basically sight unseen” after hearing her demo tape.

When it came her turn to speak, Wilson was brief: “First of all,” she said, “I want to make sure everybody is proud of themselves. It takes a lot of people to make this happen, this miracle.” While the crowd was applauding, Tanya Tucker slipped in a side door with daughter Layla in tow and stood by the stage to watch. In their song, Wilson and Rich toast Tucker as a redneck role model.

Rich said he first heard Wilson sing when she was bartending at Bourbon Street Blues and Boogie Bar in Nashville’s Printers Alley. “Man, it just ripped my face off,” he recalled. After Wilson had done her impromptu set and was back behind bar, Rich continued, he approached her and said, “Darlin’, why don’t you have a record deal?” To which the totally unimpressed Wilson replied, “You think you can f**kin’ get me one?” The former member of Lonestar, former solo artist and current half of the Big & Rich duo told her he thought he could — and then spent the next several years doing it.

“Everybody turned her down,” Rich said. “They gave all kinds of excuses. They said, ’She looks dated’ or ’I don’t like her hair.’ It was heartbreaking.” After the turndowns, Rich said he would sit Wilson down and assure her he was “a bulldog” when it came to finding her a deal. Then they would go out and try again.

Speaking to reporters before the party started, Rich said he and Wilson had fairly modest ambitions for their song. “Gretchen and I thought it would turn a crowd on,” Rich explained. “But we didn’t necessarily think it would be [played] on radio.”

He said they were surprised when her label, Epic Records, announced it was releasing “Redneck Woman” as a single. “I couldn’t believe how it moved,” he marveled. “It was like it had a rocket strapped to it.”

To view photos from the party, visit Gretchen Wilson’s artist page at CMT.com.

Edward Morris is a veteran of country music journalism. He lives in Nashville, Tennessee, and is a frequent contributor to CMT.com.