In Her Own Words: Wynonna’s 20th Anniversary Tour

Simplicity, Stories, Jokes Are the Focus

The year 1984 was a good one for Wynonna as “Mama He’s Crazy” became the first of 14 No. 1 hits for the Judds. Twenty years later, her new tour, titled Her Story: Scenes From a Lifetime, kicks off Tuesday (Oct. 12) near Washington D.C. In addition to a retrospective of her hits, she also promises some stories about her mother Naomi and sister Ashley. Here, in her own words, Wynonna tells’s Craig Shelburne what fans can expect.

I don’t know how many times we’ve done this. Let’s see, hmmm. Go on tour, get a bunch of buses, buy a bunch of gas and a lot of per diem and come home exhausted. This is a little different, I must admit. I’m very recharged. I’m rehabilitated. I’m re … let’s see what other words with “re” in them.

You come to a point in your life — and you’ll get here — where it’s like being married for 20 years, and you wake up one day and you go, “You know what? I have a great marriage. I’m happy, but something’s missing,” in terms of that passion or that spark or whatever it is that makes us want to run around in love. That endorphin thing or crazy in love, the butterflies, whatever you want to call it. After so long, you have to learn how to sort of start over. Life is about seasons, and it’s about change. And being in the business for over 20 years now, I have to come up with unique ways to be in love.

Coming home has always been a real time of bankruptcy for me, of having to recharge and refuel my tank here. And going out on the road has been my way for 20 years. I’ve never not done it, except for one year, in my whole career. So we got together, and I said, “Listen, I’m turning 40. I’m celebrating 20 years. I want a new purpose.” How can you reinvent yourself? It’s not about that as much as it’s about getting back to my first love, which is country music.

I have roots and wings, and my wings have carried me to all these different opportunities with Sting and Bono and all these big mega rock stars, yes, but I want to get back to my roots. I want to get back to why it is that I got into this dad gum business in the first place — and that is to sing. What a concept. Let’s put away all the stuff. I used to have 11 pieces on stage, horns and back up singers. Let’s get simple.

I think people are tired — I know I am — of all the fluff and all the perfection of videos. I found out recently that they can literally make a person thinner. They can go in and fix people’s hair. They can get rid of acne. They can literally get rid of dimples in the butt! All those videos you see nowadays, they go back in post-production and get rid of all the dimples in the butt. I just saw a reel where they showed before-and-after [images] of J. Lo, where she did that video when she danced. She had some extra cellulite in her leg, and they got rid of it. I went, “You know what? I’m out of here. This is where I get off. I’m gonna go home and get a real job, because I can’t do this. I can’t compete with this. I can’t be this. I want to be a singer.”

So this tour is about just that. It’s about the history of me. … It’s everything from the Tina Turner song that I used to sing in my room when I was grounded, at the top of my lungs, to going over here and doing a little Led Zeppelin. Then I’m going to come back and sing “Grandpa,” and then I’m going to go over here and do the things that groove me. If I want to have a minute of fellowship and jump out in the audience and kiss somebody, I’m gonna do it, because I’m more interested in the fellowship and being in the moment than I am about getting the show perfect. You might as well make it an HBO special, you know?

They’re going to learn a lot about me, more so than ever, because I’m in a place where I’m really interested in talking about the stuff that’s not so beautiful, that’s not so perfect. The Bible talks about loving the ugly people, loving the people who aren’t perfect. Well, I’m not perfect. I know for 20 years I’ve been trying to be strong and trying to be powerful and trying to tell everybody I’m a winner, I’m a survivor. But the truth is, I’m wounded. I’m working on healing. I’ve got an addiction, and this is what you do. This is how you live. This is how you cry. This is how you deal with life.

I’m getting more hits on my Web site now than I ever have, which is interesting to me. Over 800,000 on the day after the Oprah [appearance]. That means I’m not the only wounded person in the world. There must be someone else out there feeling lonely. And we live in a society that pretty much tells us if you’re not this, you know, you’re the big loser. Put the big “L” on your forehead with your fingers … because you don’t fit in. So I rely on my gut and my heart, and I have for the most part of my career.

But I’ve been sidelined many times by corporations and labels who say, “Oh, that just doesn’t work, Wynonna.”

“But that’s who I am.”

“Well, it doesn’t sell.”

“OK, I’ll work with ya,” you know.

And I go out and I put out the songs that I know that everybody else agrees with, and then I put out the songs that everyone doesn’t agree with, but that is who I am. It’s a combination of the hits and the misses, but isn’t that who we are?

So you could look at this tour as the failure and success of what it feels like to be in a marketplace that tells you every day, “You’re not good enough. Sell. Sell. Sell.” It’s really sort of like my proactive way of fighting back, feeling so insecure for all this time. But I’m surviving it, because I know who I am — thank God, I do — and trying to help other people start saying, “No, no. That’s not who I am.” I feel like it will help people. Another groove for me is knowing that this isn’t done in vain. This is not about hair and makeup and wardrobe changes. This is about sweating and slobbering all over myself with a lot of passion, love, hate, joy and pain.

I don’t think enough tours allow artists to be that vulnerable to their audience because they rely too much on the set list — 1, 2, 3, 4, twirl. (laughs) It’s not about that anymore for me. I can’t tour that way anymore. I’ve tried it. I’ve done the big productions and the 10 trucks and, “Hey, let’s shoot my mother out of a cannon! Yeah!” (laughs) Well, they wouldn’t let me do that, because I tried to do it on a tour. They wouldn’t let me do it because of insurance. I already tried! (laughs) But we had the balloons drop from the sky. We’ve had me riding my Harley on stage. We’ve done that, and it just feels like too much right now.

Back then it was great. I couldn’t get my hair high enough. “Jack It to Jesus Tour,” you know, but right now it feels better for me because of the work I’m doing. I’m trying to rehabilitate my life. It just feels more honest. Don’t you get tired of going to all these big parties where nobody really talks about anything? I just want some friends to come over and let’s get real. Let’s talk about everybody else, and let’s just talk about life. I think we’re craving that fellowship more and more. I think I am anyway.

On this tour, I’m going to make a lot of jokes. I’m going to talk about the times when we were so poor that we all slept together in the bed with the 15 blankets. And we still argue over who peed in the bed. Ashley says it’s me. Of course, I say it’s her. And all these wonderful stories that make up who I am, that people don’t know about. We’ve read the book and seen the movie, we know about all the fights … OK, enough already! Let’s talk about riding in the back of the VW wagon. You could hardly talk it was so loud, but we’d sing at the top of our lungs. All these great stories about what it was like to live on a mountaintop with no TV and telephone. I think those are interesting. Well, they are to me, anyway, because it’s like, “How the heck did I get here where I am now?”

Aren’t you interested in people talking about your past? Because it’s kind of like, “Oh, wow! Now I know why I’m that way.” I think people are curious to hear more about Ashley and me. We’ve heard a lot about Mom and me, but I have some things I’d like to share about Ashley and me that are important to me, anyway. About sharing family and we’re all crazy. But we put the “fun” in dysfunctional. Honoring my past is what it’s all about and also telling a lot of jokes and making people laugh, because that’s very, very healing.

Like, one of my jokes is, “Do you know how many men it takes to change a toilet paper roll?” “We don’t know, ’cause it’s never been done.” (laughs) And the women will go, “Woohoo!” You know, and they’ll all elbow their husbands or boyfriends, and they’ll be like, “Oh, God.” (laughs) So I’m looking forward to it because it’s a chance to just do whatever the heck and not be so worried about “Am I number one? Am I plywood or platinum? Am I number one or am I number zero?” Who cares? It doesn’t matter right now. What matters is celebrating where you’ve come from and the fact that you’re still here and you have a seat at the table. Thank you, God, and who doesn’t feel like that? So what about the statistics? I’m so tired of being defined by that. “Well, her last record …” You know what? I’m still here. Let’s talk about that.

People go crazy when I do that, because who doesn’t feel that way? “Oh, let’s be defined by a number.” How far will that get you? When I talk about that in the show, who doesn’t that apply to? “Oh, let’s get out of bed today, because I’m Top 5!” (laughs) Give me a break! It’s exciting to talk about this stuff, because I get more letters from people saying, “Oh, my God, I’m seeing myself in you.” And that’s the connection. That’s my Grammy. I don’t need a Grammy anymore. It’d be great, it’d be nice. High five, woohoo. Let’s have a party. But what about the other 364 days, you know?

That stuff doesn’t sustain you. What does is the love, and these fans are now bringing their kids. At my fan club party, I cried almost the whole time. It’s awesome! These people are bringing their children, and they are so dear and so sweet. They can’t even say my name right and it thrills me they’re so young. I get Wyonnie, Wyona, Nona, I get it all, and it just thrills my soul.