Gretchen Wilson never considered writing a book, and even after a publisher made a hard-to-resist offer, she still didn’t think it was a good idea. But after meeting her collaborator, Alan Rucker, she was ultimately persuaded to tell her story — and how her unlikely success reflects the stories of hardworking women she has met along the way.
“He assured me that we could make this story sound like it was coming from me,” she tells CMT.com. “He would use my words and make sure I got my points across. It was a learning experience for me. Going back and reading the chapters and the stories and seeing how they’ve come together, it’s made me take a look at my life in a way that I haven’t before and realize how strong we are.”
Here, Wilson talks about the lessons in Redneck Woman: Stories From My Life, why she won’t hire a housekeeper and her biggest indulgence since finding fame.
CMT: This tells your story from the beginning, but it’s still amazing to look back on just the last few years.
Wilson: Yeah, it’s an amazing thing when I sit here right now today, thinking about what I’ve accomplished. Not only in the last couple of years, but what I accomplished leading up to being a signed recording artist. My life before that was certainly not boring. It was a lot of ups and downs, just like this career has been.
I don’t think anybody’s life is easy. Life is difficult for us all, no matter our situations. No matter whether we’ve grown up in a wealthy household and things have been given to us easily or if we’ve had to work for it our whole life. Everybody has their own sets of issues and problems and their own things to overcome. We all seem to do it. We all manage to do it, no matter what. We all rise above and we all keep going. At least I have — and most of the people in my family and the people I’ve surrounded myself with. We’re strong people and we refuse to give up. I think at the end of the day, what you’ve done for yourself in your life is what’s really important.
I think that’s why I write songs like “California Girls” and “Redneck Woman” because I get so irritated with people trying to measure up to what other people or society thinks they should be. And I’m not just talking about women, thinking that we should all be 6-feet tall and blonde and size zero. That’s not what I’m talking about. A lot of men, too, grow up thinking they need to be a certain thing or fit a certain mold. I think if you’re happy with yourself when you wake up every morning, then what else do you need to do?
“Be yourself.” Is that one of the points you wanted to emphasize in your book?
I think I sort of emit that everywhere I go — probably a little too much. It’s such an important thing to me because I wasn’t supposed to make it. I had everything against me. I’m living proof that if you want something bad enough, you’re going to get it. Even if I hadn’t become a “superstar,” I would have been in the music industry doing something. I’d be writing songs. Hopefully, I’d be producing records someday. I’d be doing something in the music industry that I love and that’s not a failure. That’s not even close to a failure.
You said the word “superstar” with a tongue-in-cheek tone. Does that word mean anything to you?
When I hear “superstar,” I think of other people. I don’t think of me because I’m not any different than I used to be. I just don’t have to worry about the rent money anymore. I’m still a country girl. I mean, I still get up and have my coffee the same way. I don’t live life the way people would think I do. I’m in a modest-sized home. I don’t have anybody helping me at the house. I’ve got my family around, but that’s the way it is with country folk. If your aunt is there, she’ll change the laundry around if it needs to be done.
I’m in a 4,500-square-foot house, which is big for me, but it’s small compared to what a lot of people have. If my house was any bigger than that, I would have to have a housekeeper or something, and I won’t ever buy a house too big for me to clean myself. I’m just a really normal person. I enjoy housecleaning. I enjoy riding my four-wheeler, riding horses, going fishing and sitting on the back porch with my dog. You’ll never catch me on a flight to the Virgin Islands to just hang out and drink frou-frou drinks for a couple of weeks. It’s just not going to happen. I couldn’t tell you the last time I’ve had my fingernails done. I’m not what people think a superstar would be, so it’s hard for me to call myself that.
What are some of your indulgences since you’ve become a star?
Probably the most diva-ish thing about me is that I carry a hair and makeup artist with me. She’s awesome at what she does. … I don’t own a curling iron or blow dryer or anything. I’m a wash-and-go hippie chick when it comes to that. Then again, you see some of these girls out here who have a 14-person glam squad. They’re nippin’ and tuckin’ and primpin’ and sprayin’, and I don’t know how they can deal with that. I could never do it. I’ve got my one good friend. She does the whole thing. And if she can’t do it, then I’m going to have to go without. (laughs)
As you’ve come along in the business, have you realized that you have a good head for business?
I think because of the way I grew up, yeah. I’ve got a lot of street smarts. I can pretty much tell when someone is pulling my leg. And I can tell when someone is just telling me what I want to hear. The one thing I’ve learned is you’ve got to take care of yourself. If you want to know what’s going on in this business, you’ve got to get involved in every aspect of it. If you allow someone else to do anything for you, then you’re going to have to wonder if it’s being done to your liking.
That is something I wasn’t prepared for — becoming a businesswoman. There are so many parts of this career you don’t know about until you’re right in the middle of it. But, yeah, I’m a corporation. I’ve got a payroll. I’ve got employees. It’s a whole different ballgame than you think it’s going to be, and you have to learn to deal with it. It’s not just being a singer. And it’s not just limos and caviar and champagne and what people think. It’s a very hard career. It’s hard to manage. It’s just like any other business. If you decide to be an attorney, you’re going to have your own set of problems. If you’re an artist, you’ve got a lot to deal with too. It’s not just the shows.
Since your career exploded, how much face-to-face time did you get with the fans that first year?
I think I got quite a bit. We went all over the place. We circled the globe in 14 days. I saw a lot of people. I did a lot of signings in Wal-Mart and places like that. We did a lot of fairs and parks. We were doing stuff like the Quaker Steak & Lube restaurant outside. That’s very up close and personal. I probably got to know more fans the first year than I did this last year, just because … I guess the level of stardom grows so much after the first year. It’s almost like I’m so much busier, if that even makes sense.
And, also, I’ve learned how to make time for myself this year, which I didn’t know how to do last year. I was completely accessible last year to everyone and everything. But I think that’s how you have to be when you’re an up-and-coming artist. You have to do everything you can to make sure people know who you are and that you’re serious and that you want this. And that you want to be connected to the fans and the industry.
In the second year, I had to take a deep breath and realize I had to take time for myself. You can’t continue to go like that, at 120 miles an hour all the time without making time for yourself and time for my daughter. I’ve learned how to be Gretchen Wilson, the country artist, but I’ve also learned how to be Gretchen, the person that I was before, and Mom and a sister and a niece and a daughter — all those things I need to be for myself.
When your daughter is old enough to read the book, what would you like her to take away from it?
Strength. When she reads the book — and with anybody else who reads it — I hope that they understand me a little better and they know me a little better. … I think every mother would say they wish their children would learn from their mistakes, and I heard that a lot from my mother as I was growing up: “You need to learn from my mistakes.” But that’s an impossibility. You have to make your own mistakes, and you have to learn your own lessons. My daughter will learn her own lessons, too. But, hopefully, she’ll be a strong enough person to go out and do whatever it is she thinks she can accomplish because there’s nothing holding her back. She can do anything she wants. That’s what I want her to know.