Wynonna specifically remembers the day she cut “Ain’t No Sunshine” for her new album, Sing; Chapter 1, because she heeded some good advice that guided her throughout the long-awaited project.
“I was trying to be so diva-ish, and Brent [Maher, who co-produced the album with Don Potter] was on the talkback, saying, ‘Wynonna, relax. Take a deep breath and just sing,’” she recalls. “He just said, ‘Get out of the way of yourself.’ That’s exactly what this record is: Quit trying so hard to be perfect, and just use your gift. Free-fall into your face and just sing. That’s why we called it Sing.”
The powerhouse vocalist dips into country by covering Merle Haggard, Hank Williams and Tammy Wynette, but she also embraces all of her musical influences through remakes ranging from “I Hear You Knockin’” and “The House Is Rockin’” to “Anyone Who Had a Heart” and “When I Fall in Love.” During a recent interview at CMT’s offices, she talked about the kids in her audience, why croissants make her cry and how she’ll react when a new artist calls her a hero.
CMT: How did the new song by Rodney Crowell (“Sing”) come across your path?
Wynonna: Honestly, it’s just like my pets. They find me. I wish I had all the great answers and the power in the world, but the fact is, I just feel like it was meant to be. You walk into that room at the party, and there are a hundred people there, and you end up talking to one person. I don’t know what it is that attracts. … It just resonated in my spirit. Every album has a song at the end where I sing something that is not about radio, not about statistics or trying to be all that. It’s just a prayer, a thank you, a “grateful for” — and that song made sense. It’s so simple. Everybody has a formula for something. For me, it’s looking for something that I can sing into my 90s and sing every day and not be jaded by it. And Rodney is so crazily gifted, it’s like, “What?!?” It’s amazing to me how someone can write like that. Rodney Crowell is one of the best in the world.
I know you were close to Tammy Wynette. What was she like?
Tammy was a hairdresser, and she was girly. And she was beautiful and sexy, and she was so wounded. I think I’m drawn to women like Bonnie Raitt and Aretha Franklin. There’s this powerhouse, but there’s the flip side of it: “I’m wounded, I’m looking for love, I’m looking to be loved and to be accepted for who I am.” That’s it. And Tammy was as nervous the first day as she was the last day on TV. She was absolutely frightened by certain things in this business. I always thought that was really ironic. Here she is, a “she-ro,” and yet she was nervous all the time.
Do you think the kids in your audience will like these songs? Whenever I go to your shows, I always see younger kids, like 7 or 8 years old.
Interesting! I hope so. … I also know that my fans have been around long enough that they’re starting to introduce me to their kids. That’s how you know you’ve made it. Because now you’re moving into a whole other generation. So, absolutely! Bring ‘em on! You don’t need a babysitter because there’s something for everybody in my show. I tell jokes. I love to laugh. There are moments when I cry, and I can’t help it. You get such a sense of life, up and down, hopeless and hopeful. It’s all there because I’m so many things. And a lot of people see themselves in me, and there’s room for everyone.
When you start to cry, do you ever think, “Oh, I can’t cry right now”?
Nope! I used to, but I wear waterproof mascara, and I say, “Let it flow, baby!” Honestly, I used to be so tough and work so hard at being so smarty-pants because I was raised on the road with a bunch of guys. I had to be tough. You share a bus with Naomi Judd for 10 years and see what happens! I mean, there was no time to be a wallflower. To keep up with her, I had to learn to be tough, sturdy and ready to rock at any time. And all of a sudden — bam! — I had kids and I started crying at commercials. Seriously, on the Christmas tour, I cried over a dadgum bread commercial. It was for Pillsbury croissants and at the end it said, “Home is calling.” There’s smoke coming out of the fireplace and there’s family around the table, and I thought, “Oh, my God, I’m getting old because I’m starting to cry at everything.” But that’s what life does. It either makes you better or bitter. I think I’m just getting mushy.
How long do you suppose it will be until someone wants to re-record “Grandpa (Tell Me ‘Bout the Good Old Days)”?
OK, that’s really weird! I hadn’t thought about that as much. One time I said to Bonnie Raitt, “You are my hero” — like, “I’ve been listening to you all my life.” And she didn’t know how to take that. It’s that moment where you’re grateful, but you also feel like a mid-life crisis. And I remember her saying to me, “Someday, Chickie, you’re going to be standing there and some young girl’s gonna say to you … .” And I think it’s getting ready to happen. (whispers) And they better do it right. … I’ll let you know. I’ll probably lean into the screen and go, “She’s copying me!” I would want them to do it their own way, but not too much that they’re not paying homage to it. That’s what this record is about — paying homage to the original, but the Wynonna-isms are still in there.