Editor’s note: The CMT concert special, Invitation Only: Reba McEntire , debuts Friday (Aug. 21) at 9 p.m. ET/PT. You can see more of the interview in the new episode of CMT Insider premiering Saturday (Aug. 22) at 1:30 p.m. ET/PT.
Our nation was celebrating its bicentennial when Reba McEntire charted her first country single. That first single, “I Don’t Want to Be a One Night Stand,” didn’t exactly ignite her career, but success came soon enough after a series of Top 10 records led to her first No. 1, “Can’t Even Get the Blues,” in 1982.
Now 33 years into her career, her new album, Keep On Loving You, arrives in stores Tuesday (Aug. 18). One of the tracks, “Consider Me Gone,” was the highest-debuting single on last week’s Billboard country songs chart. She co-produced the project with Tony Brown and Mark Bright.
In a recent interview with CMT Insider‘s Allison DeMarcus, McEntire talked about her new album and some of the good-natured creative differences she has with husband Narvel Blackstock, who is also her manager.
CMT: This is your first album for the Valory Music Co. You were with MCA Records for years. How has this new group of people affected your music?
Reba McEntire: I think it’s affected me in a very positive way. They’re very enthusiastic. Part of the team over at Valory has been with MCA before, so some of us have all worked together. We’re familiar. They know my work ethic, I know theirs. So it’s fun to get reunited and go at it again.
You have such a strong and loyal fan base. Do you feel any pressure when you go into the studio to really create something special for them?
I always go into the studio with that same formula: try to find the best songs possible and entertain them the best I can. I mean, that’s the way I’ve always done it, and I probably will always do it that way. Thank God, the songwriters let me have some of their best songs. I love them. I’m really excited for the fans to get to hear this new album.
Martina McBride has told us before she has found it harder and harder to find subject matter and songs that she really hasn’t sung about before. Do you find that to be troublesome as well?
You know, I never thought about that. … When a song touches me in some form or fashion … whether it’s emotional, happy, sad, whatever … when I sing it, hopefully it will touch you. And that’s an example when I found the song, “She Thinks His Name Was John.” I was over at Bluewater Music Company and they played me about 10 or 15. I took a few, and they said, “Hey, before you go, let us play you one song because we know there’s probably nobody else that would sing it but you. And they played me “She Thinks His Name Was John.” I said, “I want it.” And I recorded it. At the time, I didn’t know anyone affected with AIDS, the HIV virus, but I just knew if I could sing about it, hopefully, more people could talk about it and it would bring light to a very unfortunate situation and might help a lot of people. I’m open to any kind of situation in a song as long as it touches my heart.
You actually co-wrote one of the songs on the album, “She’s Turning 50 Today.” Is that your personal anthem?
I wrote that song, well I started it out when I just turned 50. I e-mailed [songwriter] Liz Hengber, and I said, “Liz, I’ve got an idea for a song,” and I gave her the first two lines. I said, “See what you can do with it.” So two years went by, and I had forgotten about it. And then when this album was coming up I said, “Hey, what did you ever do with that song?” She said, “OK, Tommy Lee James and I are gonna start working on it. She e-mailed it back to me, put it in MP3. And I listened to it and loved it. And when I got into the studio, Narvel and I talked about it. By the second verse, I wanted it a little more personal. And so I rewrote the second verse. It is a little bit of an anthem for me. Because when I left, after my divorce, when I left Oklahoma, I never looked back. It was the future. It was looking forward from then on.
You often do songs with some very serious subject matter, and yet you’re so lighthearted and fun. Is that just kind of an avenue to get that side of you out?
That’s my dark side. (laughs) Yeah, yeah, I think it is. I always like story songs, Dolly Parton, Tom T. Hall, Mel Tillis, Red Stegall, when they’d do their story songs. I was totally enthralled. They had my 100 percent attention. And so, to find a story song, I’ve got to record it. That’s why “Fancy” is my favorite song.
All of your female fans love to see your CD covers and just what your look is going to be next. Do you try to pattern that after your music at the time or where you are in your life? How do you determine what that look is going to be?
After we get done with a photo shoot, Narvel always says, “You don’t need to look at any of these pictures.” Well, of course, I’m going to be like, “Why? Do they look that bad?” He said, “No, because you don’t pick out the right ones.” I said, “I pick out the pictures for the way I want to look.” He said, “Yeah, but you don’t look like that.”
That’s good and bad. Probably bad because that’s the way I want to look and he said, “You look more like this.” I said, “Oh, I don’t like that one. I like this one over here.” So we had like World War III over picking out the album cover and lots of arguments about it, but I’m very tickled with the one we did choose.
So did you win or did Narvel win?
I’m gonna say I did. He’s gonna say he did. There’ll be another argument there somewhere.