Over the winter months, Lee Ann Womack has been warming up audiences for two of her longtime musical heroes — George Strait and Reba McEntire. Asked what separates this particular tour from the other ones out there, Womack promptly replies, “Country music,” as if it’s the most obvious thing in the world.
“I mean, there’s not a lot of smoke and mirrors. There’s not a lot of flash. It’s music,” she adds. “I have to brag on all three of the bands. I think that these three bands are the best on the road and they are kicking ass every night. It’s a joy to get to hear them.”
Nominated for the ACM’s female vocalist of the year award, Womack is on the charts with her latest single, “There Is a God.” She’s also in the mixing phase of a new album, a project which finds her working with producer Tony Brown, who has produced more than a few hits with Strait and McEntire.
Prior to a meet-and-greet at a recent concert in Memphis, she found a quiet corner to talk about landing a spot on the tour, how she discovered Strait’s music and what crosses her mind before she takes the stage.
CMT: This is a dream tour for you. What was your reaction when you heard that the deal came through?
Womack: Well, I was kind of surprised! I hadn’t even heard that they were going to add another artist to the show, so I was a little surprised. I was on the beach in Hawaii and got a call from my agent who said, “They want you to come out.” So I was thrilled.
When you lived in Texas, did you ever see George Strait or Reba on tour?
Oh, yeah … oh yeah. Of course, I saw George many, many times. I would skip school and drive anywhere I could to see him and his band. They played great Western swing music. I liked the stuff they did that wasn’t on the album as much as I did the hits. And I remember seeing Reba in college when I was going to school out in Lubbock. I saw her at the fair out there.
I know you especially like the early albums from Reba’s career.
That’s my favorite Reba. She knows it, too. I tell her! (laughs) Yeah, I love those [producer] Jerry Kennedy records. That’s real, real country stuff. It’s nostalgic to me. I remember hearing it as a child, and my parents really loved her. But just the songs that she cut … “Somebody Should Leave,” “You’re the First Time I Thought About Leaving,” all those things. It was country.
I bet Strait Country was a landmark album for you.
Mmm-hmm. Oh, yeah. I remember my dad coming in and handing me an album and saying, “This guy sounds just like Tommy Duncan.” [Duncan was the lead vocalist for Bob Wills‘ Texas Playboys band.] And I knew who Tommy Duncan was because I had listened to all of my dad’s records. That’s a big compliment coming from my dad. He’s real picky and real hard on singers, and he just loved George’s voice. That’s kind of where it started for me.
When you’re just about to step onstage, what are you thinking about?
You know what I’ve found about this? There’s a certain amount of intimacy in these shows, even though there’s 18,000 people. The show is in the round. You walk through the crowd to get to the show, and you’re not at the far end of a room. As a singer and a songwriter, I love intimate shows. It’s really surprising to me that you can have this big of a room, with this many people, and still have intimacy.
How has the crowd response been for “There Is a God”?
Amazing. They love it. That’s a song for the country music audience, and they really love it. It’s like it’s already a hit from the first time you sing the hook.
This tour is wrapping up in April. Are you heading out on tour this summer, too?
Yeah! I was just talking to my agent before soundcheck. I was making sure. … We only get 30 minutes on these shows, so I want to come back to a lot of these cities and play. Yeah, I’ll definitely be out on my own.