When Gretchen Wilson exploded with “Redneck Woman” in 2004, the awards started rolling in — including a Grammy for best female country vocal performance. Asked what she remembers about the night she won it, Wilson replies, “Just how intense it was to be in that room and to be a part of the entire broadcast. It’s just gigantic. It’s much bigger than most of the awards shows. It’s such an enormous amount of people working on the set and on the stage. There are so many different kinds of artists in the audience, just a really different vibe altogether. It was really unique to be there.”
This year, Wilson is competing in that same category with “I’d Love to Be Your Last.” After falling in love with the demo by songwriter Rivers Rutherford about five years ago, Wilson recorded her own version and released it through her label, Redneck Records. “Getting my own record company started gave me an opportunity to share it with everybody,” she says. “To me, I describe it as a modern day love song.”
Calling from her home near Nashville, Wilson also shared her thoughts on these 10 Grammy-winning country classics.
“After the Fire Is Gone,” Conway Twitty and Loretta Lynn
1971, Best Country Vocal Performance by a Duo or Group
That’s a song I can remember hearing on the radio in the car. My mom listened to it, and my grandparents, too. It’s a classic. Classic voices, classic people, classic songwriting. Classic country.
“Ain’t That Lonely Yet,” Dwight Yoakam
1993, Best Country Vocal Performance, Male
Dwight is one of my all-time favorite singers — and that’s in all genres of music. He’s such a unique vocalist. He’s one of the few that you know, absolutely without a doubt, when you listen to him sing. There’s no one else who sounds like him.
“The Devil Went Down to Georgia,” Charlie Daniels Band
1979, Best Country Vocal Performance by a Duo or Group
Ah, Charlie’s my neighbor! He just lives a couple of miles from here. Anytime I think about Charlie, I think about what a great American he is. It doesn’t matter if you’ve never heard another country song in your life, everybody knows that song when it starts.
“Elvira,” the Oak Ridge Boys
1981, Best Country Performance by a Duo or Group With Vocal
Believe it or not, my silly little butt used to cover that when I’d sit in with bands back home. The “oom papa mow mow” was, of course, my favorite part. I think it was everybody’s.
“Help Me Make It Through the Night,” Sammi Smith
1971, Best Country Vocal Performance, Female
1971, Best Country Song (Songwriter: Kris Kristofferson)
That’s one that I think every singer has probably sung, and I definitely have sung it a few times myself. It’s one that I think you can miss if you don’t pay attention to it, lyrically, because melodically it sounds like something that you’ve heard before. It’s easy to daydream and not really pay attention when you hear a familiar melody like that, but lyrically, if you don’t pay attention to that song, you’ll miss it. Lyrically, it’s one of those songs that will reach right in and grab your heartstrings.
“Mammas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys,” Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson
1978, Best Country Vocal Performance by a Duo or Group
Those were the Outlaws. Those were the guys that I grew up wanting to be. I think everybody that loves traditional country music would say that they’re proud to know a song that country and that true blue won an award like that.
“Mountain Music,” Alabama
1982, Best Country Vocal Performance by a Duo or Group
A lot of the people who work for me on the road used to work for Alabama in their crew and on their stage, whether they were guitar techs or monitor engineers or front-of-house guys. They’ve shared a lot of stories with me about those guys [in Alabama] and what it was like to be out there making music with them. I’m surprised that as good as their music is that they didn’t win a Grammy with every song. I’ve had the privilege of standing on stage next to Randy [Owen] while he sings to the women. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen that happen firsthand, but it’s crazy. It’s like Elvis.
“Stand by Your Man,” Tammy Wynette
1969, Best Country Vocal Performance, Female
Oh, man. I heard one time that she really didn’t want to sing that song — that she didn’t want to record it. It blows your mind when you think about that. It was the biggest thing that reached so many people. And still, to this day, people say, “I don’t know if I like that song because if he’s no good and he’s no account, then why would you stand by him?” A marriage goes deeper than that sometimes, on both sides, and sometimes people who haven’t experienced it don’t understand. It’s a controversial song. It was then and it still is today. It’s something that you wouldn’t think would be controversial, but it is — especially if you’re a female.
“That’s the Way Love Goes,” Merle Haggard
1984, Best Country Vocal Performance, Male
Merle could sing me to sleep any night of the week. I think he has one of the sexiest voices of all time. Actually it was one of his songs rolling through my head when I shot one of my videos. They asked me, “Can you make yourself cry?” I said, “Sure!” So while I was mouthing the lyrics to my song, I was hearing a Merle Haggard vocal in my head and that’s what made me cry.
“There’s a Tear in My Beer,” Hank Williams Jr. and Hank Williams Sr.
1989, Best Country Vocal Collaboration
Hank is one of my good buddies. His admiration and love for his dad is unbelievable. Still, to this day, it amazes me the way he speaks of him. I can’t even hardly describe it. He’s been gone for so long, but to Bocephus, he’s still here. He’s right around the corner. And he has so much respect for him. I think a lot of people out there might think he’s bitter for having to have been in his father’s shadow but, boy, that’s just not the case when you sit down and get to know the man. I think it was brilliant that he was able to put together a collaboration like that with his father. It’s probably something he wishes that his father had been able to be a part of in real life. It’s such an amazing tribute to him. I hope I get an opportunity to do something that cool for somebody that I love one day.