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An Interview with Gretchen Wilson
By CSO European Contributing Journalist, Christian Lamitschka.

Gretchen Wilson was born on June 26, 1973, and raised in rural Pocahontas, Ill. 36 miles due east of St. Louis, where numerous trailer parks are clustered among cornfields and pig farms. Her mother was 16 years old when she had Gretchen, and her father, unfortunately, had moved on with his life by the time she was two. 

CL: You've had a hard life. Can you tell us how it's affected you?

GW: ďI donít really think about having had a hard life. It was just my life, and itís all I knew. It made me who I am Ė all the good and bad Ė and itís where all of the songs on Here For The Party came from. Iíve lived them all. Even the songs I didnít write sound like songs I would have or could have written. My mom was very young, and I have a little brother, and we moved around a lot when she worked odd jobs Ė she was a cocktail waitress and bartender. When things got tough and money got tight a lot of times weíd just pick up and move to where she could find another job. It was rough but we loved each other, and we always had that to go on. I spent a lot of time with my grandma and grandpa Ė they always lived in the same place Ė and it was great to go hang out with them. My grandma was the one who held us all together. She was everyoneís grandma. Some of my best memories of my childhood are with her.

CL: What memories do you have about your father and how did it affect you growing up without having him around?

GW: Since he left when I was so young, I never really missed him. Iím sure it affected me in some way. He was a musician and traveled with his familyís Gospel group, so my music definitely comes from his side of the family.

CL: What's it feel like having a number one song and and sold more than 1.000.000 albums, how has it changed your life?

GW: The main thing thatís changed is Iím incredibly busy right now with concerts, interviews, radio visits and tv appearances. You donít realize going into this exactly what it takes to make all of this happen in addition performing Ė which is and always will be my favorite part of this business. Itís where Iím most comfortable.

CL: Were there a lot of years of frustration and hard work behind your sudden success or did it really happen overnight? Tell us what it was like for you.

GW: Iíve wanted to do this my whole life, and itís really been my dream since I was 14 or 15. I sang in bands in the St. Louis area for several years, and we were pretty successful. But I always knew if I wanted to go further I would have to move to Nashville, which I did in 1996. I realized real quick I couldnít make a living singing right away, so I went back to tending bar. Thereís so much great talent in Nashville itís hard to make a living playing in clubs. I would sing with the band in the club where I tended bar whenever they would let me, and then Iíd rush back to the bar to catch up on my drink orders. I started singing demos for songwriters and publishers, which kept me busy and helped spread my name around town. Then I began showcasing for major labels in Nashville and ended up getting turned down by every one of them, which was frustrating, but I was trying to be who I thought they wanted me to be. When I finally decided to just be who I am, thatís when it worked.

CL: Your success didn't build build slowly, but exploded suddenly. Did you find yourself suddenly surrounded by old friends you never realized you had or have your old friends always been there?

GW: My old friends have definitely always been there. Iíve been surrounded by my MuzicMafia family. Itís an informal group of singer/songwriters who get together whenever we all can and have a big jam session. We call it ďmusic without prejudice, because it doesnít matter what kind of music you play whether itís country or rock or rap as long as itís good. It never was supposed to be a big deal, but a lot of great things have come out of it. Weíre like a big family.

CL: How have you handled your sudden success and popularity?

GW: It's really trying. I don't know what to say other than it's...what I'm doing is a dream come true but at the same time its work. It's like anything else. The only time it doesn't really feel like work to me is when I'm on stage and doing what I've prepared myself for my whole life which is to stand out in front of a crowd and sing

CL: Your Redneck Woman video is pretty intense and physical, was it hard work or lots of fun?

GW: Both. We shot the video over two days in Nashville. One day was shooting the performance part at a club, and the second day was out in a field and inside a mobile home. The fun parts were riding the four-wheeler through the water and mud, getting to hang out with Tanya Tucker, Kid Rock and Hank Jr. and having Big & Rich, James Otto and some other friends and family in the video. The hard part was all the waiting involved between takes and when they would set up another scene. We had a huge wrap party at the end of the second day.

CL: You have a special relationship with Big and Rich. How did that come about?

GW: John Rich of Big & Rich would come in the club where I tended bar. He and Big Kenny heard me sing one night. He came up to me with his cowboy hat and duster and said, Ďman, youíre good. How come you ainít got a record deal?í I thought he was just a wannabe cowboy singer, so I just threw a CD and business card at him and told him I was kinda busy but to call me if he was serious. I ignored his calls for a few months until a friend told me John used to be with Lonestar and now had a solo deal. I finally called him, and he started introducing me to songwriting friends and friends in the music business.

CL: Billy Ray Cyrus' "Achy Breaky Heart" was such a monster hit right out of the chute that it seemed his career peaked and started to slide right from the beginning. With "Redneck Woman" being such a big hit, how are you going to top it.

GW: Iím really proud of this entire album. Itís not about any one song. Thereís a lot of depth to this album from fun party songs like ďRedneck WomanĒ to stone country songs like ďWhen I think About Cheatiní" which will be the third single. I made the best album I could make, and the rest is really out of my hands.

Christian Lamitschka ( Ch.Lamitschka@t-online.de )

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