If country singers are born rather than made, then Gretchen Wilson -- a real-life honky-tonk woman if ever there was one -- was surely destined to become one. The singer was born into relative poverty, spent her ... Read more »
If country singers are born rather than made, then Gretchen Wilson -- a real-life honky-tonk woman if ever there was one -- was surely destined to become one. The singer was born into relative poverty, spent her childhood fatherless and living in a small-town trailer park, and dropped out of school at the age of 14 to work in a bar where she eventually ended up singing Patsy Cline standards to the regulars. However, from such humble beginnings, she went on to become the archetypal "overnight success" when her first single, the rousing country anthem "Redneck Woman," shot straight to number one in the charts. Her debut album Here For The Party (2004) enjoyed similar phenomenal success and while Wilson eschewed the poppier side of country for a more rootsy, traditional sound, subsequent releases saw that she was unafraid to show her sensitive side, or to indulge her love of classic rock by covering songs by Led Zeppelin, Eric Clapton and Heart.
Wilson was born in Pocahontas, IL, a small village of only around 700 people, 37 miles east of St Louis, MO. Her mother was 16 when she gave birth and Wilson's father left the family when she was only two years old. Mother and child spent the majority of Wilson's early years living in a trailer park, and she dropped out of high school when she was 14 to go to work as a cook, then a bartender, at the club where her mother worked. Wilson began singing in bars in the St Louis area at the age of 15. She was discovered in 1991 at the age of 18 by Susie Osburn, a bar manager from Springfield, MO who was looking for a new house band for her establishment, The Townhouse. Wilson and her band, Sham-A-Lama, were offered a job on the spot and upped sticks to Springfield where they spent the next two years playing six nights a week.
In 1996, Wilson moved to Nashville, where she supported herself by bar work and singing in clubs and on demos. While there she joined the "Muzik Mafia," a collective of singers and songwriters who would band together to try out new material. It was here that she met John Rich, a former member of country-pop outfit Lonestar, and the pair wrote "Redneck Woman" together although the song is clearly drawn from Wilson's own life and personality. The number, an ebulliently anthemic goodtime stomp, quickly became a fixture in Wilson's repertoire and caught the attention of Epic Records who signed her in 2003 and released the song as a single in March 2004.
"Redneck Woman" went to the top of the country charts faster than any song since Billy Ray Cyrus's "Achy Breaky Heart" in 1992 and crossed over to the pop charts, reaching number 22 in the Billboard Hot 100. Epic moved the release of Wilson's debut album Here For The Party (2004) forward to capitalize on the song's success and subsequently released the title track as a follow-up single while Wilson cemented her status that summer by touring as a support act with Montgomery Gentry and Brooks & Dunn. After years of singing in clubs and tending bar, Wilson was an "instant" celebrity.
Wilson's second album All Jacked Up (2005) sold a million copies and reached number 1 in the country charts. The title track reached an even wider audience when it was later used by ESPN as the theme tune for its baseball coverage. While still filled with good-time barroom anthems, the album also showcased Wilson's more sensitive side - and her underappreciated vocal talent - with a truly lovely, faithful version of the Billie Holiday standard "Good Morning Heartache." Later that same year Wilson released her autobiography Redneck Woman which, while generally well-received, was criticized for its unflattering depiction of life in southern Illinois by her fellow natives of the area.
Wilson's third album One Of The Boys (2007) marked something of a departure for her. For the first time, she had a hand in writing most of the songs, many of which have a strong autobiographical element. "There's A Place In The Whiskey" was an unusually rock-oriented goodtime drinking song while the more typically country tearjerker "Pain Killer" took a very different view of alcohol. While the album reached the top of the country charts, it sold significantly fewer copies than its predecessors and its final two singles failed to reach the Top 40.
I Got Your Country Right Here (2010) saw its release delayed after the first single "Don't Do Me No Good" failed to make the Top 40 in 2008. Two further singles released in 2009 also failed to chart and later that year Wilson left Sony Music Nashville to form her own label Redneck Records which released the album while Sony released a Greatest Hits album in 2010 to see out her contract. The considerably rockier Right On Time (2013) was bound to disappoint hardcore country fans as many songs saw Wilson showcase her versatility in a variety of genres. "The Well Run Dry" carried clear echoes of Janis Joplin, while the late night piano-jazz bar song "Birds Of A Feather" showed the breadth of Wilson's influences. Under The Covers (2013) saw Wilson fully embrace her inner rock chick and perhaps court a new audience with a collection of covers of classic rock songs by artists such as Led Zeppelin, Van Morrison, Eric Clapton, Cheap Trick and Rod Stewart.