GRETCHEN WILSON Singer performs overseas
Gretchen Wilson got used to explaining what a redneck is.
By JOHN GEROME
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The word "redneck" doesn't translate well into German, country singer Gretchen Wilson learned during her recent overseas tour.
Wilson, whose debut single "Redneck Women" spent a record six weeks at No. 1, visited four countries in 10 days this summer -- Australia, United Kingdom, Sweden and Germany. The most common question from foreign reporters: "So what is a redneck?"
"I'd start out in the morning by giving full details, saying a redneck is a person who lives their life without the best of everything but knows how to live well with what they've got," Wilson said. "But by the end of the day, I'd just go, 'Well, a redneck is kind of like a hillbilly. Next question.'"
A defiant, beer-swigging anthem, "Redneck Woman" takes up the tone of Charlie Daniels' "Long Haired Country Boy" and Lynyrd Skynyrd's "Sweet Home Alabama." It's woven with lines declaring white trash pride, "Some people look down on me but I don't give a rip/I'll stand barefooted in my own front yard with a baby on my hip."
Dressed in blue jeans and silver hoop earrings, the 31-year-old singer says the song has less to do with poor, white, rural Southerners than the title suggests.
"It's not so much the redneck anthem as it is the be-true-to-yourself anthem," she said. "Don't worry about what people want to label you, as long as you're happy with yourself. It's a way of life, really."
It's a way of life Wilson knows well. The daughter of a teenage mother, she dropped out of school in eighth grade and was cooking and tending bar with her mom at Big O's tavern in rural Pocahontas, Ill., 36 miles east of St. Louis, by the time she was 14. By 15, she was living on her own and managing the bar with a 12-gauge shotgun for protection.
She started singing for tips at Big O's and from there performed in cover bands in St. Louis.
Wilson moved to Nashville in 1996 and tended bar in Printers Alley while trying to build a music career. She became a regular member of the Muzik Mafia, a loose-knit group of singers, songwriters and musicians who get together to jam every Tuesday, and then she signed with Sony Music Nashville in August 2003.
Her debut album, "Here For the Party," sold 2 million copies after only 10 weeks on the chart, helping reverse a slump in country music sales and a dearth in female country chart-toppers.
Wilson is still trying to comprehend her meteoric rise. She says her family and friends are documenting everything for her so "someday when I'm an old lady, I can look back and say 'Look what I did.'"
And her 3-year-old daughter, Grace, helps keep her grounded.
"I don't know how much of this she really understands," said Wilson, a single mother. "I know she knows mommy is on TV, and I know she knows I'm a country singer. She sees me on TV, and she thinks it's great. But she also thinks Shrek is coming over tomorrow."