By Joe Hadsall
Every time Gretchen Wilson does it, her daughter gets mad.
As the Nashville singer/songwriter tours across America with her 8-year-old daughter, a Jonas Brothers song is bound to be played on the radio, or TV, or wherever. Wilson’s daughter, Grace, is a huge fan of the Disney-backed band.
When Wilson hears the brothers’ lilting, hiccuping voices, she imitates them — pretty well, actually — but Grace is never amused.
“She gives me the look of death,” Wilson said.
Wilson will be on stage tonight at Downstream Casino, performing her brand of traditional country with a Southern rock edge. She’ll play songs from her multi-platinum albums and a few from her upcoming album, “I Got Your Country Right Here,” which should be available before Christmas, she said.
Her concert will also likely include tributes to the generation of ’70s rock that influenced her songwriting. Wilson is as influenced by AC/DC and Lynyrd Skynyrd as she is by Johnny Cash and Waylon Jennings.
So much so that she is at home on stage with the likes of rock acts such as Heart and Alice in Chains. In 2007, she performed Heart’s “Barracuda” — a song that for female vocalists is what “Flight of the Bumblebee” is to string players — live with Alice in Chains for an MTV production.
As a child growing up in rural Illinois, she used to sneak into her uncle’s bedroom and listen to the rock records which she was not allowed to touch.
“I’d move the dresser in front of the door and lock myself in,” Wilson said. “He had Johnny Cash, Waylon, a big collection of traditional country music. But he also had AC/DC, Skynyrd and a lot of four-piece rock ’n’ roll. That’s really what shaped my music.”
Since her big-time debut with 2004’s “Redneck Woman,” she has won critical acclaim from country music organizations. She has won artist of the year awards from the Country Music Association, American Music Awards, CMT Music Awards and Billboard Music Awards.
She has been hailed as being cut from the same cloth as “true country women” such as Loretta Lynn, Dolly Parton and Tanya Tucker. In an era where pop music is overpowered with country crossovers such as Taylor Swift and Carrie Underwood, Wilson’s music becomes even more unique.
Traditional country stylings are close to sacrosanct for Wilson, who made her feelings about that known in the beginnings of her career. She said she used to wear a T-shirt that read, “No Reverb.”
“I have nothing against pop music. All music is great music,” Wilson said. “I’m just a traditionalist. I love real country, with the fiddles and steel guitars, and it’s not overprocessed in the studio.”
Wilson said that if country keeps going down a pop-paved road, it may be time for her to pull over.
“It’s a question of who we are making music for,” Wilson said. “If that’s where we’re going, I don’t know if I can stay. I don’t know if I can make that kind of music. Let’s keep it country, because it’s all we have.”
The thing that changed how she works in the business the most is her 8-year-old daughter.
Grace’s presence has affected Wilson’s songwriting — she says she thinks twice now, before writing some of her rough-and-tumble lyrics.
However, sometimes things just have to be said. Such as the lyrics to “Don’t Make Me Take My Earrings Out,” from her upcoming album — a song threatening another woman to stop flirting with her man:
Don’t make me take my earrings out / ‘Cause I’ll show you what a catfight’s all about / I’ll throw you down and mop the floor / A man like mine is worth fighting for.
“Some of the songwriters I write with catch themselves,” Wilson said. “They say something differently instead, because they have daughters and they don’t know what they’ll think. It’s a hard argument when you’re being creative. But sometimes it’s necessary.”
All of the other portions of Wilson’s career center around her daughter, who tours with the band. She has best friends who are members of the crew, and regularly plays “Mario Kart” with them.
“I grew up in a mobile home, so living in a bus with a plasma TV isn’t too hard,” Wilson said.
Her tour schedule is oriented around Grace’s education: Plenty of concerts are scheduled during summer. Some shows can be performed during the school year — but only if they can get home by Sunday.
And Wilson’s recording studio is located on her Tennessee farm. Having it at her home allows Wilson to be a mom, stay active in her daughter’s life and stay in touch with all her latest interests.
Such as the Jonas Brothers.
“Those kids are right where they need to be,” Wilson said of the trio. “They make great music that my daughter can listen to.”
Want to go?
Gretchen Wilson will perform at Downstream Casino at 8 p.m. today. Tickets range from $40 to $60, and can be purchased from the box office. Show may be sold out. Details: (918) 919-6099, www.protix.com.
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