When the Judds reunite for a tour this year, they’ll take a huge number of fans down a nostalgic road. You can bet Wynonna and Naomi have already been taking that trip as they’ve been in the studio again — and as they contemplate the eight-year ride to stardom they took during the 1980s.
Naomi had many of those moments in mind Saturday when she and Joe Galante, the record executive who signed her to RCA Records, chatted with the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum’s Michael McCall in a public Q&A. She was particularly mindful of the day in March 1983 when she and Wynonna secured their recording deal by auditioning for Joe and several other decision-makers at the RCA offices.
Wynonna, then 18, and Naomi sang a handful of songs acoustically that day. They had no p.r. materials — no headshots, no bio for the execs to read — so Joe and his crew had little idea what to expect from the family duo. The Judds, however, knew quite a bit about RCA. The label already represented some of the biggest artists in the business — Alabama, Ronnie Milsap, Charley Pride, Waylon Jennings and Dolly Parton, to name a few — and they felt an enormous amount of pressure because of it.
“When we went in,” Naomi recalled, “we kinda looked at each other in the bathroom like, ‘Holy smoke. This is unbelievable. We have to pull this off.’”
And that was a bit difficult, because the Judds were having a tiff.
“Wynonna and I hadn’t been speaking to each other for 48 hours,” Naomi remembered, “because her pet rabbit ate all my plants inside the house.”
They expected an intimidating experience. Naomi was wearing “a $30 flea-market dress,” she recalled, and Wynonna played a “cheap, cheap guitar.” Having worked on and off in the entertainment business in Los Angeles, Naomi fully anticipated the record label president would be dressed in “an Italian, custom-made suit.”
Instead, she laughed, Joe was “wearin’ a stinkin’ Hawaiian shirt and [his] tennis shoes!”
Wynonna added to the tension of the moment by putting her mom on the spot, unexpectedly suggesting they do a title Naomi had written, “Change Of Heart.” They were, Naomi said, “completely discombobulated” and simply did their best to fumble through the audition.
“We were absolutely terrified,” Naomi noted. “The only way I could get through it was to visualize… we were on our front porch on our house in Kentucky.”
Once they were finished, RCA picked up the tab for the Judds to eat at nearby O’Charley’s while the execs talked it out. Wynonna and Naomi were happy enough just to get a free meal. But the day turned even better when Joe brought them back to the office.
““You looked at us,” Naomi told Joe on Saturday, “and you said the words that changed our lives forever: ‘How would you like to be an RCA artist?’”
As the meeting progressed, Naomi walked over to the second-floor window and looked out at 17th Avenue below. She took note of a pedestrian passing by, and it’s a view she’s never forgotten.
“It was,” she said, “the first time in my life I was on the inside, not on the outside lookin’ in.”
Naomi and Wynonna we’ll be looking from the stage at the CMA Music Festival when they kick off the four-day event June 10 with a performance at the Riverfront Park Stage, which was submerged in flood waters just two weeks ago. Others set to play Riverfront on opening day include Clay Walker, Jake Owen, Neal McCoy, Diamond Rio, Love And Theft, Joey+Rory, Keith Anderson, Colt Ford and Josh Thompson.