When Gretchen Wilson parted ways with her record company in 2009, it was the kind of moment that looked — from the outside, anyway — a bit scary. What would that mean to her career? How would she keep a profile?
As it turned out, leaving her label might have been the best thing that could have happened to Gretchen. She found another record company by asserting her independence: She founded her own.
Owing to her first hit, “Redneck Woman,” Gretchen called the label Redneck Records, and she released her own album, I Got Your Country Right Here, in March. Being turned loose allows her to… turn loose.
“It’s amazing, it’s freedom,” she told American Songwriter. “I have the ability to do whatever I want, to record what I want when I want. I don’t have to ask anyone’s opinion anymore. I don’t need permission to do something on a creative piece of work from some suits that don’t have a musical bone in their bodies. It’s always been amazing to me how that works when you’re with a major label. There are so many departments involved. You don’t stand over a painter’s back when they’re painting and say ‘Oh! I wouldn’t use that color, I’m not sure if it’s safe.’ A song is a piece of art. If you’re not involved in the creation of the music you should just let the artist put it together and then the business people take it from there.”
Gretchen counts Merle Haggard among her biggest influences, but she’s also aligned musically with rockers such as Lynyrd Skynyrd and Heart. She’s got a harder edge than some of the other country females who are making hits, such as Carrie Underwood, Taylor Swift and Martina McBride, but she’s come to embrace what they’ve done for the genre.
“Country music does an S all the time around what’s straight and traditional,” Gretchen said. “There were times when I was bitter about how pop country had become. But I’ve realized it’s a great thing. It’s opened up the format to everyone. It’s the only genre of music that is family music. You can’t listen to a rap station with your kids or even some of the pop stations. So having the diversity of Taylor, Carrie, Miranda [Lambert] and Martina is great. I think it’s awesome that we can go so far in different directions.”
Gretchen will perform Sunday on Nashville property that was formerly owned by another pop-country female, Country Music Hall of Famer Barbara Mandrell. Fontanel, the land once occupied by Barbara, has been converted into a tourist spot and concert venue, and Gretchen’s playing with Montgomery Gentry and John Rich. All the proceeds from ticket sales are slated for the Second Harvest Food Bank.