She’s the Boss
Country music is Gretchen Wilson's business, and business is good
By Chris Neal
With the breakout success of her rowdy 2004 hit “Redneck Woman” and quintuple-platinum debut album, Here for the Party, small-town girl Gretchen Wilson had to learn how to be a country star. She didn’t realize at the time that she’d also have to learn how to be the head of a small business.
“It’s been an adjustment,” admits the Pocahontas, Ill., native, who keeps 27 band and crew members on salary year-round. “Going from being a little girl with an eighth-grade education to running a corporation has really been a whirlwind. But it’s OK. I finally got a handle on it.”
Wilson, who earned her GED last year, performs small clusters of shows all year instead of mounting months-long tours like most artists. That schedule accommodates 8-year-old daughter Grace and keeps her valued employees loyal and busy. “My boys have got families, they’ve got kids, they need security,” she says. “I’ve got to keep working in order to keep them paid. To me, they’re worth it.”
During recent shows, Wilson has been trying out new songs from the album she’s been recording since June at her home studio 30 miles east of Nashville. “This is my favorite record that I’ve made so far,” says the singer, whose tough-girl persona was cemented by attitude-laden hits like “All Jacked Up” and “Homewrecker.”
She eagerly points out that one of the tracks that may be included is an ode to an occupation with which she’s very familiar, thanks to endless tour-bus trips across the country: “Trucker Man.” “It’s a song saying thanks to the hard-working, hard-driving truckers out there,” Wilson says. “I’ve been playing it live and the crowd loves it.”
Wilson doesn’t travel those roads herself as much as she used to, but she enjoys the time she spends out there more than ever. That’s because as she learned to be the boss of her organization she also learned not to wear out her company’s most important asset: herself. “I’ve learned that ‘No’ is a complete sentence,” she jokes. “Now when I do get on that bus it’s something that I want to do, and I look forward to it.”
Five years into her country career, Wilson seems more comfortable than ever with the balance she’s found between the demands of stardom and her desire to lead a relatively normal life. Now her goal is to keep pushing ahead as an artist without sacrificing who she is and what she stands for.
“I do what’s real and I do what I feel,” she says. “Whatever my gut tells me to do is going to be what I do. I’m a 35-year-old woman who has learned to take it as it comes. I’ve made it this far, and I sure as hell wasn’t supposed to.”