Gretchen Wilson Bio
“My grandma was the mainstay,” says Gretchen, pausing to collect her thoughts. “She was the rock. When everything was going crazy and falling apart and we were moving around, my grandma had her head on straight. She lived a rough life and really never had anything, but she always had love for everybody. It was just a real comfortable place to be.”With Gretchen taking care of her brother since she was 10, grandma’s house was definitely more comforting than Big O’s, a rough-and-tumble kicker bar five miles outside of town, set in a cornfield clearing alongside Rural Route 127. With only an eighth grade education, Gretchen was cooking and tending bar alongside her mom at the age of 14. By the time she was 15 and living on her own, she was managing the roughneck joint with a loaded 12-guage double-barrel shotgun stashed behind the bar for protection.Victoria’s Secret, well their stuff’s real nice/ but I can buy the same damn thing on a Wal-Mart shelf half price/ and still look sexy, just as sexy as those models on TV/ I don’t need no designer tag to make my man want me/ well, you might think I’m trashy, a little too hardcore/ but in my neck of the woods I’m just the girl next door. Living a life like that, it’s no wonder Gretchen was influenced by singers like Tanya Tucker, Loretta Lynn and, of course, Patsy Cline. “I could feel the pain,” she says, “and I could only imagine what it was like to have an abusive husband and all the different things that she sang about.” A good many summer afternoons not spent outside playing with her brother and Uncle Vern “doing what kids do” were spent sitting on her grandma’s bedroom floor with a record player, listening to Patsy sing “Crazy.” If it was her grandma that impacted her musical influence, it was the dad she never really knew who provided her with the musical talent to sing. “My dad just picked around on the guitar and has a quiet voice,” says Gretchen, who made it a point to meet him for the first time when she was 12. “His family, I’m told, had a little traveling band. I think it was a gospel band.” In any case, from an early age Gretchen could sing, and she did so with no formal training to speak of. While most singers talk of singing in the church choir, as a child Gretchen’s early experiences were mostly spent entertaining what many would consider a tougher crowd. Long before Karaoke machines, she got up on stage every night at Big O’s with a microphone and sang along to various CDs for tips. After all, the extra $20 would really come in handy when it came time to put food on the table.
I’m a redneck woman/ I ain’t no high class broad/ I’m just a product of my raising/ I say, ‘hey y’all’ and ‘yee-haw’/ and I keep my Christmas lights on/ on my front porch all year long/ and I know all the words to every Tanya Tucker song/ so here’s to all my sisters out there keeping it country/ let me get a big ‘# # # # yeah’ from the redneck girls like me, hell yeah.Before long, singing to CDs was a thing of the past and so was serving drinks. Gretchen found herself fronting a cover band and for the first time she felt like maybe there was a life for her outside Bond County. “Each man creates his own destiny,” she believes. “It’s up to you what you’re going to do with your life. It’s not up to anybody else.” Taking control of her own destiny, if you will, Gretchen had bigger plans than spending the rest of her life singing in a cover band. She had a goal of some day moving to Nashville.Gretchen’s unceremonious arrival in Nashville was in 1996; she puts it in such a matter-of-fact way: “it became apparent to me really fast that I wasn’t going to be able to make a living and pay my bills playing on Broadway.” Somewhat discouraged after a brief encounter with a local musician, whom she happened to recognize at a Nashville music shop, she thought long and hard about how to go about realizing her dream. “I looked at him,” she recalls, “and said, ‘I’m brand new to town. What’s my first step? How do I do this?’ He pretty much laughed at me and said something that didn’t make sense. He said, ‘well, you have to create a buzz.’ I thought, ‘what the hell good does that do me?’” It would take her four long years to figure out what he meant and, in the meantime, she did the one thing she knew how to do in order to make ends meet: she got a job slinging drinks down in Printers Alley at the Bourbon Street Blues & Boogie Bar. It may not have been the start she envisioned, but it sure beat the alternative – packing up and moving back home. A few years later Gretchen still had no luck at all in terms of getting a record deal. Now a mother with a beautiful daughter named Grace Frances Penner – “one of my biggest regrets is that my grandma never got to see my little girl” – life was about to change one Friday night when Big Kenny and John Rich walked into the bar. They were there to “have a few cocktails” and thus got to hear Gretchen belt out a couple of tunes with the house band.