“Redneck woman” Gretchen Wilson said that she showed up to change the game. Making a handful of hit albums, and millions of dollars, all within a few years despite her non-traditional country image as just “one of the boys.” Yet, Wilson’s time in the sun was soon eclipsed by other country stars, and after several big changes in her career, Wilson found herself back outside of the music world she spent her entire youth desperate to break into. The story of the rise and fall of the country music tough gal, Gretchen Wilson, is full of fame, fortune, and heartbreak.
Gretchen Wilson’s Youth
Wilson was raised by a single mother in a tough, but loving situation that would inform much of her music. In the tiny town of Pocahontas, Illinois, just outside of St. Louis, Missouri, Wilson, her mother, and her little brother lived in a series of mobile homes and trailer parks. Wilson would often care for her brother while her mother toiled away bartending at the Big O Tavern. Eventually, Gretchen herself dropped out of school to work at the bar as well. Wilson has stated that the Big O had a generally family-friendly atmosphere in which everybody knew everybody and people took care of their neighbors. This was the down-home small town scene that Wilson would one day capture in her music. After Wilson started regaling the bar-going locals with her own renditions of country classics to standing ovations, she knew that she wanted to join the ranks of her idols Patsy Cline and Loretta Lynn in the country music hall of fame. So in 1996, the young woman gathered up her possessions and the few dollars she had to her name and moved to Nashville.
Gretchen Wilson found a home with a country artist collective known has the “Muzik Mafia.” The Muzik Mafia, founded by the famous country duo Big & Rich, was based on a simple premise: local artists would regularly come together for public jam sessions without any hint of competition or greed, only love and cooperation. These Tuesday night jam sessions took off, growing in popularity, as the members experimented with styles and genre mixing, playing everything from rock to country to R&B to reggae. There was even a nearly seven foot tall rapping cowboy in the gang. The collective have since hosted mic nights and jam sessions with artists as diverse as Kid Rock, Bon Jovi, Jewel, Bobby Brown, and Sisqo. According to Wilson, one night when she and John Rich were watching music videos of flashy, glamourous country star women, Wilson commented that she would never make it big like them, because she was just a “redneck woman.” Rich realized the power of the idea, one which many Southern gals could relate to, and Wilson’s first hit single, “Redneck Woman” was born.
Gretchen Wilson and Redneck Woman
Wilson leveraged her new sound into a deal with the Epic Records branch of Sony Music Entertainment and the rest is history. “Redneck Woman” took off like a rocket. The Grammy-Winning 2004 song topped the Hot Country billboard and made it to number 22 on the Billboard Hot 100, in which it competed successfully with mainstream pop superstars like Outkast, Kanye West, Kenny Chesney, Toby Keith, and Usher. The corresponding album, Here for the Party, debuted in the top position on the country charts, reaching as high as 2nd best-selling album overall on the Billboard 200. The album was also huge in Australia. With a clear country meets rock & roll message, “I’m here for the beer and ball-bustin’ band,” Wilson’s album was influenced by Hank Williams Jr., Heart, and Kid Rock. The album also included a tribute to her birthplace with the song “Pocahontas Proud.” Wilson toured the hit album opening for Brooks & Dunn and Montgomery Gentry. It would eventually be certified as quintuple multi-platinum by the RIAA, indicating more than five million albums sold. The woman who had once bartended with a shotgun at her side for safety was now an international phenomenon.
Gretchen Wilson’s second album, All Jacked Up, was successful in its own right. Dropping in the fall of 2005, the title track would set a record for the highest debut for a female artist on the country charts, starting at No. 21. The album itself had a wildly hot debut as well, appearing in the top No. 1 slot on the Billboard Top 200 Album chart, knocking off Ten Thousand Fists by the Chicago alt metal band Disturbed. Ultimately, the album was not quite the hit that Wilson had seen with Here for the Party though, moving only about one million copies in the U.S. The record was reportedly rushed, following hot on the heels of Here for the Party, with Wilson being forced to write much of the material on the road. Critics had nothing bad to say about Wilson’s vocal work, but the instrumental arrangements of the album itself were considered subpar. In the album’s lyrics, Wilson took up the red banner of the culture war by combating Hollywood body images, applauding soldiers, cheering on true Christians, and celebrating Skoal. This championing of Southern ideals would pay off big time for Wilson, who was invited to sing the national anthem at the Republican National Convention a few years later, in 2008. Wilson’s cover of Heart’s classic femme fatale anthem, “Barracuda” was also briefly used as Sarah Palin’s theme song on the campaign trail.
Wilson’s next two albums, appearing at an even more rapid fire pace, failed to return the artist to her former success. 2007’s One of the Boys was followed closely by I Got Your Country Right Here in 2008. The first topped the country charts and even reached No. 5 on the Billboard Top 200, but it failed to go platinum with singles never breaking into the top 30. After I Got Your Country Right Here was repeatedly delayed and its lead singles debuted to even less enthusiastic fanfare, Wilson announced that she was breaking up with Sony, unsatisfied with their handling of her affairs. At that point though, Wilson could afford to launch her own label, Redneck Records. I Got Your Country Right Here dropped on Redneck in March of 2010. Though it would only sell about 50,000 copies in the following few months, Wilson taking control of production meant that she could carve out a larger slice of the pie for herself anyway. Still though, Wilson’s overnight success story was drawing to a close.
Where is Gretchen Wilson Now in 2023?
The singer hasn’t released any new singles since 2018 (her most recent song is Stacy from the album Ready to Get Rowdy). However, she did work on an acoustic version of Blue Collar Bayou with Jessie G and Rob Hatch in 2020. She was also featured on The Song on AXS TV back in September 2020.
In terms of live shows, her last concert (which was part of her 2019 tour) was at the 4 Bears Casino and Lodge in North Dakota. Due to COVID-19, however, she hasn’t held any live concerts in the recent years. It’s currently unknown when her next tour will be.
In 2018, she also got arrested over a dispute on an airplane. Allegedly, she had shoved a fellow passenger who’d gotten to the bathroom before her. The two continued to exchange threatening hand gestures throughout the remainder of the flight, which led the crew to request security at the gate. She was eventually charged with breach of peace with a bond of $1,000.
And while she has several social media accounts, she hasn’t updated them since 2020. Her Twitter account was last updated on September 2, 2020 and her Instagram was last updated on August 4, 2020. So while Gretchen Wilson still appears to be healthy she’s removed herself a fair bit from the spotlight as of 2023.
Awesome voice! Just listened to her version of Barracuda with Alice in Chains, live. Looked like Nancy Wilson joined on guitar. (I see so mention of family ties with Anne and Nancy, but she sounds like Anne, at her strongest!) This Redneck Woman needs to go rock n roll!!!
WOW! Just listened to it. What a powerhouse she is; I miss her
. I’ve got all of her country albums. There is ALWAYS a place for that kind of talent!
She’s a true talent! I miss Gretchen! I still have her c.d’s in my truck! C’mon Grerchen make some real music for us. I’m tired of this b.s “modern country”
I love Getchen..there is room for everyone in the country music business..give us some more Gretchen…please!!!!!!!
She was a rocker at age 15 with bay wolf a band that played at granny’s rocker in edwardsville ill. She has a true voice.
Bummer…she’s soooo cool!
I still think her performance of barracuda with Alice in Chains, demonstrated her true calling. First class rock singer.
I could swear it was Nancy belting it out like 1977.
That sustained “ohhh” sent chills down my spine. She should have been a rock star. She killed “Her Strut” by Seger, too
Why, oh why, didn’t she just take the country badsss attitude and rock out? I’d pay to see her do Barracuda with a decent band.
Who cares if country like her?
I’ve never heard anyone cover Barracuda even close to that awesomely. Cudos, Ms. Wilson. Do a duet with Nancy.
She fool’n ROCKS country…..when you want to party, you put her on!!!!
Another flash in the pan. Same old story. Good luck to her.
Are you kidding me!!!! This is why I haven’t heard a new song!!!! How do we get Gretchen Wilson back!?
Someone summerize this for me!
She played at some republican events. That’s why.
Well, you’d think it would be foolish to hitch your wagon to the political party that officially hates women, but I’m not sure that’s the way it is.
Go with that, it’s important to keep the lies alive or your fantasy based religion will die. Someday you may grow up and respect logic and reason.
If you run with women who claim to be feminist but who push the kind of law that says burkas and female genital mutilation is a-okay, like the one that spoke on January 21, then you’re running with women-demoting demagogues.
If you try to “help” women by telling mothers it’s okay to sacrifice the babies in their womb to convenience, boyfriends, pressure from Dad, you are hurting women.
If you deny the link between abortion and breast cancer, then you’re hurting women.
If your welfare state encourages single parent households, by replacing the breadwinner with free money confiscated from someone else, then you are hurting the women and you are hurting their children.
If you declare a war on poverty then 50 years later realize it’s worse than ever, then demand more of the policies that caused more problems than it solved, you’re hurting women.
Gretchen’s story is amazing. She is a talented artist, but the public has found other acts to follow. I hope she saved her money. It’s very very hard to have your second, third, fourth album break as big as her first one did. If she still gets booked, works the road, she will do fine. Eventually that gets old, and it’s a hard life after 40. She has made her mark and done quite well. She overcame many obstacles and survived. Lots of people don’t–remember Mindy McCready? I’ve seen many fine TX musicians never get a record deal let alone sell five million albums. I wish her continued success.
I paid for Gretchen Wilson’s music and still listen to it today. I DO NOT listen to “poppy, sequined” singers of any ilk.
I miss her…..she sings my soul