Once dubbed by Rolling Stone as “the greatest female country singer since Patsy Cline,” the artist now known simply as Wynonna is an impressive songwriter whose high-caliber musicianship and commanding vocal presence has sold over 30 million albums worldwide and earned her five Grammy awards.
Over the expanse of an illustrious career that began back in the 1980s when she debuted with her mother, Naomi, as The Judds, Wynonna managed to channel the standards set by such Nashville luminaries as Tammy Wynette & Dolly Parton for touching the hearts of fans while expanding the boundaries of Country music into new territories of audience appeal.
Wynonna, along with her band The Big Noise, are set to grace the Mid-Michigan region on Saturday, September 23rd at Saginaw’s Temple Theatre in a performance designed to showcase the past, present and future of her extensive 33-year career on the 2017 Roots & Revival Tour.
Wynonna & The Big Noise, led by husband/drummer/producer, Cactus Moser, released their debut full-length album in February 2016 via Curb Records to critical acclaim. Wynonna has described the new sound as “vintage yet modern” and a “return to the well.” For certain the shape of her new sound is a rootsy journey that encompasses a blend of idioms ranging from Country, Americana, Blues, Soul and Rock.
Recently, I had the good fortune to explore the ongoing evolution of Wynnona’s sound and some of the perspectives she’s developed about her formidable contributions to contemporary music in an in-depth conversation, which begins with the origins of her passion for creating memorable music.
Review: At the age of 12 when you were growing up in Kentucky, what memories can you share about first becoming engaged with music; and what were the qualities it possessed that inspired you to pursue music as a lifelong career?
Wynnona: I really didn’t have a conventional childhood in the sense that I had a father who would come home from work and a Mom that would cook and then we would all sit down for family dinners each evening. We were really isolated in the Appalachian Mountains and I would spend a lot of time walking in the woods and getting lost in the wilderness and immersing myself in nature.
Literally, our circumstances were such back then that if you didn’t grow something or raise it yourself, you simply didn’t have it. We didn’t have any electronics and I didn’t need any digital devices to feel free because back then instead of having Facebook conversations with people, you had face-to-face conversations, so I would mainly play my guitar and remember taking it with me on long walks in the woods where I would literally fall asleep in the fields. I’d listen to Emmylou Harris and Joni Mitchell and learn all their songs and this music gave me something to do and occupy my thoughts and give meaning and shape to my needs. For a very young girl dealing with young girl issues, music saved me. It took me out of the norm.
Review: Throughout the arc of your career you’ve struck a popular chord with both audiences and critics, having secured numerous Grammy awards and also engaging in unique musical collaborations, such as that powerful collaboration you did with Burt Bacharach for the tribute concert that was put together for him back in 2006. What do you feel it is about your music and voice that distinguishes it the most from all the music out there vying for peoples’ attention?
Wynnona: I wish I could tell you. But I will say that the memories you conjured by bringing that particular performance up are very vivid. I was the only country girl invited to that gala and to this day don’t know how I pulled my performance off. I was absolutely petrified and uncertain how to render the song that I was set to perform, which was Anybody Who Had a Heart. I remember asking Burt if he would go into this room with me so we could discuss it, and when we actually did the performance with this big band and orchestra, it was an entirely new experience for me; so, I just locked into Burt at the piano and focused on the words and sang the song as naturally and honestly as I could.
Review: What approaches do you take when writing and recording new material or planning a tour to keep your sound fresh and current and engaging? And I suppose an ancillary question would be what is the most challenging component involved with advancing and sustaining a long-term career in the creative arts?
Wynnona: I call it going back to the radar. I never wanted to be a superstar and didn’t want to be a part of that gang that was courting fame. Throughout my life I’ve always shot from the hip and right now I’m working on some new material with a songwriter friend. Yesterday I said to her, ‘I’ve got two kids that are grown and am going through empty nest syndrome, so think I want to write a song about it.’ Honestly, I think that other people going through the same thing will respond to it because It’s real – it’s a real topic. By writing about things important to me and my sense of self, I think that I manage to speak to other people going through the same thing. I’ve never been interested in fame and by speaking to my own problems and trials and tribulations, it’s not so much about being a leader in country music but being a healer.
Review: You’ve actually developed a name and a legend that has endured. How do you get to that state and what advice would you offer to young musicians coming up in a business that has been so radically changed by social media and Spotify?
Wynnona: I don’t give advice. All I can speak to is how I feel and my own experiences. I performed at the Grand Ole Opry recently and was asked all these questions and advice for young female musicians coming up, so I guess I am entering this mentorship stage which I’m not really very comfortable about.
But I can offer this anecdote. I remember once when I was talking to Tammy Wynette backstage and asked her the same question and she said to me: “There’s a lot of good chick singers out in the world sweetie, so just be a real one.’
And I think that’s the best advice – don’t try to fit in so much as dare to dream. I see so much entitlement out there from some of these younger acts and that variety of motivation will never get you anywhere. Self-absorption never does. You have to look outward, not inward.
Wynonna & the Big Noise ‘Roots & Revival’ Tour will take place on Saturday, September 23rd at 7:30 pm at The Temple Theatre in Downtown Saginaw. Tickets are $42, $52 and $62 and available by calling the Temple Box Office at 989-754-7469 or going to www.templetheatre.com