"Well I ain't never been the barbie doll type/ no I can't swig that sweet champagne/ I'm a redneck woman/ I'm just a product of my raisin'." - Redneck Woman, Gretchen Wilson-John Rich.

Chart topper Gretchen Wilson's bodyguard was already packing in late spring for her Australian tour with singing Texan actor Shotgun Willie Nelson.

And there lay a small problem for Wilson's second sojourn in February.

Her bodyguard was busted for packing heavy artillery without the necessary permits.

Daniel Lee Rhoades, 38, of Olive Branch, Mississippi left five guns and hundreds of rounds of ammunition in his SUV that was parked in Opry Mills parking lot for the CMA festivities at the Grand Ole Opry House.

Rhoades was arrested for having no permits for the guns and acting as security guard without a license.

Gretchen won't need such protection from bird watchers at the Myer Music Bowl or fans she won on her quickie Australian debut gig at the Sydney Basement last year.

Wilson, Nelson and ARIA award winning Aussie country folk group The Waifs have been added to the Melbourne International Music Festival to broaden its appeal.

The festival suffered in its first two years for being top heavy with faded, jaded blues and rock artists long past their use by date.

Ironically, it was country blues guitarist Bonnie Raitt and veteran rock group Chicago who broke the mould last year with scintillating performances.


Wilson broke internationally when she burst onto the scene with fellow roots rebels Big & Rich.

The two huge selling artists - members of the Nashville MusikMafia - stunned fans and industry by using TV as their launch pad to invade radio and sales charts. Wilson's debut disc Here for the Party had sold 2,658,000 copies by December 19 and Big & Rich's Horse of a Different Color sold 1,632,000 copies during the same period.

Big & Rich's Super Galactic Fan Pak, which contains a CD of five songs and a DVD, sold 80,000 units.

Wilson and Big & Rich enjoyed a huge sales surge over Christmas and Gretchen is fast reaching the three million sales mark.

The Illinois born single mother won the CMA Horizon award on the strength of her dynamic debut that blew peers out of the water.

She is also in demand on TV, radio and commercials.

Gretchen performed Hoyt Axton-penned song, Joy to the World, for the U.S Target commercials in the U.S.

It's a long way down the lost highway from her humble roots in a tiny town in rural southern Illinois.


Wilson was born on June 26, 1973, in Granite City, Illinois, which had the closest hospital when her 16-year-old mother Christine went into labour while driving.

Gretchen's father left before she turned two as she grew up in Pocahontas, 36 miles east of St Louis, with a population of 727.

She was raised in trailer parks in the tiny town.

Her first job at 14 was tending bar alongside her mother at Big O's, a rough-and-tumble establishment five miles outside of Pocahontas.

''It's not the suburbs,'' Wilson says of all the little towns of her childhood.

''I hadn't been anywhere else, so I figured that's what everywhere looked like. There's not much to do, and all of us kids there got into a lot of trouble.

You stay out too late, get in fights, play hooky from school. I call that the normal stuff that kids do, but I guess it's not normal.''

She left home at 15 to sing in taverns and honky-tonks - her first paid gig was at the Hickory Daiquiri Dock Bar & Grill in Collinsville.

"I went out and bought an amplifier and a cassette player and microphone and I started booking gigs under the name of 'Country Cutie,' " she says.

"I was playing to Happy Hour crowds, an older generation of people. They thought I was adorable and they liked hearing me, a 15-year-old, sitting there singing, 'You ain't woman enough to take my man.' "

She lived on her own, often working behind the bar with a double-barrel shotgun for protection. She began playing other nightspots, always conscious of the fact that she was underage.

"I behaved myself," she says. "I knew my limits and boundaries."

At 16, she joined her first band, and eventually was in two or three, playing almost every night and earning a good living.


She soared with a band that played classic rock as Baywolfe and country as Midnight Flyer, becoming one of the biggest draws in the St. Louis area.

"We had a great thing going," she says.

"I mean really good money, home every night, never really went too far away from home. It became almost like a regular job."

Although she was growing musically, she says, "I had kind of topped out there and I guess I just decided that Nashville was not going to come to me."

So she moved to Music City in 1996.

Her first break was when former Lonestar singer-bassist John Rich and Kenny Alphin (aka Big Kenny) heard her sing with the house band at a bar where she worked.

For weeks, Wilson didn't return calls from Rich.

"I figured he was hitting on me," she recalled.

Eventually, though, she started hanging with the MusikMafia, a weekly songwriters gathering hosted by Big Kenny and Rich.

This led to a job singing demos, where she tried to make a name for herself.

''I got here and spent a week walking up and down Music Row, trying to deliver homemade demos, and everybody was like, 'Oh, we can't take that,' '' Wilson said.

''I thought, 'How does anybody do anything here? How can I get a record deal if nobody listens to my stuff?' ''

She sang the original demos for Martina McBride's In My Daughter's Eyes and Reba
McEntire's I'm Gonna Take That Mountain, among others.


Through Rich she met Vicki McGehee, who co-wrote four songs on Here For The Party including the wrenching ballad The Bed.

Wilson began to look in earnest for a record deal, only to be rejected by every label in town.

''I had so many unsuccessful showcases, and I was never really being given a good reason why they didn't want me,'' she revealed.

''My opinion is that a lot of people were just scared of it. There are guys in very powerful positions in Nashville who know nothing about music. They're looking for age, or beauty, or hair. I know people who, after one song, were told they were 'too country.' "Too country? How could you be 'too country'? It's country music!" I wanted to make a record that sounded like the old stuff.

I was always so drawn to Loretta and Tanya Tucker and Hank and Merle, because when you listened to their records, you knew that they were real."


''Some people look down on me, but I don't give a rip/ I'll stand barefoot in my own front yard with a baby on my hip'" - Redneck Woman - Wilson-Rich.

Wilson began writing songs with Rich and other free spirits and defied tastemakers by penning six songs for her soulful country debut disc.

"She had been turned down eight times for record deals by people who said that she wasn't pretty enough or that she was a "Harley chick," Rich added.

"One day," about a year ago some of the glamorous female videos came on TV.

Gretchen had a dip of Cherry Skoal chewing tobacco in her lip and was smoking a cigarette.

She said: `John, I'm not the Barbie Doll type. I hope when I get a record contract someone will make a big deal about the girls I grew up with, working girls with three jobs who are raising the kids and who leave their Christmas lights up all year. Let's write an anthem for them.' "

Forty-five minutes later, they had written Redneck Woman, and another Nashville movement, the MuzikMafia, was about to go national.

Wilson made the video at Fontanel in Whites Creek - Barbara Mandrell's old home.

"We actually didn't use the house at all in the video. We just used the property out in front for the four-wheeling and stuff like that," says Wilson of the video featuring Kid Rock and Hank Williams Jr.


"Well, I'm an eight ball shooting double fisted drinking son of a gun/ I wear my jeans a little tight/ just to watch the little boys come undone/ I'm here for the beer and ball busting band/ gonna get a little crazy just because I can." - Here For The Party - Gretchen Wilson-John Rich-Big Kenny

She topped rock charts with Here For The Party (Sony) and country charts with debut single Redneck Woman and When I Think About Cheatin'.

At 31 she has writing runs on the board with her songs cut by other artists and sales approaching three million for here debut album.

Even her hot pants are in big demand - a pair autographed by Hank Jr., Kid Rock and herself - sold for $7,700 at an auction to fund Meningitis research.

She traded her old pick-up for a 2004 black-on-black ¾ ton Chevy turbo-diesel with four doors and a crew cab.

Her album is filled with biographical reality rooted tales from the title track entrée to fitting finale Pocahontas Proud.

Wilson doesn't beat around the bush to land punches - her album entrée is the explicit album track.

It segues into her anthemic Redneck Woman.

"I wrote that song about me, and my mom, and my mom's friends and people from Pocahontas," Wilson revealed.

"It's amazing to me that people relate to it. It's not about rednecks. It's about being proud of who you are," says Wilson who lives with boyfriend Mike Henner and their four year old daughter Grace.

When she moved to Nashville she worked as a bartender and waitress in a blues club co-owned by Henner.


"When I think about cheatin'/ I just think about you leavin.'" - When I Think About Cheatin' - Gretchen Wilson-John Rich- Vicky McGehee.

Redneck Woman is followed by When I Think About Cheatin' - one of five co-writes with Rich.

Wilson delivers summary justice to female foes in Homewrecker - a sequel to Loretta Lynn's Fist City.

And, of course, Wilson wrote the booze escape two stepper When It Rains - foil to Wade Kirby-Thom McHugh sobriety soliloquy Holdin' You.

"When it rains I pour a couple more rounds/ till the hurting and the heartaches start to drown/ I turn out the light when I turn up Dwight/ when it rains I pour."

The singer covers all bases from gospel laced Leslie Satcher-John Caldwell tune Chariot to ruptured romance requiems What Happened and The Bed featuring Rich as her harmony singer.

Rich, McGehee and Keith Anderson are the co-writers of the latter.

"He wakes up to say I love you but instead/ all he finds are pages full of words she'd never said/ and that's all she left on her side of the bed."


As a teen growing up in Pocahontas Gretchen had to get up in the middle of the night to get her mom Christine out of the bar, she revealed on 60 Minutes.

''I remember having to go get her at the tavern. She wasn't capable of driving herself home,'' Gretchen told Ed Bradley on the show that topped ratings in the U.S.

''For a kid who's in school and a little brother at home and trying to get to bed for school the next morning, that made me mad. I didn't want to get out of bed at midnight or 1 o'clock in the morning and go up there and get my mom.''

That was then and this is now.

Gretchen's mom is clean and sober and lives with Gretchen in Nashville. She is grandmother and nanny for Gretchen's daughter, Grace.


In recent centuries the term redneck has been associated with males and females who worked collarless in searing sun on rural and urban farms and building sites - often in the south of the U.S.
But the blue-collar redneck terminology, like many recent facets of country music, had its roots in Europe.

The term "Redneck" was applied specifically to Presbyterians, according to a U.S. scholar, because in early 1640s some members of that group signed their names in blood to documents declaring their separation from the Church of England.

They signified their opposition to the Church by wearing red pieces of cloth around their necks.

Many of their descendants later immigrated to America and settled in the South.

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the first known printed reference to "rednecks" in America occurred in 1830.

It came in a three-volume travel narrative called Mrs. Royal's Southern Tour.

In it, the author defined the term as "a name bestowed upon the Presbyterians in Fayetteville" (presumably North Carolina).

The name eventually faded, however. In the 1954 edition of the massive Webster's New International Dictionary Unabridged, it doesn't even show up as a noun.


The wily yokel who outwits the city slicker is a staple of Americana - from the Li'l Abner comic strip to the Lum & Abner radio show to the Ma and Pa Kettle movies to Beverly Hillbillies TV series.

The "Opry" in Grand Ole Opry was a hillbilly smack at grand opera formality.

In the 1940s, Irving Berlin and other pop songwriters celebrated the triumph of rural simplicity in such songs as Doin' What Comes Natur'lly and Feudin', Fussin' and Fightin'.

Back then, this same virtue was also heralded in country music through sentimental tunes like Bradley Kincaid's Just Plain Folks and Little Jimmy Dickens' Country Boy.

It was also a derogatory term used by elitist city slickers in Australia to denounce bush bred boys and girls.

Those of us, lucky enough to be both Presbyterian and rural reared, cop the double whammy.

I feel proud to be qualified on both counts, dropping the knees into the corporate rock radio chains and commercial TV monopolies.

Nashville writer Ed Morris expanded on the redneck culture in a column on the CMT site.

"The conflict between the working class and the leisure class turned vicious in the 1960s, when workers clashed - both literally and figuratively - with college students protesting the Vietnam War, deriding them as "pot-smoking hippies."

"Symbolising that division was the 1969 movie, Easy Rider, in which pickup-driving Southerners blow away the drug-dealing, free-spirited "heroes."


"It's interesting to note that Charlie Daniels, who would later become their patron saint, poked fun at rednecks in his first chart hit, Uneasy Rider, in 1973."

Daniels, who toured Australia with Little River Band and Australian Crawl in 1980, later wrote a sequel that he recorded - it was also on a Daniels album featuring both versions.

"Rednecks blossomed into full bloom in the 1970s," Morris wrote.

"America was still in a cultural war between "hippies" and "straights," and rednecks were caught somewhere in the middle. They were more politically conservative than the "longhairs," but more impulsive and pleasure-seeking than the "suits."

"Depending on who was doing the singing, rednecks were either a breath of fresh air or a dark presence. But everyone agreed that they were basically creatures of action, not contemplation.

"In August 1973, Johnny Russell made his biggest ever assault on the country charts with Rednecks, White Socks and Blue Ribbon Beer.

"The people he toasted didn't "fit in with the white-collar crowd" because they were "a little too rowdy and a little too loud."

"Still, they were portrayed as a generally amiable bunch. A month later, Jackson Browne hit the pop charts with the equally easygoing Redneck Friend. This was also the year that Ray Wylie Hubbard released his first recording of the soon-to-be-classic, Up Against the Wall, Redneck Mother.

"In 1974, Randy Newman unleashed the savagely sarcastic Rednecks on his Good Old Boys album. David Allan Coe did a bit of cultural bridging in 1975 via Longhaired Redneck (although his redneck side wins in the end).

"Then came the deluge: Vernon Oxford's Redneck! (The Redneck National Anthem)" and Bill Black's Combo's Redneck Rock (1976); Bobby Bare's Red-Neck Hippie Romance and Jerry Reed's (I'm Just a) Redneck in a Rock and Roll Bar (1977); Glen Sutton's Red Neck Disco (1979); the Bellamy Brothers' Redneck Girl and Conway Twitty's Red Neckin' Love Makin' Night (1982); Alan Jackson's Blue Blooded Woman (And a Redneck Man) (1989); Charlie Daniels' (What This World Needs Is) A Few More Rednecks (1990); George Jones' High-Tech Redneck and Jeff Foxworthy's You Might Be a Redneck If (1993); Joe Diffie's Leroy the Redneck Reindeer (1995); David Lee Murphy's Genuine Rednecks (1997); Cledus T. Judd's First Redneck on the Internet (1998); and Alan Jackson's It's Alright to Be a Redneck (2001)."

Morris reports on more than 200 songs whose titles begin with the word "redneck," and there are plenty more that have "redneck" elsewhere in the name.

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