Chely Wright knows the value of family.

The Missouri born singer-songwriter, producer and actress learned the ropes in her fourth generation family country and bluegrass groups from 11.

At the age of 14 she fronted her own band Country Line and periodically fired her father as guitarist - but not driver.

And after heading to Nashville at 18 she harvested hay from the heartbreak of her family in the tiny town of Wellsville.
< Chely Wright

First it was her parents' divorce that produced her evocative hit Picket Fences and then it was estrangement from her mum for Between A Mother And A Child.

And, it was her Marine brother Chris who sent her a sticker that incited the road rage that prompted her comeback hit, The Bumper Of My SUV.

The singer also reached back for a pathos-primed narrative The River inspired by the drowning of two school friends a decade apart in her hometown.

Wright, now 34, has been a prolific writer from long before 1994 debut disc Woman In The Moon that featured five of her originals.

Her stone country entree was a salient signpost to an 11-year recording career famed for her assertive, evocative relationship songs written from personal experiences.

Chely, whose songs have also been covered by peers diverse as Brad Paisley, Richard Marx, Clay Walker and a brace of European acts, survived perennial label failures.

And then there was a stillborn album she revived by buying back the song masters for a career comeback with her latest project The Metropolitan Hotel.

Wright, like Californian peer Heather Myles, hedged against the vagaries of the music business by investing income from a thriving music production company and royalties in real estate and stocks.

It enabled the singer to set up independent recording and publishing company Painted Red Music and ensure creative control by producing her new disc unfettered by music politics.

The birth of Wright's recording career coincided with that of Nu Country FM and her music was a staple of the maverick station that morphed into Nu Country TV.

You'll recall embryonic cuts of songs such as He's A Good Old Boy, Alligator Purse and Sea Of Cowboy Hats.

And, of course, her chart toppers Single White Female, Shut Up And Drive and other much requested tunes such as She Went Out For Cigarettes.

Wright spoke to Nu Country to promote a disc that took its name from a London hotel and inspiration from the storms of her life.

We will feature video clips of her recent hits on Series #4 of Nu Country in the winter and spring of 2005.

Meanwhile we feature a lengthy interview that traces her career from her childhood to her career resurrection.


When Chely arrived in Nashville from Wellsville, Kansas, on May 12, 1989, she had a trusty Tuesday diet.

"I lived on Pinto Beans and noodles as a grocery chain in Nashville used to do a buy one get one free deal on Tuesdays," Wright told Nu Country in a phone call from her Nashville home as she promoted her acclaimed sixth album The Metropolitan Hotel.

"I would wait until then and double my bang for my buck."

Now, 16 years down the Lost Highway, the prolific singer-songwriter is indebted to her family for her frugal rural roots that helped her develop a thriving real estate and stocks empire to cushion the vagaries of life in the music business.

Those hurdles include record company takeovers and closures that limited her album output to six in 11 years.

And although the hours were long and wages low in her first two years in Music City her persistence was rewarded.

"I got a job as a singer-dancer in the Opryland USA show when I first got to town," says Wright.

"It was seven days a week, four shows a day. I was also at college, had a band and was trying to get a publishing deal. It all overlapped."

Wright has retained the discipline of writing every day.

"I'm as in love with writing songs as ever before," Wright revealed.

"I recently did a promo tour on the west coast and has two hours sleep a night but still found myself jotting down ideas and calling them into my voice mail. I have melodies and hooks I have been saving for over a year. I hit 9 and save them."


"We buried Laurie Mabrey in the clothes that she had been wearing/ her cheer leader outfit never looked so out of place." - The River - Chely Wright.

Wright was born in Kansas City, Missouri, but grew up in rural Wellsville where the family sang for their supper.

"I recruited my dad to be my bass player and fired him on several occasions," Wright recalled.

"He was always thankful as he worked a full time construction job. He did it for me - he was always happy when I found a replacement but he stayed on as bus driver."

The summer before her senior year in high school, she went to Branson, Missouri, and landed a job in the famed Ozark Jubilee - a long-running country show whose alumni included Brenda Lee and Red Foley.

Wright took her grandfather's advice, auditioned and won a job in a music production at the Opryland theme park.

She took her final exams a week early and moved to Nashville.

But she never forgot her roots - especially when sourcing her songs.

And, like many towns, Wright's social life revolved around leisure pursuits in and on the banks of the local river.

But the river can be a harsh mistress.

The Marais Des Cygnes River claimed the lives of two of Wright's childhood friends - and spawned a song arguably the creative highlight of Metropolitan Hotel.

The girls died a decade apart from a car crash and drowning in the same town stream.

"Both were fellow students, girls I grew up with in Wellsville," Wright revealed.

"There were about 1,000 people in the town. My class had 38 kids in it and we had 12 classes in one building. Everyone knew each other so well. I was baptised in Marais Des Cygnes River, the same river where my girlfriend Christine Thuro drowned, the same river where my girlfriend Laurie Mabrey was killed in a car wreck. This was where we would go to make out in high school. It was where we would have church socials, on the banks of the Marais Des Cygnes River. This is where you got baptised. And it's ironic. I mean, it's tragic. That's where their lives ended and my spiritual life began, so it's a real gift. That song has been a real gift to me."


Although The River had a gestation period of about three years because of a dispute with her previous record company Vivaton she's no stranger to delays.

She had to wait longer to cut five original songs for her debut album Woman In The Moon in 1994.

Wright set up a production company for extraneous projects while she wrote and cut demos of her songs before landing a publishing and recording deal.

"I had a lucrative production company before I got my record deal," she recalled.

"I did it my own way. I've saved every dime I've made in my life."

Wright penned five songs for her debut disc featuring the title track penned by Fred Knobloch and Gary Scruggs.

Harold Shedd of Alabama fame, signed her to Mercury/Polygram and the album was released on the Polydor label.

She was named top new female vocalist by the Academy of Country Music though her singles did not crack the Top 40.

The originals were Till All Her Tears Are Dry, Go On And Go, He Don't Do Bars Anymore, Sea of Cowboy Hats and The Last Supper.

A dance mix of Sea Of Cowboy Hats and Harlan Howard song He's A Good Old Boy - originally a hit for Arlene Harden in 1968 - scored exposure on Nu Country FM.

The disc also featured Bill Anderson song Nobody But A Fool, a hit for Connie Smith in 1966, and Mark Irwin-Alan Jackson tune Till I Was Loved By You.

"Some of my songs have been cut in languages I don't understand," Wright revealed.

"Till All Her Tears Are Dry came out as Till All Her Tears Escaped. It didn't translate well. A couple of my other songs have been on soundtracks and some on TV lifestyle shows."

Wright also landed a dramatic role in the Disney movie Max Keeble's Big Move.

"I played a home room teacher and asked my band how I went," Wright added.

"They said you in an authority position, that fits. That's not acting."


"She picked up his jacket and hid her earrings in his pocket/ so he'd have a reason to call/ but her telephone won't ring/ and the shame that will bring/ makes her regret it all." The Other Woman - Chely Wright

Wright cut her second album Right In The Middle Of It - produced by Shedd and Ed Seay - for Polydor in 1996.

It included her poignant relationship originals The Other Woman and Gotta Get Good At Givin' Again.

And, of course, there was Alligator Purse - penned by Kenya Slaughter Walker and Nick Pelligrino.

So who were the writers?

"Kenya and her partner write great melodies, they have had a few album cuts," Wright said.
"I recorded another of their songs 10 Pound Heart on my 1997 album Let Me In."


"I found it in a pawn shop in a ragged cardboard box/ with the guns and dusty watches/ with a Trailways baggage sticker yellowed frayed and torn/ destination Nashville '64/ and you could tell by the finger board her painted nails were long/ she only needed three chords to play those good ole country songs/ and her name's etched in the finish like a fade battle scar/ and this 1950 Gibson was Emma Jean's guitar." - Emma Jean's Guitar - Matraca Berg-Gary Harrison- Jeff Hanna

Former Elvis and Emmylou Harris pianist and free wheeling MCA executive Tony Brown produced her 1997 MCA album Let Me In.

And it was Emma Jean's Guitar, penned by Matraca Berg, singing spouse Jeff Hanna of Nitty Gritty Dirt Band and Gary Harrison that won over Wright.

The evocative song used the old pawnshop guitar as the metaphor for the shattered dreams of so many singers whose aspirations died on the vine in the most competitive roots music market in the world.

"Emma Jean's Guitar is my favourite song that I recorded in my entire life," Wright says.

"I was going to publishers with my A & R guy Pat Higdon and I said 'I'm not hearing anything I really like. I said 'play me something cool that no-one will ever record' and that's how we found the song. I said the same thing at another publisher and then they played me Shut Up And Drive. I did both of them in my shows for so long.'

Drive was Wright's first #1 hit but the disc also featured Is It Love Yet, penned with the prolific hit writer Kostas.

But her autobiographical tune Your Woman Misses Her Man - penned with Ed Hill and Mark D Sanders and featuring a Hank Williams reference - also scored lavish airplay here.


Brown produced her fourth disc Single White Female in 1999 with Buddy Cannon and Norro Wilson.

Wright scored another huge hit with the Carolyn Dawn Johnson-Shaye Smith penned title track.

She also charted with her tune Picket Fences - one of her two originals - and Ronnie Guilbeau-John McElroy tune She Went Out For Cigarettes.

"When I do She Went Out For Cigarettes live they react like it was a #10 hit although it was only in the 20's," she recalled.

"It was a good impact song."

Ronnie is the son of Gib Guilbeau who toured the Spurs cowboy bar circuit here with Jon Beland as the Flying Burrito Brothers for Barry Coburn in 1984.

It also featured Wright's co-write with Sunny Russ on Some Kind Of Somethin' and two tunes by Leslie Satcher - The Fire and Why Do I Still Want You.

Satcher hailed from Paris, Texas - the town made famous by Robert Duvall - and was a kindred spirit of Berg and Gretchen Peters.

Although a prolific writer Satcher has only released one acclaimed by modest selling album.


"I've seen Sleepless In Seattle way too many times/ and I guess my expectations might seen a little high/ I know they're just actors on a screen/ I look at them, then back at us and see/ what we have ain't gonna be enough for me." Not As In Love - Chely Wright-Tim Nicholls and Braid Paisley.

Wright's incisive relationship songs flourished on her fifth album Never Love You Enough in 2001.

The album may have suffered from a plethora of producers including Brown, Cannon, Dann Huff and Paul Worley but it enabled Wright to co-produce two songs with duet partner Braid Paisley.

She wrote five songs and produced Horoscope and One Night In Vegas with Paisley with whom she wrote Come On Over Tonight for his second album Part 11.

In Horoscope the female keeps in touch with a former lover by reading his stars.

Wright also wrote the entrée for Not As In Love when Paisley and prolific hit writer Tim Nicholls had trouble finishing it.

The bleakness of Not As In Love - where the woman is not as in love as her partner - is countered by the optimism of their duet on One Night In Vegas.


"But that weekend in the mountains/ in a cabin all by ourselves/ making that one memory made up for everything else."

The song's lovers ride the storms of life with solace from an intimacy that can't be erased.
"Incidents like that can pull a relationship back together, absolutely," Wright says.

"One never knows when it can be, that one memory makes up for everything else. Life continues to move forward. You look up at one another some times and say who are you, why am I with you? Some times it takes a death in the family - a tough situation - to bond it back together again. Life is funny, it's a mystery."

She also wrote Deep Down Low solo and Wouldn't It Be Cool with Roxie Dean and cut Jezebel penned by Marcus Hummon and Jay De Marcus of Rascal Flatts.

Dr Ralph Stanley also chose Wright as one of his female duet partners on his Clinch Mountain Sweethearts disc.


When Wright recorded her ill-fated album for Vivaton she was in limbo for more than a year as she tried to buy back the masters.

"I was their flagship artist but I was in no hurry to land another recording deal until I owned the masters," Wright revealed.

"I earned eight CMA and ACM nominations so I had a good run."

But her real estate investments, dating back to her pre-recording era, helped through the hiatus.

"I had invested in real estate for years. I have saved every dime I've made in my life. I have various income streams. I had a lucrative production company before my record deal. I did it my own way. I have really enjoyed stocks but for a person who has lots of irons in the fire I couldn't give a rat's arse. I grew up in a very modest house. We were poor - we lived on the poverty level. We all got jobs as young kids. But because I was frugal when I left MCA in 2003 I could afford to take a year off, stay in my pyjamas and write songs. I never cared about money until I needed a big fat cheque to buy my way out of a contract to buy my masters back. I was their flagship artist but I was in no hurry to land a record deal. I just wanted to own the masters


"My birthday was in Alabama/ Father's day was in Montana/ and on Mother's day I was nowhere near a phone/ every hotel bed feels the same/ as the last one where I stayed/ it's vending machines and falling asleep alone/ I love what I do but I wonder what it do it all for." - It's The Song - Bonnie Baker-Katrina Elam.

Wright wrote eight of the 12 songs on her new album but not the entrée It's The Song - a riveting road anthem.

"I'm pretty mad I didn't write that song," Wright said.

"I had known about that song since before I made the album. Bonnie Baker wrote it, and she knows that's my story. She told me, 'I was mad before that they didn't let you have it,' I believe that nobody else could sing this song as part of their being the way that I can. All I ever wanted to do was to write songs and get on a bus and go play them for people. I came along at a time when the industry was eating its young.""

Wright only released one single for Vivaton - Back Of The Bottom Drawer.

"I had 13 masters that I had purchased back. I dumped seven and still had seven in the can. And to show you dumb I am, without a record deal, I continued to work on my album and book masters sessions. Half of that Vivaton album remains and half wasn't good enough. I knew about it - it was on a blanket hold."

But is the song accurate about her single status?

"If you're not married it doesn't mean you don't have a relationship," says Wright.

"It's either feast or famine. My family and friends are well aware of the cyclical nature of this job. When the album is coming out it's feast - you have got to get out there and make hay while the sun is shining. But there are other times when you would love for the phone to ring."


"All my life you've reminded me/ how you struggled nine long months/ your achin' back and your swollen feet/ how you almost lost me once/ you say you gave up everything/ all the dreams you had/ told us kids we're the only reason/ you stayed with our dad." - Between A Mother And A Child - Chely Wright.

But was it as personal as Picket Fences - sibling song of Between A Mother And A Child, from her new album?

Both were spawned by the divorce of her parents in 1993.

"Between A Mother And A Child was easy to write but hard to put on my record," Wright explained.

"It's obviously a real song, nothing about it is made up. I'm so glad I did it. My mother calls it that song I hate. But it has prompted some good dialogue between my mother and me that has been lacking over the years. I hadn't spoke to her for two years. She called me after I sent her an advance CD and said 'I think it's head and shoulders over others. I love the music - you just wrote the words wrong. She skipped right over it."


"Tell me what's so great about picket fences/ paintin' them's such a mess/ and a big back yard where kids could play/ I'd probably never get a moment's rest/ and setting the table for five at five/ only means more dishes to load/ what's so great about picket fences/ I guess I'll never know." - Picket Fences - Chely Wright.

So what about it being a sibling of Picket Fences?

"Yes, it made her cry, she felt responsible," Wright revealed.

"It's astute of you to mention it in the same breath as Between A Mother And A Child. That was written on Thanksgiving Day in 1993 the year my parents divorced. I didn't know where to go for Thanksgiving Day as they lived in different places. I said screw it I'm not going to make that decision. I stayed in my apartment in Nashville and felt sorry for myself and I wrote it. I thought marriage doesn't work - what's the point. My mother just kind of checked out from all three of us kids after the divorce. It was very painful because she was my best friend all my childhood. When she heard it, it tore her heart out - she thought it was a failure she had passed along to her child. I contend it was best song I ever wrote - I wrote it in late 1993 but didn't turn it in until 1995. I had met my quota - 10 songs a year and 20 co-writes. I wish I had a great relationship with my mother. In a perfect world, I guess everyone assumes that by the time they're 34, maybe they'll be married and have three kids. Maybe I feel a little bit the odd one out there.""


"See my brother Chris he's been in for more than 14 years now/ our dad was in the Navy during Vietnam/ did his duty then he got out/ and my grandpa earned his Purple Heart on the beaches of Normandy." - The Bumper Of My S.U.V. - Chely Wright.

Wright's career revival hit The Bumper Of My S.U.V. was inspired by a U.S Marines bumper sticker sent to her by her brother Chris - a Marine for 15 years.

Chely wrote the song after being abused by a fellow women motorist in Nashville.

"It's his fault, he sent me the bumper sticker before he went off to the war in Iraq," Wright quipped.

"He was responsible. I put it on my car because of my pride for my dad, grandfather, uncles and brother who were all in the services. It's at the very core of who I am. I'm not a Democrat, I'm not a Republican - I'm an American, Moreover I'm a human. I sat in my home studio for 16 months from June 2003 to September 2004. I forgot I wrote it. I had recorded a whole album for Vivaton before that. I was getting ready to go to Iraq to perform and was dumping things from my hard drive. I came across one that said Bumper and thought what the hell is that? I pulled it up, burned a copy, put it in my backpack and off to Iraq I went. I threw it at my guitar player 20 minutes before my first show and said learn it, we might do it. I said to the audience I want you to hear a song I forgot I wrote. I could change it to army sticker. They loved it and asked me to record the song. I promised the soldiers, including one kid who was killed the very next morning, I would record it and I did. I couldn't get the monkey off my back I sent it to Baghdad AFM and within six days it was leaked back to the U.S. and started to become a hit. I was getting calls from all these radio station PDS saying can we do an interview. It's No 1 on our 7 at 7. It went pretty crazy. The song is all true. The lady flipped me off three days after I got back from a previous tour of Iraq with Kid Rock. I sing I've been to Hiroshima which I have, been to the DMZ which I have 6 or 7 times, walked on the sand in Baghdad which I have and still don't have all the answers."

Wright was performing in one of Saddam's Palace's in Baghdad when it was under fire.

"A rocket was shoot over our stage during our show in the Green zone, on the outside of the perimeter," Wright said.

"It was scarier than I thought it would be. Every time I go to play for the troops it's life changing. I go with an open mind and I become more confused and also more galvanized."


"Yeah the south side of lonesome/ it's a little hard to find/ but you'll know it when you get there/ if you haven't lost your mind." - Southside of Lonesome - Chely Wright

Wright has been adept at writing relationship songs since her debut disc with sharp contrasts of The Last Supper and He Don't Do Bars Anymore.

I Got Him Ready For You is a clever tale about the new woman benefiting from the training by a former lover.

And Back Of The Bottom Drawer is an evocative boudoir ballad where the woman retains the right to keep historic romantic secrets from her new man.

Wright examines a pending split in the brakeless Wheels and the healing power of laughter in Just The Way We Do It.

"There are only a couple of songs on this album that weren't an impetuous knee jerk reaction to an emotion," Wright confided.

"Southside Of Lonesome - I did think of that idea and craft it. It really happened with names just omitted. I tried to rip off Rodney Crowell and Harlan Howard in how they would turn a phrase."

Wright plans an Australia tour in spring or summer if she can win suffice airplay and TV exposure.

"I would love to tour there," says the singer whose longevity is deserved.

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