DIARY - 12 MAY 2005 - CHELY WRIGHT INTERVIEW
MINES HITS FROM WRIGHT FAMILY
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
was her parents' divorce that produced her evocative hit Picket Fences
and then it was estrangement from her mum for Between A Mother And
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
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
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
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.
BEANS AND NOODLES
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.
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."
CITY TO THE RIVER
buried Laurie Mabrey in the clothes that she had been wearing/ her cheer
leader outfit never looked so out of place." - The River - Chely
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
The girls died a decade apart from a car crash and drowning in the same
"Both were fellow students, girls I grew up with in Wellsville,"
"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."
WOMAN IN THE MOON
The River had a gestation period of about three years because
of a dispute with her previous record company Vivaton she's no stranger
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
"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.
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,"
"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
"I played a home room teacher and asked my band how I went,"
"They said you in an authority position, that fits. That's not acting."
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
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."
EMMA JEAN'S GUITAR
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
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.
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.
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
"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
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
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
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.
NEVER LOVE YOU ENOUGH
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.
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.
NIGHT IN VEGAS
that weekend in the mountains/ in a cabin all by ourselves/ making that
one memory made up for everything else."
lovers ride the storms of life with solace from an intimacy that can't
"Incidents like that can pull a relationship back together, absolutely,"
"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.
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
IT'S THE SONG
"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.
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,"
"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."
A MOTHER AND A CHILD
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
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.
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."
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.""
BUMPER OF MY S.U.V.
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
"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
"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
has been adept at writing relationship songs since her debut disc
with sharp contrasts of The Last Supper and He Don't Do
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.
a pending split in the brakeless Wheels and the healing power of laughter
in Just The Way We Do It.
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