Looking back at Gretchen Wilson’s “Redneck Woman” is to revisit a transitional period in country music’s history. Released in March 2004, her debut single became the first by a female vocalist to top the Billboard country singles charts in over two years and the fastest-rising since Billy Ray Cyrus’ “Achy Breaky Heart” in 1992. Her five-times platinum debut album, Here for the Party, sold 227,000 copies opening week, entering the country charts at Number One and earning the singer four Grammy nominations. (She won for Best Female Country Vocal Performance.) During a time when country music was leaning toward pop, Wilson was getting approval from critics and fans alike for bringing it back to its roots.
Written with John Rich, “Redneck Woman” was Wilson’s attempt to unabashedly celebrate her own roots that tie her to rural Pocahontas, Illinois. Her mother was 16 when the future star was born, her father left when she was two, and she grew up in various trailer parks living a life of poverty. She quit school after eighth grade and worked in the same club as her mother until she began singing around age 20. Shortly after, she moved to Nashville where, after a relatively short time, her songwriting prowess more than paid the bills.
In the “Redneck Woman” music video, Wilson’s self-depiction of the ultimate down-home gal includes driving four-wheelers through the mud and drinking beer with the guys — things she truly does in her spare time. But it was much more than a booze-swigging party song; it was an anthem for the anti-“Barbie doll types” who belong in country music just as much (or more so) than all the dolled-up beauties dominating the airwaves.
Wilson and Rich were actually inspired by some pretty ladies on CMT the day they wrote “Redneck Woman.” “We watched videos by two or three different females and I said, ‘John, I don’t know if I’m going to be able to do that. Look at them — they’re all so slick. That’s not who I am.’ And he asked me, ‘Who are you?’ And I said, ‘I guess I’m just a redneck woman.’ And that’s what inspired it,” the singer once told the LA Times, going on to define a “redneck woman” as someone who is just herself and “doesn’t worry about getting her fingernails done and having pedicures in the top salon. A redneck woman is hard-working, she’s raising a family and holding down a job at the same time and is proud of who she is, no matter what.”
Today, the singer — who couldn’t dodge her now 11-year-old “Redneck Woman” nickname if she tried — is still living up to the song’s sentiments and is still playing by her own rules. She started her own record label, called Redneck Records (of course), and wears every hat at her company — from album engineering to balancing the checkbook.