In a world driven by identity, you know that you have really left your mark when you can get away with using just your first name. In fact, when you talk about Beck, Bono, Elvis, Jewel, Madonna, or, of course, Wynonna, no introduction is really needed. Which means we probably don’t even need to tell you that, as part of the Judds, Wynonna amassed 14 number-one singles, her debut solo album yielded a further three and then went five times platinum, or that you can currently hear her dueting with Elvis. But we’re sure you will be thrilled to know that she is headed our way. On Monday, Wynonna will be gracing the stage of the Granada Theatre. And while most of her life might have been spent wandering, I recently learned that she has never lost track of who she is.
You are headed to Santa Barbara. Have you spent much time here? I’ve been everywhere at least twice! You know, I celebrate 25 years next year-that’s more than half of my life on the road. I’m at that point in my career where my fans are starting to bring their kids out to see me, you know what I mean?
Is that satisfying or scary? Both. But I think life is scary. I love Annie Lennox’s line about “dying is easy, it’s living that scares me.” It’s all part of the journey. Last week I was singing with Foreigner and was the rock ‘n’ roll queen for a day. I was thinking, “How do I keep getting away with the things I get away with, the places I get to go, and the audiences I get to sing for?”
But you put in the hard yards early on? That must put things in perspective. I have a great perspective after being on the road all these years. I shared a bus with my mother for 10 years-I have earned my right to be wacky. Anyone who combs her mother’s hair every day for 10 years for free has to have fun-and I still do. It’s a real miracle. When I get on the plane to come out west, I’m always keenly aware this could be my last trip. I never have forgotten that. I think my perspective comes from years of being on the bus with my mum. She raised me to appreciate and understand that this is a journey and not a destination.
You alluded to some of your collaborations. Do you think those are a more worthy measure of your success than accumulating awards? That’s a really interesting question. I think it’s like getting up every morning and weighing yourself. Are you going to live by that number, or are you going to live by the fact that you have a family and people who you love? Getting to do the things I’ve gotten to do definitely is the glue that holds me together through all the seasonal changes. The awards, I think, really are more about my career and the band and the people who I work with. Everybody works so dang hard, and I’m the one who gets the fame and fortune. It keeps them going; it helps with the high fives.
Are there moments when you question if what you have achieved is in fact real? I tell you what, I’ve got quite a resume and sometimes I look back over it and think, “How in the world did I get away with that?” It’s kind of like when you get into a party and you think, “How did I get in?” Do you ever feel that?
That’s pretty much every party I’ve ever been to. [Laughs.] Well, I’ve spent my whole career with that sense of “How did I get to sit next to Tina Turner at the awards show? How did that happen? Is it an alphabetical thing?”
I believe your forthcoming album has you performing standards that reflect your musical past. Why such an album and why now? Here’s the deal. I’m at a real crossroads in my life. Last year I’m thinking to myself, “Where am I?” And all of a sudden I started gravitating toward the past. I have such an incredible history of these songs being played in the background while I’m living my life. So the whole album is a real cross-section of all the different genres I grew up with. And it worked. I don’t know how it did, but it does, and I think it has to do with the instrument, the voice, and the interpretation. It’s all me, its all part of the tapestry of who I am.
When covering a song, is it hard to balance being true to its intent and putting your own mark on it? It was a real challenge to put my Wynnona-isms on the songs, and yet pay homage and make sure that the respect was there. I was very clear about not removing landmarks. You don’t go in and dig up the pyramids and replace it with a high-rise.
You’ve played with your mother, done acoustic tours, played with a band, and performed with symphonies. What drives such musical dexterity? Some people label it A.D.D! I think it comes from being raised in Appalachia on a mountain top without TV, without telephones, and then one day moving to Hollywood and walking past the Whisky A-Go Go on my way to grade school. My mom was such a gypsy and we woke up in so many different states:
Aside from Santa Barbara, another big show you have coming up is at the Grand Ole Opry for Armed Services Radio & Television. What does playing a show like that mean to you? When I was 18-years-old, my mom and I embarked upon our first US tour. I remember serving Thanksgiving dinner to Navy guys on a ship. My education began really early. I think every artist that gets signed should put in a year of community service. It gets you outside yourself and it allows you to step into other people’s lives. Let’s face it, this business is about being babied, and after while you’re drowning in a lake of yourself. These are ways to get out of the way of yourself.
What effect have experiences like these had upon you? It has changed my life. I’m not advocating that we be pro-war, but I’m talking about being pro-people. I am all about people and family.
And finally, I guess we should touch on the Elvis duet : Okay, so I’m checking my messages and there is Priscilla Presley. So I call her back and she says, “Will you sing a duet with Elvis?” I start laughing ‘cause I thought, “What are the chances?” It’s on a Christmas record that’s coming out this year, and what’s funny about it is that I didn’t realize the song I chose [“Santa Clause Is Back in Town”] is basically about a guy coming through town trying to score a chick. I got so tickled and I said, “Priscilla, this is the raunchiest song on the record,” and she’s like, “I love it, I just love it.” Once again, I keep finding myself in these situations where I think, “How did I get here?”
Wynonna will perform at the Granada Theatre (1214 State St.) on Monday, October 27, at 8 p.m. Call 899-2222 or visit granadasb.org for tickets.