One rockin’ redneck woman and one former rocker are set to bring their hit country music to the Los Angeles County Fair’s End of Summer Concert Series this weekend.
On Saturday, Gretchen Wilson will perform her chart-toppers, including “Redneck Woman,” “I’m Here For the Party” and “All Jacked Up.” Darius Rucker, once and still occasionally frontman for Hootie & the Blowfish, will appear on Sunday. Rucker’s smash country singles include: “Don’t Think That I Don’t Think About It” and “It Won’t Be Like This For Long.”
While Rucker said he loved the fame that Hootie & The Blowfish brought him, he admits he would have preferred to have been a country artist from the start. “We (the band) talked about being a country band, and I just got outvoted,” said Rucker, who records his country music on Capitol Records. “They also used to kid me about how I always was bringing them country songs that they had to turn into rock songs.”
Rucker’s first country CD, “Learn To Live,” debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard charts in 2008. The project produced the No. 1 single “Don’t Think I Don’t Think About It,” which made Rucker the first African-American artist to chart a No. 1 country hit since Charlie Pride’s “Night Games” in 1983. Two other singles from Rucker’s CD also became No. 1 hits: “It Won’t Be Like This For Long” and “Alright.”
“It’s so hard to stand out today, so I’m very grateful,” Rucker said. “Anyone can record a song on Pro Tools, put it up on YouTube and become an Internet sensation. But one reason I love being a part of country music is because it’s about much more than that. This is an industry where you actually can build lasting relationships with fans and DJs and you know they will support you no matter what.”
Growing up in Charleston, S.C., Rucker said his family supported his dream to play country music for a living. Artistically, he found inspiration in everyone from Buck Owens and Dwight Yoakam to New Grass Revival and Radney Foster.
Not surprisingly, the songs on “Learn to Live” are steeped in the country traditions of heartfelt and true-to-life lyrics along with catchy melodies. Still, the production is contemporary and palatable to people of all ages, Rucker said.
As an added bonus, there are several guest artists, including Brad Paisley on the lighthearted “All I Want” and Vince Gill and Alison Krauss on the inspirational “If I Had Wings.”
“At my age, I’m not going to write many songs about drinking, chasing girls or booty calls,” said Rucker, 44. “I also hope that my sincerity shows through because if you’re real, people will figure that out quickly.”
While Rucker has found success as a crossover artist, Wilson is enjoying artistic freedom after wading through a major crossroads in her career. In July 2009, the Pocahontas, Ill. native left her original record label, Epic Records, to start her own label, Redneck Records. Her first album on the new label, “I Got Your Country Right Here,” was released in March and debuted at No. 6 on the Billboard chart. “Over the years, I’ve learned a lot,” said Wilson, whose autobiography, “Redneck Woman: Stories from My Life,” is a best seller.
“I learned what to do and what not to do,” she said. “The record industry has become such a corporate game and the music no longer seems to be the focus. So I’m very happy to be working with a much smaller team who really do care about my music and enjoy what they do.”
Prior to her meteoric rise to fame, Wilson worked as a bartender in a pub on Printer’s Alley in Nashville. It was there she got her first major break when she met John Rich and Big Kenny Alphin from the famed country duo Big & Rich, who invited her to perform with them in their Muzik Mafia show. Wilson said despite shopping herself to all the labels in Nashville, she could not get anyone interested in signing her. But after co-writing “Redneck Woman” in 2004 with Rich, Epic Records signed her up.
Her career took off in conjunction with the song’s release. It spent six weeks at No. 1 on Billboard and the album it was on, “Here For The Party,” sold more than five million copies. Wilson, 37, also won a Grammy Award and ACM, CMA and AMA nominations for best female vocalist.
Wilson’s 2005 sophomore release, “All Jacked Up,” went platinum and the title track became a No. 1 hit. The song also became the highest-debuting single for a female country artist. Along with her music career, Wilson is actively involved with St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and the Children’s Miracle Network. She said as she continues to grow as a person and an artist, she hopes to find more and more ways to inspire her friends, fans and even those she’s yet to meet.
“I think sometimes (music) is a stepping stone, and there’s something greater still for me to do,” said Wilson, who is the mother of an 8-year-old daughter named Grace. “I’m not sure what yet, but a lot of it I think comes from this overwhelming sense that my grandma knew something I didn’t know. I know what her purpose was now. She never really found her peace on this earth, but she has been my saving Grace.”
LOS ANGELES COUNTY FAIR
7:30 p.m. Saturday
7:30 p.m., Sunday
Where: Los Angeles County Fairgrounds, 1101 W. McKinley Ave., Pomona
Cost: $20-$100; $10 parking.
Information: 909-623-3111; www.lacountyfair.com