This is the 3rd in the 5 part series. We looked at Angelina Jolie and Woody Allen. Now it’s the Dixie Chicks.
The Dixie Chicks began as a little bluegrass band in 1989. Martie Maguire and her sister Emily Robison were multi-talented instrumentalists. Martie plays a mean fiddle, mandolin and viola. Emily is one of the top five-stringed banjo and dobro players out there. They played Bluegrass Festivals and opened for major country acts such as Garth Brooks, Reba McEntire and George Strait in those days.
Their own little band had a small fan base that stuck with them as they experimented with their ever changing country sound.
However, one of their own band members, the lead vocalist Robin Lynn Macy, was unhappy with the direction the band was going in and quit and walked away. I’m sure she eventually kicked herself later when the band hit super stardom. This would happen when the bands steel guitarist, Lloyd Maines, introduced his daughter to the band as an aspiring vocalist. Natalie Maines.
Although the girls wrestled with the idea they kept their sole co-lead singer Laura Lynch on board for their third independent album. They toured in tiny circuits unable to branch their fanbase beyond Texas and Tennessee.
They hired a new manager who shopped them around and got them a developmental deal with Sony. Meanwhile, their remaining co-lead singer Laura Lynch had been complaining the year before of being tired of touring, working and wanting to spend time with her daughter. The girls felt this would send the wrong message to Sony who was giving them a shot at a real recording contract. They dropped Laura Lynch and hired Natalie Maines, thus making it one of the best decisions they ever made guaranteeing success.
With Natalie Maines in tow and a big recording contract on the way, the women ditched their cowgirl attire and stripped down to more contemporary wear thus broadening their appeal. Natalie wasn’t just the lead vocalist, but brought along other talents including bass guitar which opened up the band to rock and blues influences. The album they recorded together the following year, “Wide Open Spaces” took the chicks to the top of the country charts. By the time the late 90’s rolled around they became the biggest selling country group of all time.
The second half of 1999, just before the millenium, the Dixie Chicks put out their second album together, “Fly”, which debuted at #1! They were shattering more records becoming the first country group and the only female group to have two back to back double platinum certified albums.
The source of Dixie Chicks’ commercial success during this time came from various factors: they wrote or co-wrote about half of the songs on Wide Open Spaces and Fly; their mixture of bluegrass, mainstream country music, blues, and pop songs appealed to a wide spectrum of record buyers. Those that wouldn’t normally be into country or buy a country album for that matter were picking up a Dixie Chicks CD.
Their record Fly saw a hint of controversy with a couple of their songs.
Two songs caused some radio stations to remove the Chicks from their playlists: “Sin Wagon”, from which the term “mattress dancing” takes on a new twist, and “Goodbye Earl”, a song that uses black comedy in telling the story of the unabashed murderer of an abusive husband.
Natalie said, “Our manager jokes, ‘You can’t say mattress dancing, but they love the song about premeditated first degree murder’! She continues, ” … so it’s funny to us that “mattress dancing” is out and murder is in!”
They got into a dispute with Sony records claiming they held out millions of dollars of royalties due to them. Sony refused to pay and the Chicks walked. Sony sued them for not completing their contract terms with another album and the Chicks counter-sued and won in a private settlement. This included being given their own indie label where they had full control over everything including higher royalties, but Sony would handle the marketing and distribution of their albums.
The three women found themselves home in Texas, each happily married, planning families, and writing songs closer to their roots, without the usual pressures of the studio technicians from the major labels. The result was their 3rd album together, Home. Unlike the Chicks’ two previous records, Home is dominated by up-tempo bluegrass and pensive ballads. Home spawned the Chicks first top ten hit on the Pop charts, Long Time Gone, due to the groups expanding audience outside of the country market.
The Dixie Chicks were riding high attracting all sorts of positive attention and awards for their gifted musicianship and fun personalities.
This would come to an immediate halt for what became the biggest controversy of their career almost ending it. During a London concert ten days before the 2003 invasion of Iraq, lead vocalist Maines said “Just so you know, we’re on the good side with y’all. We do not want this war, this violence, and we’re ashamed that the President of the United States (George W. Bush) is from Texas”. The statement offended many Americans, who thought it rude and unpatriotic.
But was it?
“I may not agree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”
Although the statement was made at a London concert far, far away from the U.S., still the media got wind of it and it spread like the plague showing people and humanity as the monsters they are. They saw what an ostracizing lynch mob mentality really was harking back to the days throughout history where this mob mentality wrongfully ganged up on and crucified others for not sitting in the corner and doing as they’re told. These people and so called fans retaliated deeply offended and spewed venomous criticism. They held bonfire rallies where people could gather and smash their Dixie Chicks CD’s together. They taught their two year old’s to say, “Fuck them.” This is America after all full of puritans and hypocrites.
Country radio stopped playing the Dixie Chicks altogether in the nationwide boycott. They received countless hate mail and death threats. They went ahead with their sold out tour, but had to have metal detectors set up for people to walk through as well as police escorting. Businesses such as Lipton tea and the Red Cross dropped their sponsored support.
I found the backlash totally un-american and in humane. At the time the statement was made, I didn’t flinch or even think twice about it. The horrid mob behavior was universally publicized against them. I asked why. I watched the statement replayed and I said, “That’s it? I don’t understand. What was wrong with that statement? What a wacky world.”
At the time I supported Bush and the war and I tend to remain level headed and not volatile so Natalie’s statement didn’t bother me one bit. The chicks supported the troops, they just wanted to make a point that peace is the only way, not fighting and war. In hindsight nearly ten years after the war started what did the war really accomplish besides costing thousands of lives?
Those that retaliated against the Dixie Chicks were the kind of people who scream and hang you if you don’t follow in their footsteps and believe in the same things they do. They also don’t have your back. My tune changed after that and I rallied with the Chicks in unanimous support. In fact, I started to like them even more. The country based bible belt media lambasted them that it was the end of their career, but the rest of the nation became what America is all about and showed new support towards them. There was only way out and that’s up.
Over the next couple of years more and more people began to find they no longer supported the war. George Bush’s approval ratings dropped to an historic record low. The support for the Dixie Chicks began to grow again, but this time by new fans. Public figures spoke in support of them calling what happened a verbal witch hunt and lynching. The country music industry full of artists and fans turned their backs against the Dixie Chicks, but the band grew an even bigger and more substantial backing base with the rock and roll industry.
Senator Republican John McCain rallied with the Chicks in support and blasted US country radio owners for their decision to ban the Dixie Chicks from the chain after their controversial comment. A the hearing he said, “I was as offended as anyone by the statement of the Dixie Chicks, but to restrain their trade because they exercised their right of free speech is remarkable.”
Artistically the Chicks grew at an expedited rate from that point on. They altered their sound once again joining forces with the rock industry in California to record what would become one of the greatest CD’s they’ve ever recorded, “Taking the Long Way”. When they emerged in 2006, three years after the shutdown, financial loss and fan disloyalty, they unknowingly would take a new world by storm leaving the couch hypo-critics to wallow in their own anger and negativity.
They debuted the first single from the album that would be a classic rock anthem, “Not Ready to Make Nice”, poking jabs right back at all those that had the audacity to make an issue out of nothing. It was a song that spoke to a whole new group of fans. It was also Dixie Chicks therapy since they had to hold in so many stored emotions for so long.
Martie Maguire made an accurate and profound statement afterwards, “I’d rather have a smaller following of really cool people who get it, who will grow with us as we grow and are fans for life, than people that have us in their five-disc changer with Reba McEntire and Toby Keith. We don’t want those kinds of fans. They limit what you can do.”
Natalie Maines also retracted her earlier apology to President Bush, stating, “I apologized for disrespecting the office of the President, but I don’t feel that way anymore. I don’t feel he is owed any respect whatsoever.”
Let’s extend that to all those that participated gleefully and monstrously in a boycott also.
Their 4th album released together felt as if they were starting from scratch, but became the year’s second best album released on the U.S. country albums chart and certified gold within its first week of release. It also debuted at #1 on the charts. All of this with little to no airplay in areas that once embraced them.
The Chicks became the first female band in chart history to have three albums debut at No. 1.
When the band set off to tour for the album they had their city destination list changed and avoided the areas that boycotted them sticking only to cities that brought “Taking the Long Way” to #1.
The tour’s shows themselves generally refrained from any explicit verbal political comments, letting the music, especially the central performance of “Not Ready to Make Nice” (which typically received a thunderous ovation during and after the song), speak for itself.
When the Chicks performed again at Shepherds Bush Empire, site of “The Incident”, Maines joked that she wanted to say something the audience hadn’t heard before, but instead said, “Just so y’all know, we’re ashamed the President of the United States is from Texas,” to much laughter and applause. I don’t feel he is owed any respect whatsoever.” There’s something freeing about knowing you have nothing to lose or prove. You can be yourself and speak your truth and who cares what the world thinks. They’re all insignificant anyway.
In 2006, Taking the Long Way was the ninth best-selling album in the United States. At the 49th Grammy Awards Show on February 11, 2007, the group won all five categories for which they were nominated, including the top awards of Song of the Year and Record of the Year, both for “Not Ready to Make Nice”, and Album of the Year, for Taking the Long Way.
Maines interpreted the wins as being a show of public support for their advocacy of free speech. It had been 14 years since an artist had swept those three awards.
Since then the band enjoyed the new high of success because this time it was real genuine support from new fans as well as being embraced by the bigger guys over in Rock and Roll. They toured with the Eagles to a more accepting audience and released a DVD documentary on “The Incident” called, “Shut up and Sing.” A highly recommended gem that shows the bands pre-boycott to post-boycott behavior by the ostracizing lynch mob. It effectively shows the ugliness that man displayed, but it also focuses on the impeccable musicianship and talent that the Dixie Chicks have to the recording of the album, “Taking the Long Way Home”.
I’m just wondering when the hell they’re going to record another album together. Natalie Maines took some time off with family while the sisters put out a nice mellow classic record called, “Court Young Hounds“.
It’s safe to say that most everything the Dixie Chicks have put out is a classic. Everything from “Wide Open Spaces” and on.
DIXIE CHICKS CLASSICS