Fort Wayne – In the current country music climate, Reba McEntire’s continued success borders on the inexplicable.
That is no knock on her prodigious talents or her indefatigable drive.
It is a commentary on country radio, where an incontrovertible country music legend in the autumn of her years rarely goes un-ignored when there are so many ingénues to choose from.
Last December at the age of 55, McEntire scored her 35th No. 1 single with Turn on the Radio.
Her unmatched string of No. 1 country hits spans four decades. Not surprisingly, McEntire says staying on top is hard.
There’s a lot of competition, she says during a phone interview. And I know there are radio stations that won’t play me because I am over 50.
I don’t know why age should have anything to do with it, McEntire says. I think radio stations should just play whatever the good stuff is. If I don’t have any good music out, then I totally understand why they wouldn’t play me.
McEntire says she knows there will come a day when her music is largely overlooked by country radio and she has to come to grips with that.
But for right now, I feel like I am putting out music that is as good as anything I have ever put out, she says.
McEntire says she got her work ethic, her love of country music and her persistence from her Oklahoma parents. She says her mother had country music aspirations of her own, but the time and her circumstances conspired to frustrate her dreams.
Her daddy wouldn’t let her, McEntire says of her mother’s intentions of becoming a singer. She came from sharecroppers and they wanted her to stay. She wanted to go to California with a girlfriend of hers and try a duet act, but Grandpap had other plans for her.
So McEntire says her mother eventually decided to live her dreams unabashedly through her daughter.
McEntire says both her parents were very competitive.
I thought everybody had that, she says. I was shocked to find people who had lots more talent than I had who didn’t want to be stars. I thought everyone wanted to be a star!
Nashville is more fast-paced these days than it was when McEntire first moved there with her mother in the early ’70s, she says.
If you don’t make it quick, you’re pushed to the back burner or dropped, she says. I was signed in 1975 and didn’t have a No. 1 record until ’82. They waited on me and taught me and trained me.
McEntire says she was a bit naïve at first about how everything was going to work.
I didn’t have any idea what it was going to be like, she says. I thought that once I got a song on the radio, I’d get a big bus and big money.
It took a while for her to earn both, but those things eventually came her way and even bigger things followed.
Asked what she’d say to her callow self if she could go back in time, McEntire says: Don’t sweat the small stuff.
Have fun with it,’ she says. Quit getting all stressed out.’ I’d get a sore throat and I’d be so worried, I’d lose my voice. Just calm down and it’ll all be fine.’ Stress will make you sick and kill you.
In the late 1980s, McEntire’s career took a then-bold stylistic turn from traditional country to country-pop.
Many country music critics at the time were furious.
These days when someone such as Jason Aldean can have a big country hit (Dirt Road Anthem) in which he does more rapping than singing (and does both well), it may be hard for someone to imagine an era when any hint of a popular music influence in a country song was enough to ignite a semi-scandal.
McEntire says country artists have always crossed over to pop charts and courted pop fans.
She has a simple way of looking at this non-controversy now, she says.
There are just two kinds of music. Good and bad, she says. And I always try to sing the good kind.
McEntire has won every music award there is several times over, but she says she has never let herself slow down enough to enjoy any of that.
No, because when I’ve won an award, I have always thought, What’s the next award? Because I am going to win that one too,’ she says. I get a No. 1 record, and I think, What’s the next No. 1 record?’ I have never stopped at any point and said, I have made it.’ Because that means I am over.
For all her occupational enthusiasm, McEntire says she is prouder of her family and of the close relationships she has nurtured over the years than of any career signpost.
Ever since her backing band perished in a plane crash in 1990, she says has learned to enjoy the moment, be grateful and never put off tomorrow what she can do today.
That really altered my outlook on things, she says. You’d better get your ducks in a row and tell everyone you love them because their last day on this earth may be today.
You may think you have all the time in the world to make things right, McEntire says. But you don’t.