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T he thing nobody ever remembers about the Dixie Chicks is how much fun they were. But back when the nineties were winding down, when the Chicks were making the leap from hot-selling country act to objects of a national crush, the only thing they appeared to take seriously was their music. They were ubiquitous then, a brassy girl group that could outplay and outsing any band in Nashville, with runway-model looks and a refreshingly genuine manner. Their image was equal parts strong-willed big sister, freewheeling college dorm mate, and potty-mouthed flirty girl at the end of the bar, a combination that drew country fans of both sexes and all ages and then soaked up more listeners from outside the genre.
Their appeal was infectious.
They were clearly enjoying every minute of their ride to the top. Jog your memory for specific examples. One showed them packed into a bathtub with giggling faces and goofy sneakers sticking out of the bubbles, sisters Martie Maguire and Emily Robison clutching their fiddle and banjo while singer Natalie Maines belted a song into a scrub brush. Another had them stuffed in the back of a limo, all glammed-up and chowing down on fast food. Or watch their videos on YouTube. In one prerecorded vignette, Natalie mistakes the bidet Sex flirt talented Dallas Texas their fancy hotel bathroom for a water fountain.
Martie is the only Chick visible, standing on a riser and sawing on her fiddle in unison with a pennywhistle player hidden in the shadows. When the body of the song hits, the lights come on and the three Chicks march down stairs to the front of the stage. Their look is all sass and sparkle, with Martie in a sequined tube top and jeans, Emily in a sleek green skirt and halter top, and Natalie in a royal-blue minidress with black boots and wristbands. Martie looks the most like a country performer, always smiling and keeping eye contact with fans.
Emily is more reserved, Sex flirt talented Dallas Texas on her banjo and closing her eyes when she harmonizes. Natalie, however, is the show-stealer. Her voice is strong and sharp, the kind you feel in your chest when you hear it. She punctuates the lyrics by cocking her head and throwing up her hands. During instrumental breaks she stomps to the back of the stage, waving her arms and spinning around.
Most people would feel self-conscious dancing like that alone in their bedroom. Natalie acts as if the spotlight is the most natural place in the world for her. The audience, to put it mildly, gets it. The crowd shots show plenty of guys singing and dancing in the aisles. They stare at the Chicks and sing along with every verse and then, on the choruses, turn and sing to one another. You get the feeling watching the younger faces that every time the Dixie Chicks took the stage, an arena full of girls decided to start a band, just as boys once did watching the Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show.
These fans feel like that song is theirs. Then the clip ends. Because nobody pictures giant zippers and family sing-alongs when they think of the Chicks anymore. Mention of the group now conjures images of an embattled protest band, free-speech crusaders who took the stage looking more like the Clash than any musicians Nashville ever produced. But even that idea of the Chicks is dated. And neither album will sound or sell like the Dixie Chicks. The short answer to what happened is known in band lore as the Incident.
Bush was from Texas. In barely five years, their first three records had sold 28 million copies. Their then-current album, Home, had sold 6 million in six months. But in the ten years since Natalie spoke those words, none of those records has sold even one million more copies, and the Dixie Chicks as an entity scarcely exists.
How could an impromptu bit of between-song banter cause so much damage? And why did millions of fans never forgive them? And they went onstage and they performed these songs, which were pretty bad. Basically western swing, very old-fashioned, very not-contemporary. But the one thing that was very, very clear was that they were three beautiful girls, and incredibly talented, and they could really play.
And if they had a willingness to kind of, like, change direction, moving more into a contemporary country music space, there actually could be a really interesting slot for them.
There were four of them then, all seasoned bluegrass players, even though Martie was a freshman at SMU and Emily just a high school sophomore at Greenhill. Along the way they met guitarist Robin Macy and bassist Laura Lynch, women in their early thirties who would round out the group, splitting vocals and bringing a smart business sense. They settled on a sound—equal parts bluegrass and B-movie singing cowboy—and a look. Dressed in fringed skirts, Western shirts, and cowgirl boots, the Chicks moved quickly from street corners to coffeehouses, then to clubs, and finally to the studio. But as the sisters matured, their ambition grew too.
They wanted to be country stars. What remained was the trio that Renshaw discovered. They were already remarkably successful for a regional act, big enough to have an office, an administrative assistant, and their own bus. I got a paycheck every two weeks. Music Row was already aware of the Chicks and impressed by their organization; they sold more merchandise—T-shirts, bumper stickers, and coloring books—than most national country acts.
But their image and sound were too gimmicky, and every Sex flirt talented Dallas Texas label had passed on them at least once. He gave them a developmental deal, which came with no guarantees. The Chicks would record demos, and if Sony liked them, a record would get cut.
Their first attempts were good but not great. Her great-uncle had taught Buddy Holly some of his first guitar chords, and her father, Lloyd Maines, was a sought-after steel guitarist and producer in Texas. They were impressed enough to book a gig with her in Austin and invite Chancey, who in turn was blown away. This was a lineup that would sell.
Just 21 years old, she was a funny, brash force of nature, wholly uninterested in the cowgirl shtick that preceded her. The Western costumes were shelved and the yodeling s dropped from the set lists. Negotiating a new direction was tense at times. We were all moving around like a chess set.
But the creative tension was working; both songs made the cut. Most days ended with a beer run, followed on at least one occasion by a recorded burping contest. The sound was unmistakably country, but it had an edge. Sony needed that to happen. Sony Nashville had been limping along with Patty Loveless, Collin Raye, and Joe Diffie, none of whom had ever had multiplatinum records.
The Chicks had the potential to change all that. But they Sex flirt talented Dallas Texas showed the potential to cause a unique kind of headache. In August they were introduced to the rest of the Sony family at a company-wide conference. Every Sony division was represented, from rap to rock. Craig Campbell, the Sony Nashville publicist ased to the Chicks, was there with the girls. A lot of gears go into motion when a Nashville label decides to give an act the big push. Staff accompany the artists to every concert, interview, and photo and video shoot.
They become like family. These girls knew who they were. The harder part was getting the Chicks on country radio, which has more power in the industry than even the labels. Unlike other genres, country music has no path to commercial success other than through radio play.
Performers have to master the art of the schmooze, to become adept at charming programming directors. Even after Congress deregulated radio, inallowing companies like Clear Channel and Cumulus to buy up hundreds of stations, artists still had to make those rounds.
The long climb gave Campbell, the publicist, time to get the Chicks attention on nontraditional outlets. The song peaked at seven in the spring ofand the budding Chicks army was eager for a second single. About that time, Chancey figured out that something special was happening.
C hancey had no idea. In June Wide Open Spaceswhich had been released at the end of January, was certified gold, forcopies sold. While the label was planning a gold-record party for the end of summer, the album was certified platinum, and the trajectory never leveled off. Backstage that night, the reality of their new lives started to sink in. Our mouths were open and flies were coming out. The team worked hard to manage the momentum.
Because the minute they saw Emily rip on the banjo or Martie on the fiddle, that would just lay them out. That put them in front of thirty thousand to forty thousand people a night. Their fan base continued to grow and diversify. But before the year ended, the band needed to produce a second album.
This would be a different experience from the first one. This time they had to hustle and meet high expectations. Now they were inundated with pitches by Nashville songwriters wanting a Chicks cut. The song featured a sexual reference that concerned label execs, and Worley, who was co-producing again, brought it up with her. The second album, Flydebuted at one on both the country and pop album charts in September That meant yet another party, capped off by what had become a Chicks ritual. Early on, the girls had decided that certain career milestones— one singles, one albums, gold and platinum certifications—would be commemorated by the inking of a chicken-foot tattoo on top of their feet.
Country is something of a ghetto. Listeners turn on their radios expecting to hear lyrics about lives that resemble their own, sung by artists they can relate to.
So the male legends of country music have maintained humble, everyman personas, and the females have been polite girls next door. And none of them have ever gotten too big to maintain a personal tie with their audience. Artists who polish their sound to chase pop success have always faced a backlash, as Faith Hill learned in the nineties and Taylor Swift is learning now.
It is an accusation of betrayal. The arbiter of all this is country radio, which defines what real country is.
The determination can seem random. But the definition does evolve, and the innovative acts are the ones who play the rest of the game well enough to get away with bending the rules. The Chicks held their ground and then sweet-talked their way onto the air. Initially Sony Nashville managed to keep pace. Typically this happens after a second or third album, an acknowledgment of the basic unfairness of record deals. But the Chicks were on a faster track. In February the label quietly bumped their royalty rate from 13 percent, the industry standard, to 16 percent.
And then came Fly. For the first seven months after its late-August release, it sold roughly half a million copies a month. The Chicks took the dispute public, a move not without precedent. The Chicks were less subtle. I have no idea. The spat turned into the biggest public pissing match Nashville had ever seen. After nine months with no headway, the band had a lawyer send Sony a letter declaring the Chicks free Sex flirt talented Dallas Texas.
Then they ed rock artists like Courtney Love and Don Henley in a campaign protesting the unfairness of the record industry. But those steps paled next to the hardball that followed. In October the Chicks booked time in an Austin studio and started recording on their own. They spread word that they were creating a bluegrass album and shopping it to other labels. But even more ificantly, Sony agreed to let them be handled by New York instead of Nashville. With their loyal country fans firmly in hand, the Chicks wanted Sony New York to make them pop stars.Sex flirt talented Dallas Texas
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