McBride takes country music by the reins |

McBride takes country music by the reins

Rick Chandler

Female country singers have always been tough — they’ve had to be. From Patsy Cline to Loretta Lynn to Tammy Wynette, the ladies have always had a few extra rungs to climb on the ladder of country success; and only the tough ones made it.

While Martina McBride gives a nod to her resilient forebears, she also represents a new, more independent generation of female country artists. Just look at the stories told in songs such as “Goodbye Earl” by The Dixie Chicks (abusive husband gets poisoned, rolled up in tarp and dumped in a gully), “That Don’t Impress Me Much” by Shania Twain (You think you’re so special? Think again, bub) and McBride’s “Independence Day” (an anti-domestic abuse anthem). The message is simple: Don’t feel that you have to open any doors for us, guys; we’ll do it ourselves. Call it country music’s feminist movement.

Few represent this better than McBride, who has combined a powerful singing voice with girl-next-door good looks to become 2007’s top female touring act in any genre. And among country acts overall, she is topped only by Kenny Chesney, The Hank Williams Jr./Lynyrd Skynyrd Tour and Brad Paisley as top draws on the road.

Her success is no surprise to anyone in the industry today. But 16 years ago, when she couldn’t get arrested in Nashville, it was another story. She had moved there with sound engineer husband John McBride in 1990, and when John went to work on tour for Garth Brooks, Martina got a job selling T-shirts at the concerts so she could go along.

All the while, she was trying to break into the business herself. After several rejections, she finally got RCA to listen to her music by sending them unsolicited demo tapes in a large, purple envelope, marked “Requested material.” The ruse got her noticed, led to a recording contract, and a little more than a year after selling T-shirts at Garth Brooks concerts, she was opening for him.

“It took a long time for me to be taken seriously as a singer, artist, and producer,” McBride told “I’m glad I had to prove myself because it makes it that much sweeter.

“I have learned over the years how important it is to listen to that little voice inside you,” she said. “Actually, learning to trust your instincts and being true to yourself really go hand in hand. The next step, and something that can really be hard in this business or in life in general, is to have the courage to act on those instincts even when everyone else is trying to get you to do something different.”

Born Née Martina Mariea Schiff, on July 29, 1966, in Medicine Lodge, Kansas (population 200),” the future Mrs. McBride was the third of four children, and one of a nine-person high school graduating class. She turned to music at an early age in part to get the attention of her father, who fronted a band called The Schiffters. By age 7 she was singing with the band, soon to be joined by her younger brother, Marty (who now plays in her band on tour).

After high school Martina formed her own band and began playing local gigs in nearby Wichita. Although the band didn’t last very long, Martina met John McBride during that time, and the two were married in 1988.

Part of McBride’s lasting appeal has been her ability to cross genres. Her debut album was the honky tonk-flavored “The Time Has Come,” in 1992. Her first hit, “My Baby Loves Me,” came from her more pop-oriented second album, 1993’s “The Way That I Am.” She became even more visible in 1994 with the crossover success of “Independence Day,” also from the second album.

In 2005 she released an 18-track CD of classic country music standards, “Timeless,” which hit No. 1 on the Billboard Country Album Chart in its opening week.

The four-time Country Music Association Female Vocalist of the Year and Grammy Award nominee recently released her ninth studio album, “Waking Up Laughing,” this past April.

The Harveys concert is part of her 50-date Waking Up Laughing Tour which will conclude in August.

And Monday, July 30, is the debut of ABC-TV’s “Six Degrees of Martina McBride,” a reality show in which six contestants will try to discover a personal tie to McBride through six complete strangers.

It’s an ironic format, considering that McBride herself rose to stardom in Nashville despite not having a single connection herself. Well, if one doesn’t count a big, purple envelope.

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