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Canadian country star Michelle Wright tells Gary James
about her influences and career

Michelle Wright Michelle Wright can do no wrong!

She is one of the most awarded artists in Canadian country music history. She has over 30 major music industry awards to her credit and a string of 23 Top Ten hits on Canadian radio, including seven Number One singles.

Michelle Wright is the first Canadian-born artist in the modern era of country music to have a Top Ten hit in America (Take It Like A Man - 1992), a Number One video on CMT (Take It like A Man - 1992) and to win a major U.S. music industry award - Academy Of Country Music Top New Female Artists - 1993.

GJ:Tell me about this town you grew up in - Merlin, Ontario (Canada). Was it a country music town?

MW: Well, I don't know that I can say what people listened to. I don't really know. I know it's a farm town. It's a small town of 600 people. Because of the proximity of being just across the border from Detroit, most of us grew up listening to CKLW, which is a pretty heavily laden motown station - motown pop and rock. I've kind of always been a crossover act, before crossover was cool. It's unfortunate that my record label didn't have a crystal ball to recognise how relevant the music I was bringing to them was going to be. I can tell you my parents were country music singers and performers, therefore I was exposed to a great deal of country music growing up and also my stepbrother played The Beatles records. So, I had listened to a lot of Beatles and rock'n'roll, R&B and Motown.

GJ: Having parents in the business, was it only natural then that you would pursue a showbusiness career?

MW: I don't necessarily know that it's a natural thing. Some people do and some people don't. I think there's no doubt of the influence of my parents music and the fact that we had a garage full of musical instruments. I'm the only one in the family that went that way. I think their influence cannot be denied, that's for sure.

GJ: You started out playing drums not guitar.

MW: Yes.

GJ: Karen Carpenter was a drummer before she took centrestage. Did she influence you at all?

MW: You know Karen was definitely an influence and actually it's a little freaky sometimes if you listen to a Karen Carpenter record and you listen to my voice. There's a lot of similarity. We're both altos for one thing. I definitely was influenced by Karen Carpenter. I ended up being a drummer basically by process of elimination. I also liked to dance and had a very strong sense of groove and rhythm. And, it just came very naturally to me. Again, I think that had to do with listening to a lot of that motown music and dancing to Soul Train every Saturday afternoon. Karen Carpenter was an influence on me in many ways. As a matter of fact, I remember the day she died. I was in Indiana:

GJ: I've heard there are rock groups in Canada that are doing so well, they sell their tapes at the bars they're performing in. They've rejected major label deals because they make more money on their own. Have you heard about that situation and could you have done the same thing?

MW: Well, I did do the same thing. For 10 years, I played the clubs, 6 nights a week in Canada, a few years in America, just crossing the border a little bit. I did sell my CD's independently. So I did all that and couldn't seem to get a record deal either. There's only a population of 33 million in our entire country. I think California has a population of 27 million or something and the only country artist they had signed to a record deal at the time (the early 90's) was Dwight Yokam. So, Canada is actually starting to do pretty good statistically speaking. Not a lot of signings went in for country artists at one point.

GJ: Weren't you on another label before Arista?

MW: My manager had an independent label called Savannah Records and we were distributed by Warner Bros. I believe at the time, my manager's label was the label I made my first independent record on which got me my record deal. My manager - we're together to this day, I think we're starting our sixteenth year. He's a real hard working, brilliant guy. He had this record label and it helped my career a lot.

GJ: What did you think of Nashville the first time you set foot in that city?

MW: Well, I love Nashville. I've done the hall of fame a few times. I just love it. I thiought it was awesome. I remembered when I moved here - for the first few years I kind of just drove around in disbelief that I was really living here and a part of this community.

GJ: You've won a lot of awards. What does that mean to you personally and professionally?

MW: Well, of course it's great personally, it just feels great to know that your peers are rewarding you. I think the respect of the industry has been something that's been important to me. I know that longevity is a key thing here. I wanted to be able to do this for a while and therefore I think you have to be very careful about the music you make, the decisions you make and how you represent yourself. At least I think you do. (Laughs). And so when the industry gives you the nod, it's awesome.

Professionally we need to sell records in order to survive in this business. So, anytime you win an award, the focus changes a lot and the focus is on you. So, I think it's a great help. Not a necessity always. Obviously, there are people having great careers without having won many awards. So, there's no rule.

GJ: Was it tough opening for Randy Travis and Kenny Rogers? How were you treated?

MW: Just fabulously!! They really set the standard for me. It wasn't difficult at all. It's funny, I've toured with some of the top acts - Alabama, Randy Travis, Kenny Rogers and I was always amazed at how they treated their opening act. We were never treated as if we were an irrelevant part of things. We were always trusted by those class acts as people who mattered. It's like when I met Tammy Wynette - she was such a beautiful, lovely, loving woman that I realize now that these are the standards of the legends.

GJ: Your bio. Describes you as, 'a woman who's lived, loved, lost and survived to love again'.

MW: (Laughs). I love those bios.

GJ: What did you lose?

MW: Oh, C'mon we're all out here dealing with life you know? There's great joys and there's great disappointments. I've lost loves in my life. I've lost records that I thought were headed up the charts and just didn't. The loves that I lost - it's amazing how God works in his most amazing ways. He was just preparing me for the right one and I mean that without being cliché. It's very true for me. I never felt what I feel right now for my fiance Mark. When I met him, I knew he was the one. The loss I think would be loves, but that's O.K. and a few records that I'd hoped would have headed up the charts. What else would you lose at really?

GJ: You're also described in your bio as 'a woman who knows what life is all about'. As you see it - what is life all about?

MW: Well, I think it sure is about a lot of ups and downs. Without fail, a challenging time has always led me to a better place and I just love that. I've learned that while I'm being challenged to try and just sit quietly and recognise that if I don't let this get the best of me, then on the other end of this is something really good for me. So the thing I think that life is most about is certainly to come from a place of love - if you can be kind to people, be loving to them and not be judgemental. Also, at the end of challenges are good things.

GJ: So, you're in the business to stay?

MW: Yes. I will tell you the business has been very good to me. If it all ends today - that's O.K.

© 2002 Gary James. Reproduced with permission. All rights reserved.


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