Lee Ann Womack
From Friday’s Weekend Look section of The Oklahoman.
Tulsa casino show to feature country singer Lee Ann Womack
Country singer Lee Ann Womack knows her 2000 single “I Hope You Dance,” one of the biggest country crossover hits of recent memory, continues to define her career for many people.
“It’s a curse and a blessing,” Womack said in a recent phone interview from Malibu, Calif. “Mainly it’s a blessing because … I can have a career off that one song; well, I have had a certain career off that one song. But the good thing about it is it enables me to be able to go and do what I want to do, and that’s play real traditional country music.”
The Texas native also knows that some concert-goers who come to her show Saturday at Tulsa’s Osage Million Dollar Elm Casino will be surprised to hear her honky-tonk songs and old-school ballads.
“You look out and you see a lot of kids,” she said of her shows. “But they really enjoy it. … If you play good music then that’s what really matters. While I think they may be surprised to hear (the Bob Wills’ classic) ‘San Antonio Rose’ and stuff like that, they really enjoy it.”
Traditional country songs about love, heartache and hard drinking make up much of her widely praised 2008 album “Call Me Crazy,” including the first two singles, “Last Call” and “Solitary Thinkin’.” Her seventh record puts her firmly in the same camp as like-minded neo-traditionalist George Strait: Tony Brown, Strait’s longtime producer, helmed the project, she recorded the duet “Everything But Quits” with the King of Country, and she covered “The King of Broken Hearts,” from his “Pure Country” soundtrack.
“When I was in high school, he was coming up really strong in the ’80s, you know. I just went to his shows quite a bit, listened to his records, and he was a big influence on me,” she said.
And call her crazy, but she also references late country greats such as Keith Whitley, Hank Williams and Johnny Cash on “I Think I Know” and blends love and entomology (the study of insects) on the enigmatic “The Bees,” which features Keith Urban on backing vocals.
“I think my career’s really kind of been a history of risks. I mean, for my very first single I played a song called ‘Never Again, Again,’ which was just so, so country that … some radio stations wouldn’t even play it ’cause they said, ‘You know, this is too country for today’s market.’ So, even just starting with the very first single that’s kind of what I do,” she said with a laugh.
“Sometimes I think maybe I should be more safe, but you know, I just really feel like when it comes down to choosing songs or writing songs or making decisions about my career, there’s only one thing I really know how to do and that’s not to pick the song that I think’ll have the most mass appeal but to pick the song I think is best. And that’s just how I try to make music.”
The singer-songwriter feels she is known not for as much for her commercial appeal as for her heartfelt music. Before making “Call Me Crazy,” she scrapped a planned album after she “thought the heart and soul out of it.”
“I love all kinds of music. I just happen to think that traditional country music, I just think it’s beautiful. You know, it’s American; it’s something that we can claim as our own. And I just I love the stories that country music tells; you know, it’s about real life. And I’m a fan of all those traditional country artists,” said Womack, who counts George Jones and Tammy Wynette among her influences.
As for her signature song, she said “I Hope You Dance” has given her a chance to become part of people’s real-life stories. The song is a favorite at weddings, proms, graduations, first birthdays and even funerals.
“That’s really a blessing. I mean, I get to be a part of people’s lives forever,” she said. “If I hadn’t had that song, the next generation might not even know who I was. You know, so it is a blessing and it is great to be a part of people’s lives in those great ways.
“Of course, they also use it for funerals and things like that. So, I get a lot of sad, sad stories. And that’s painful sometimes, you know, right before you walk onstage.”
Womack got to make her own family memories on her latest album with “The Story of My Life,” which features her teenage daughter Aubrie on vocals.
“I love to take her in studio. It’s great to watch your kid and think, “Gol, I can’t believe she can open her mouth and do that.’ She’s a great singer,” she said.
Lee Ann Womack with Steel Magnolia
When: 7 p.m. Saturday.
Where: Osage Million Dollar Elm Casino’s Osage Event Center, 951 W 36 Street North, Tulsa.
Information: (918) 699-7667 or www.milliondollarelm.com/event-center.