“There is a word,” she tells them. “Hope.”
Naomi and her daughter Wynonna carry that hope as they embark on “The Judds: The Last Encore” at the end of November, their first multi-city reunion trek since their brief jaunt in 2000. Named by the winning entry in a fan contest, this jaunt leads from Nov. 26 in Green Bay, Wis., to Dec. 19 in Phoenix, Ariz. Ticketing includes a Fan Package, with seating in rows six through 10, early venue access, a pre-show reception and special T-shirt; all that is available as well in the VIP Package, which ups the seating to rows one through five and throws in an exclusive post-concert meet and greet, autographed commemorative plaque and free digital photo.
It’s tempting to think that this tour was made possible at least in part by Naomi’s emotional response to that LP Field appearance in 2009. “I think she feels that every time,” agreed Wynonna at her mother’s sunlit kitchen table in Leipers Fork, just outside of Nashville. “My experience is every time Mom is thrust back into the limelight, she is like a little kid in the candy store. She is in her element and wants more.”
“Yes, I want more of it,” Naomi agreed. “It’s like they say when you have your first hit of meth or crack, that it’s so completely out of this world that you have to have more. That’s when you become addicted. You’re continually searching for that feeling.”
“So,” Wynonna said, jumping onto this train of thought. “I’m kind of like crack?”
“Yes,” Naomi replied. “Except you’re good for me.”
The Judds were good for a lot of people for a number of years. Beginning in 1984, they won nine CMA Awards over an eight-year period, including seven straight victories as Vocal Group or Vocal Duo of the Year. They used a predominantly acoustic setting to celebrate music (“Turn It Loose,” written by The Judds, William Bickhardt, Brent Maher and Don Schlitz), womanhood (“Girls Night Out,” by Jeff Bullock and Brent Maher), mother/daughter relationships (“Mama He’s Crazy,” by Kenny O’Dell) and faith (“I Know Where I’m Going,” by Bickhardt, Maher and Schlitz). Their catalog includes 14 No. 1 singles and more than 20 million albums sold. And they mesmerized fans with an unusual degree of honesty about their family situation: a rebel daughter living, working and creating with a very protective mother.
Understandably, even in the midst of their success as a duo, the arrangement created a lot of tension, which they didn’t completely understand at the time.
“I couldn’t look from the outside in,” Wynonna remembered. “I was immersed in it. I was almost content with being the more dependent one. I didn’t have to think, I didn’t have to do; Mom would just do. She sits there and writes her notes and her lists, and she’s got the wardrobe and everything planned, and I just show up. I’m like the heart and she’s the head of the operation, where I just come in to sing and I let her take care of so much. It’s like the kid who lets their mom make their lunch every day. You know, nobody ever really taught me how to make my own lunch.”
Wynonna was forced to change that pattern in one of the most storied end-of-the-road chapters in Country Music history. After Naomi was diagnosed with hepatitis C virus (HCV), she went on one last Judds tour, ending their run in 1991 and paving the way for Wynonna to launch her solo career by signing with Curb Records in 1992.
Left to sink or swim on her own, Wynonna found her artistic voice quickly, threading her music with R&B influences. Looking back, Mike Curb, Founder and Chairman, Curb Records, remembered his reaction to one of her early singles, written by Jill Colucci, Stewart Harris and Sam Lorber. “‘No One Else on Earth’ — with horns?” he wondered. “I’m not sure that ‘No One Else on Earth’ was a Country record by any stretch.”
But it worked for Country fans, who eventually bought 5 million copies of Wynonna, the flagship album in a solo career that stands nicely on its own. Naomi’s HCV eventually went into remission and she pursued other creative avenues, including writing an autobiography, Love Can Build a Bridge (with Bud Schaetzle), and delivering motivational speeches. Still, as time passed, fans coupled their support for both women with a longing for their reunion. They have come together publicly in brief junctures, particularly with a performance billed as “Their Final Concert” in 1991, at the time the highest-rated pay-per-view in history; their first “Power to Change” show on New Year’s Eve 1999 in Phoenix, Ariz.; and their “Power to Change” tour, sponsored by Kmart in 2000.
This time around, “The Judds: The Last Encore” tour represents two women whose history — or “herstory,” as Wynonna likes to call it — has led to a new level of understanding based on their commitment to use their high-profile tour to benefit those in need. Fifteen percent of proceeds from their Fan and VIP packages will be donated to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, as well as 100 percent of proceeds from sales of a specific merch item. Also, a Judds/St. Jude video, shown for 48 hours exclusively on www.Oprah.com to coincide with their appearance on “The Oprah Show,” will include prompts to donate to the hospital.
The tour has an additional intention of reducing the mother/daughter friction that has accompanied them throughout their professional lives. They still bat one-liners and barbed remarks back and forth in conversation, though less competitively and more as a kind of communal joke.
“We cry a lot,” Wynonna conceded. “We’re trying to find what it is that we want to say and we want to do. I know what we don’t want. I don’t want to be stranded in this place of the past where people go, ‘Gosh, there’s no life there.’”
That’s an important distinction The Judds hope to make on their tour. They hinted at their new direction during a performance at the Riverfront Park Daytime Stage during the 2010 CMA Music Festival, which included a slow-boiling blues feel in “Give a Little Love,” a New Orleans flavor on
“Rockin’ with the Rhythm of the Rain” and a Georgia Satellites riff grafted onto Wynonna’s “No One Else on Earth.” They weren’t running away from their past but they weren’t trying to recreate it either. Instead, they looked for nuanced changes as they sought new perspectives on some very familiar music.
“To me, it’s a beat thing,” Wynonna explained. “I’m looking for sounds. I’m looking for tempos. I’m looking for, instead of this being all acoustic, let’s throw in a guitar chord with some power. I’m looking out in the audience and seeing that 12-year-old girl who just loves Miley Cyrus and the contemporaries of music today and the more pop, slick sound. I’m looking for a way to stay real and committed to the past by honoring it. And yet how do we move the furniture around and update our look — you know, no more ‘Dynasty’ shoulder pads and that kind of thing?”
Picking up on the shoulder pad reference, Naomi quipped, “It might give you a place to set your drink.”
The Judds relationship is, they admit, a bit of a Ping-Pong match for fans. The two compete for attention, throw in their small asides and vacillate between jokes and intense self-examination. But even as Naomi and Wynonna have nurtured their mutual understanding through the years, a spiritual element has always hovered in the background. The demo that got them signed to RCA Records in 1983 included a gospel song written by Naomi, “When King Jesus Calls His Children Home,” and there’s hardly a show that goes by without her finding a moment to direct the audience toward hope. As a former nurse, Naomi plans to mobilize her hope into action by investigating the connection of mind, body and spirit through a neurology clinic, complete with a neuroscience research center and media lab, which she aims to establish in Franklin, Tenn., after the tour.
“Their spirituality has kept them together through mother/daughter disagreements, through management disagreements, through record company changes, through incredible issues with family members,” Curb observed. “Their spirituality has been their foundation and it has never wavered.”
They’ve learned, however, that they don’t have to force their views about the world upon each other. Both are better able than before to hold back, recognize their differences and live with them. On their 2010 tour, they’ll be onstage together, open to the unscripted, “you-did-not-just-say-that” moments that nearly always come up in their shows. But they’ll travel in separate buses, Naomi with her husband and manager, Larry Strickland, who sings backup with her as a member of The Palmetto State Quartet, and Wynonna perhaps with her children, Elijah and Grace. “This tour is going to be huge for us personally,” Naomi confirmed. “This tour is really going to put all this stuff to the test.”
It is a test, though, that likely has a simple solution.
“The word,” Naomi summed up, “is boundaries — one of the most important words we’ve learned.”
On the Web: www.TheJuddsTour2010.com
Article provided by CMA Close Up News Service. Used with permission.
© 2010 CMA Close Up® News Service / Country Music Association®, Inc.