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Members include Emily Robison (born on August 16, 1972, in Pittsfield, MA; married Charlie Robison, 1999; children: Gus), vocals, banjo, dobro, guitar; Laura Lynch (left group, 1995), bass, vocals; Robin Macy (left group, 1992), guitar, vocals; Natalie Maines (joined group, 1995; born on October 14, 1974, in Lubbock, TX; married Michael Tarabay, 1997; divorced, 1999; married Adrian Pasdar, 2000; children: two), lead vocals, guitar; Martie MacGuire (born on October 12, 1969, in York, PA; married Ted Seidel, 1995; divorced; married Gareth MacGuire, 2002; children: twins), vocals, fiddle, mandolin. Addresses: Record company--Monument/Sony Nashville, 34 Music Square East, Nashville, TN 37203. Website--Dixie Chicks Official Website: http://www.dixiechicks.launch.yahoo.com.
Dixie Chicks ignited the Girl Power era of country music in 1998 with the release of their major label debut Wide Open Spaces. In less than a year after their major label debut, the hot country act was being presented platinum albums, featured in fashion spreads, and given critical acclaim with the added benefit of industry recognition through numerous music award nominations and honors, only to have the backlash from country's conservative element threaten their careers.
Sisters Emily Robison and Martie Seidel were multi-instrumentalists from a young age and began playing bluegrass music in a Dallas band. With Laura Lynch and Robin Macy, the sisters began playing for tips on a downtown Dallas street corner in 1989. What started as a lark became serious business when they earned about $375 in one hour. Passersby asked how they could hire the group, and they soon began performing at private parties and conventions. They became one of the region's favorite country acts. Early fans included high-profile businessman and former presidential candidate Ross Perot, and President George W. Bush.
The first incarnation of the Dixie Chicks was a caricature of an old-time western band. They donned rhinestone studded cowgirl drag and played bluegrass-tinged country, and country swing. When not opening for such established country acts as Garth Brooks, Alan Jackson, and EmmyLou Harris, they recorded commercials for McDonald's and Justin Boots. The group released three independent recordings between 1990 and 1994, which were sold at their shows. Sales of the three recordings totaled around 60,000.
"We've always known how to market ourselves," said Seidel to Southwest Airlines Spirit's Eric Celeste. "Even in the beginning we would milk the novelty of our act. That's how we made our living. We were the 'Texas hometown girls,' and that's what they wanted to see at these conventions where we would play. We could play all the clubs we loved, but that's not where we made our money. We made it playing for the folks at IBM."
Maines Changed Their Style
Natalie Maines, daughter of acclaimed steel guitarist/producer Lloyd Maines, joined the group in 1995. Maines had been awarded a scholarship to the Berklee School of Music and changed her major four times. About the same time, Lloyd Maines had been regularly playing with the Dixie Chicks on their self-produced recordings. When the sisters sought a singer to front the band after Lynch's departure, he just happened to have Natalie's Berklee audition tape with him.
Maines's arrival marked the group's transformation into a mainstream country group with rock-drenched panache. "Natalie is sensitive to the fact that there was a long history of the Dixie Chicks before she got there," Seidel told Celeste. We played so many gigs for so many years where we were just there to look at, just musical wallpaper ... [Maines] deserves a lot of the credit, too. It's not like she is a newcomer. She's carrying on a third generation of Maines musicians." The group sites diverse musical influences including musicians from rock, country, and bluegrass: Bela Fleck, Bob Wills, Sam Bush, Bonnie Raitt, James Taylor, Dolly Parton, Indigo Girls, Emmylou Harris, and Linda Ronstadt.
Dixie Chicks continued as an opening act for country music's elite, performed on the Grand Ole Opry, and on various country-oriented television shows. The group also reportedly showed up in the lobby of talk show host David Letterman's office building for an unsolicited audition, and was promptly kicked out of the building. The trio toured Europe and Japan in addition to performing throughout the Southern and Southwestern United States at venues including Dollywood and the Kerrville Folk Festival. They even played at a Presidential Inaugural Gala. All of this occurred before they had signed a contract with a major label.
Became Stars with Monument Records
The group started 1998 with three professional goals timed with the release of Wide Open Spaces in January: to have a number one record, to earn a gold album, and to get a Country Music Association award nomination. They met all three goals by August.
Wide Open Spaces, their Monument/Sony debut, eventually became a multiplatinum record, selling over 12 million copies. The hit "There's Your Trouble" was widely acclaimed by critics as a saucy antidote to country's syrupy sweet sound, "making Garth Brooks look like a wheezing old man." Dislodging country's "boring pop-wannabes" from the charts was seemingly easy. Wide Open Spaces was the fastest entry into the country top 10 in the SoundScan chart's history.
Critics liked them, too. Rolling Stone called the group "country's finest proponents of high-spirited thrills." In 1999, with the success of the single "Tonight the Heartache's On Me," Billboard asked the rhetorical question "Can these girls do anything wrong? It seems not. Every single has shown impressive chart activity, and their Country Music Association and Grammy Award wins just continue to slather icing on the trio's sweet-tasting cake of success." USA Today selected both "There's Your Trouble" and "Wide Open Spaces" as country singles of the year in 1998 and credited Dixie Chicks with "single-handedly returning the sound of banjo to country radio."
Widened Country's Fan Base
Much of the trio's success can be attributed to their ability to infuse the rootsy sound of traditional country music--a shockingly alternative idea in the modern commercial climate--with the youth-oriented aesthetics of the 1990s Girl Power movement. Subsequently, at a time when country's radio demographics were skewing heavily towards young women, the Dixie Chicks became the voice of a new generation of music buyers. That said, their sudden mainstream popularity--while good for country music--was largely misunderstood. The trio endured cutesy quips likening them to "a country Wilson Phillips," and Rolling Stone's pronouncement as "the redneck answer to the Spice Girls."
Shirley Jinkins of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram took the trio to task, too, calling them "Shania-ized," referring to country-pop star Shania Twain. She wrote that girls were "dressing lean and trendy, showing a little skin and sporting uniformly platinum locks. It's a cohesive, if mainstream, look. The downside is a loss of distinctiveness that the former All-Cowgirl Band had in abundance." Responded Maines, "We might as well look twenty-something as long as we can."
Their cute looks, though helpful in gaining media attention, had a decided downside. "When you're three blond women in this industry, you're at a disadvantage as far as perceptions go," Seidel told Seventeen. In that same article, Robison said some critics and fans might be curious as to who's playing on the CD. "A lot of people in Nashville sing over tracks laid down by studio musicians. I may not be the best banjo player in Nashville, but I can re-create our sound in a live show." She told Country America that fans attending their live shows clearly see that Dixie Chicks are the real deal.
Controversial and Award Winning
In 1999, Dixie Chicks released Fly. The album entered the Billboard 200 at number one, making chart history. It was the first chart-topping album by a country group in the history of the Billboard album chart. Fly featured "Cowboy Take Me Away," a song Seidel cowrote; she and Maines sang it at Robison's wedding. Besides that love song, the Chicks ruffled a few feathers with "Goodbye Earl," a Dennis Linde song--penned in the 1970s--that tells how two friends, one with an abusive husband, put poison in his black-eyed peas and dump his body in a lake. They included a liner note that read, "The Dixie Chicks do not advocate premeditated murder, but love getting even." The group had recorded the song as a funny romp, but some radio listeners, programmers, and critics blanched at the song's violent notions. However, many other people were in their corner. Renee Revett of KXKC Lafayette, Louisiana, as quoted in Billboard, said, "The message in 'Earl,' while certainly more bawdy and satirical, is nothing new to country music." Billboard's Phyllis Stark pointed out, "Martina McBride's 'Independence Day' went to number 12 on the singles chart in 1994 with a virtually identical theme, albeit without the humor. Two of Garth Brooks's early hits, 'The Thunder Rolls,' and 'Papa Loved Mama,' deal with murderous spouses...." The video for the song featured appearances by actors Dennis Franz, Lauren Holly, and Jane Krakowski. Richard Corliss in Time noted that the album "has strong song selection, including five co-written by the Chicks, and a wide range of musical moods; the trio is at home in Appalachian mountain music or trailer-park rock 'n' roll."
The group won recognition from many music organizations for their work on Fly. The National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences gave the Dixie Chicks Grammy awards for Best Country Album and Best Country Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal for "Ready to Run," from the soundtrack for the Julia Roberts movie Runaway Bride They were given Country Music Association awards for Entertainer of the Year, Album of the Year, Vocal Group of the Year, and Music Video of the Year for "Goodbye Earl." The Academy of Country Music also honored them with Album of the Year and Top Vocal Duo or Group awards. The Dixie Chicks were named Favorite Band, Duo or Group (Country Music) at the 2001 American Music Awards.
Finished in Country?
Consolidating their alternative and crossover appeal, the Dixie Chicks joined the all-female Lilith Fair tour in the summer of 1999. They were the first country act ever to play on Lilith's main stage. In 2000, they embarked on a 70-city tour, the trio's first as a headliner. Maines had a son, Jackson Slade, in early 2001, and Robison struggled to become pregnant at that time. Eventually, with the help of a fertility specialist, Robison and her husband became the proud parents of son Charles Augustus ("Gus") in late 2002. Seidel married for a second time, to Irish-born Gareth MacGuire, taking his last name after the marriage.
After renegotiating their recording contracts, the Dixie Chicks returned to recording in 2002, releasing the album Home on their own Sony vanity label, Open Wide. The album was a huge success, earning the group three more Grammy Awards, including one for Best Country Album. Soon after their Grammy wins, however, the group hit a rough spot when at a time when the United States and much of the world were at odds over how to deal with the Iraqi crisis, Maines criticized President of the United States George W. Bush, saying that she was ashamed that he was from her home state of Texas. Several conservative radio stations run by Cumulus Media pulled the trio's discs off their playlists, with many Clear Channel outlets following suit. By way of simultaneously fanning the flames of the controversy and commenting on it, many other stations played the group's singles back to back with Toby Keith's, another top country seller whose pro-war sentiments drew critical comments from Maines. In due course, Maines apologized, but stood by her right to speak her mind, releasing a press statement that read in part, "My comments were made in frustration and one of the privileges of being an American is you are free to voice your own point of view." Many fans were still outraged by her remarks, however, and radio stations continued to boycott the Dixie Chicks. Yet the group's appeal reached far beyond the country playlists and their 2003 live disc Top of the World became a major seller in conjunction with an extremely profitable tour.
As of early 2004, the aftershocks of the incident were still being felt. Country's hardcore conservative base still hadn't forgiven them and few fellow country singers have come to their defense. "A few weeks ago, Merle Haggard said a couple of nice words about us, but that was it," Maguire told Germany's Spiegel magazine in late 2003. "The support we got came from others like [rock icon] Bruce Springsteen." Commenting on the lack of attention from radio and country award shows, the group's co-founder added, "Instead, we won three Grammy awards against much stronger competition. So now we consider ourselves part of the big rock 'n' roll family."
by Linda Dailey Paulson and Ken Burke
Dixie Chicks's Career
Group formed in Dallas, 1989; began playing street corners, conventions and private parties; recorded three independent CDs for Crystal Clear including Little Ol' Cowgirl, 1992, Thank Heavens for Dale Evans, 1992, Shouldn't a Told You That, 1993; Maines joined group, 1995; toured extensively before signing with Monument/Sony; released major label debut, Wide Open Spaces, 1998; released Fly, 1999; released the multi-platinum selling Home, and appeared on their own NBC TV special An Evening With the Dixie Chicks, 2002; released their first live album, Top of the World Tour: Live, 2003.
Dixie Chicks's Awards
Academy of Country Music Awards, Album of the Year, Top Vocal Group, Top New Vocal Duo/Group, 1998; Country Music Association (CMA) Awards, Horizon Award for Best Newcomer, Vocal Group of the Year, 1998; National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences (NARAS), Best Country Album, Best Country Performance By a Duo or Group with Vocal, 1998; Academy of Country Music Awards, Album of the Year and Top Vocal Duo/Group, 1999; American Music Award, Favorite New Artist (Country), 1999; CMA Awards, Vocal Group of the Year, Single of the Year, Music Video of the Year, 1999; NARAS, Best Country Album, Best Country Performance By a Duo or Group with Vocal, 1999; American Music Awards, Favorite New Artist (Country), 1999; Academy of Country Music, Album of the Year, Top New Vocal Duo or Group, Top Vocal Duo or Group, 1999; Academy of Country Music, Album of the Year, Top Vocal Duo or Group, 2000; Nashville Network Awards, Best Group or Duo, 2000; CMA Awards, Entertainer of the Year, Album of the Year, Vocal Group of the Year, Music Video of the Year, 2001; American Music Awards, Favorite Band, Duo or Group (Country), 2001; CMT Flameworthy Award, Video Visionary Award, 2002 People's Choice Award, Favorite Musical Group or Band, 2002; Grammy Award, Best Country Performance By A Duo Or Group With Vocal, Best Country Instrumental Performance, Best Country Album, 2003; CMA Award, International Artist Achievement Award, 2003.
- Selected discography
- "There's Your Trouble," 1998
- "Wide Open Spaces," 1998.
- "I Can Love You Better," 1998.
- "Ready to Run," 1999.
- "Tonight the Heartache's on Me," 1999.
- "You Were Mine," 1999.
- "Cowboy Take Me Away," 2000.
- "Goodbye Earl," 2000.
- "If I Fall You're Going Down With Me," 2001.
- "Without You," 2001.
- "Some Days You Gotta Dance," 2002.
- "Long Time Gone," 2002.
- "Travelin'Soldier," 2003.
- "Landslide," 2003.
- "Godspeed (Sweet Dreams)," 2003.
- Little Ol' Cowgirl Crystal Clear, 1992.
- Thank Heavens for Dale Evans Crystal Clear, 1992.
- Shouldn't a Told You That Crystal Clear, 1993.
- Wide Open Spaces Sony, 1998.
- (Contributor) Runaway Bride (soundtrack), Sony/Columbia, 1999.
- Fly Sony/Monument, 1999.
- Home Open Wide/Sony, 2002.
- Top of the World: Live Open Wide/Sony, 2003.
- Albany Democrat-Herald (Albany, OR), July 10, 1998.
- Atlanta Constitution, January 15, 1998.
- Billboard, January 17, 1998; May 2, 1998; April 10, 1999; April 1, 2000.
- Country America, September 1998.
- Country Weekly, January 20, 1998.
- Entertainment Weekly, December 25, 1998.
- Harper's Bazaar, March 1999.
- Music Row, July 8, 1998.
- People, February 9, 1998; September 28, 1998; October 12, 1998; December 28, 1998; February 3, 2003.
- Rolling Stone, December 10, 1998; December 24, 1998.
- Seventeen, April 1999.
- Tennessean (Nashville, TN), January 26, 1998; February 7, 1998; August 5, 1998.
- Time, September 20, 1999.
- TV Guide, February 20, 1999.
- USA Today, January 27, 1998; September 23, 1998; September 24, 1998; December 29, 1998.
- USA Weekend, November 27, 1998.
- Washington Times, January 25, 1998.
- "Dixie Chicks," Internet Movie Database, http://www.imdb.com (February 18, 2004).
- Additional information provided by Monument/Sony Records publicity materials, 1999.
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