Women give new key to country music Sisters: Audiences and promoters more open to concert tours by female stars.

August 18, 1996|By Steve Morse | Steve Morse,BOSTON GLOBE

"Sisters are doin' it for themselves," sang Aretha Franklin and Annie Lennox in a hit duet in the '80s. That song's theme could now apply to the country music field, where more women are smashing the notion that they need to book shows with men if they hope to succeed. Such a belief has been part of country music's macho slant for years.

"Oh, bunk!" says Mary Chapin Carpenter, who is touring this summer with Trisha Yearwood and Kim Richey. Each woman has men in her band, but none is advertised on the bill.

"Here's the thing," Carpenter says. "In years past, when women artists were not selling as many records as men, the promoters would think, logically so, that 'we need a man on the bill.' That was their prerogative because it was their pocketbook. But I think that's been proven a dated attitude. Now there's more openness. Promoters are saying, 'Yeah, sure, I'll promote that show.' "

Earlier this year, country singers Pam Tillis, Lorrie Morgan and Carlene Carter toured together, striking a blow for Nashville sisterhood. And three other female stars -- Wynonna, Amy Grant and Alison Krauss -- discussed the possibility of a tour, but have yet to merge their schedules.

"It's starting to become less of an oddity," Yearwood says of such tours. She adds that she was "beyond ready" for this new tour with Carpenter and Richey, which lasts through August.

"We've only done three shows so far, but musically, it seems to be working very well. It's very refreshing," says Yearwood. "And we're all singing together at times."

Yearwood has joined Carpenter on the latter's tongue-in-cheek hit, "He Thinks He'll Keep Her." And Richey, a newcomer, has joined Yearwood for the Linda Ronstadt-style "Believe Me Baby (I Lied)." Written by Richey, it's the first single from Yearwood's fine, lyrically incisive new album, "Everybody Knows," due Aug. 27.

Another new song reportedly going over well in concert is Yearwood's "Hello, I'm Gone," a sort of "Thelma & Louise" tale about a woman who leaves her boyfriend and hits the road. It was written by Kevin Welch and proves that Yearwood is by no means predisposed to using songs just by women.

"It's not a mission of mine to do that," says Yearwood. "I've never felt that women could automatically write better songs for women than men could, just because they're coming from that perspective. One song I did, 'The Song Remembers When,' was written by Hugh Prestwood. He's a guy. So I'm just looking for good songs wherever they are."

The idea for the all-women tour, however, was to celebrate sisterhood. The concept stemmed from a TV show three years ago, "The Women of Country," which featured 30 women ranging HTC from contemporaries like Carpenter, Yearwood, Wynonna, Patty Loveless, Emmylou Harris and Suzy Bogguss, to pioneers like Patsy Montana (who first demanded equal pay for playing barn dances) and Rose Maddox.

"To this day," says Carpenter, "people come up to me and say they saw that 'Women of Country' show. I thought it did a very good job of acknowledging and illuminating women of all different generations who have been involved with this music."

Right after the show, some of the guests broached the topic of a tour. "We talked about a much more extensive tour with many more artists and maybe turning it into a charity thing. But needless to say, it was harder to pull off than to talk about," Carpenter says.

Given the increased success of women in country music (many cite Reba McEntire for opening the door), there's reason to expect more women-fronted tours in the future.

Carpenter does not want people to view her latest tour as just a gender novelty act. "People shouldn't see this as a novelty," she says. "It's three musicians who enjoy each other's company and want to work together. You do it because you feel a kinship with each other as artists."

Pub Date: 8/18/96

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