The Dixie Chicks accept the Album Of The Year GRAMMY at the 49th GRAMMY Awards in 2007
Photo: Michael Caulfield/WireImage.com
Deep 10: Dixie Chicks' Taking The Long Way
An offhand remark completely changed the lives of Natalie Maines, Emily Robison and Martie Maguire, collectively known as the Dixie Chicks. The GRAMMY-winning, chart-topping trio was onstage in England in 2003 when Maines introduced the song "Travelin' Soldier" with a reference to the then-imminent U.S. invasion of Iraq. "We're ashamed that the president of the United States is from Texas," Maines declared. When word of the comment spread outside the concert hall, reaction was swift and furious: The Dixie Chicks were essentially banned from airplay on country music radio stations and some former fans were enraged enough to stage anti-Dixie Chicks rallies.
Three years later, the trio charted a new direction forward with GRAMMY-winning producer Rick Rubin on Taking The Long Way, a powerful work that answered critics by way of the defiant single "Not Ready To Make Nice." Following are 10 lesser-known facts about the album that parlayed controversy into beautiful music.
1. The Dixie Chicks addressed the controversy head-on.
The album opens with "The Long Way Around," which includes lines such as "It's been two long years now since the top of the world came crashing down." The song also contains some less political details of the band's bio. In the first verse, Maines sings, "I hit the highway in a pink RV with stars on the ceiling." When Maines joined the band in 1995, they were in fact touring in an Allegro Class A motorhome with a customized pink interior that included a working disco ball.
2. "Not Ready To Make Nice" began as a song titled "Undivided."
Songwriter Dan Wilson, who co-wrote six songs on the album, was developing a song for the Chicks called "Undivided," which expressed regret at the political divisiveness in the country. But Maines worried the lyrics might suggest she was forgiving those who had treated the band badly. Reflecting the band's unapologetic stance, "Undivided" quickly morphed into "Not Ready To Make Nice."
3. The tape on Maines' hand in the"Not Ready To Make Nice" video is not symbolic.
The image of Maines middle fingers held together with two bands of black tape created a great deal of chatter among Chicks' fans attempting to parse the meaning. Was Maines shaping her hand into a "W" a further jab at the president? Was she sending a subliminal message to haters? In a 2006 interview with ABC News, the singer said the tape was more orthopedic than symbolic: she'd taken a fall prior to the video shoot and was treating strained ligaments in the fingers.
4. Maines' father is featured on the album.
As on all the band's previous major label releases, Taking The Long Way features the pedal steel guitar work of Lloyd Maines. In fact, he was a part of the Dixie Chicks sound before his daughter was, having played on a couple of their indie releases before Natalie joined the band in 1995. Sisters Robison and Maguire first became aware of their future lead singer when Lloyd passed along a demo he had recorded with his daughter.
5. Producer Rick Rubin wasn't afraid of the group's past.
While many mainstream country producers may have been wary of working with the group, Rubin thought the group should use the controversy to their advantage. "I thought it was the greatest thing in the world," said Rubin in a 2006 radio interview. "I felt like it was the start of their career. … In one stroke [they] went from being loved artists to serious artists."
6. Rubin suggested the Dixie Chicks approach the album as rock stars.
According to Maines, Rubin said, "I think this should sound like a great rock act making a country album, not a country act making a rock album." Rubin assembled some true rock musicians as the core backing band for the album, including Red Hot Chili Peppers drummer Chad Smith, Wrecking Crew keyboardist Larry Knechtel, guitarist Smokey Hormel, and multi-instrumentalist Jonny Polonsky.
7. For the first time, the Dixie Chicks co-wrote every song on their album.
They also had an impressive roster of songwriters contribute, including Sheryl Crow, Linda Perry, Keb' Mo', Pete Yorn, Crowded House's Neil Finn, the Jayhawks' Gary Louris, and Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers' Mike Campbell.
8. The album wasn't just about politics.
While Taking The Long Way was largely created and received as a response to controversy, it also addresses nonpolitical topics and includes songs that are extremely personal. "So Hard" addresses Robison and Maguire's struggles with in vitro fertilization (both became mothers to twins before the album's sessions began), and "Silent House" grew from Maines' reflections on caring for a grandmother with Alzheimer's disease.
9. The album made Billboard 200 history.
Taking The Long Way followed 1999's Fly and 2002's Home straight to the top of the chart, making the Chicks the first female group in chart history to have three albums debut at No. 1.
10. The Dixie Chicks made a clean sweep at the 49th GRAMMY Awards.
After enduring boycotts, bans and death threats, the trio received some sweet validation by taking home all five of the GRAMMYs they were nominated for: Album Of The Year and Best Country Album, and Song Of The Year, Record Of The Year and Best Country Performance By A Duo Or Group With Vocal for "Not Ready To Make Nice." As the group took the stage to accept the former award, Maines proclaimed, "I'm ready to make nice!"
(Chuck Crisafulli is an L.A.-based journalist and author whose most recent works include Go To Hell: A Heated History Of The Underworld, Me And A Guy Named Elvis, Elvis: My Best Man, and Running With The Champ: My Forty-Year Friendship With Muhammad Ali.)