EDITOR’S NOTE: Wynonna will be appearing Friday, Dec. 6 at the Orleans as part of her 12 shows in 19 days Christmas tour that begins Dec. 3.
Wynonna is about to celebrate 30 years in country music so it’s appropriate she return to the city that kick-started her career.
“I was in here in the early 80s, but it was a very different Vegas,” Wynonna said last week from her Nashville home. “There was no Bellagio, no MGM Grand. I started out at Caesars, opening for Merle Haggard.”
Wynonna had the Elvis suite with the grand piano. Wouldn’t we all have wished that?
“It was so fabulous,” she said. “Bigger than life, opening for Merle Haggard. I lived in Vegas for a month as a teenager with my mom before we were famous. Our first show was in Omaha and then in Vegas with Merle. I would say, ‘Am I here or what?’”
Mom is Naomi Judd, who as The Judds were the dominant country duo in the 1980’s with 14 No. 1 hits, five Grammys and eight CMA awards before disbanding in 1991 when Naomi was diagnosed with Hepatitis C.
“Mom is pretty savvy for her age,” Wynonna said. “She has more energy than anyone I know. Her health took precedence over show business. She knew what her limitations were and I was absolutely heart broken. I wanted to go on and carry the Judd legacy, which I did. Thanks to the fans I’m still here.”
Here indeed. Wynonna’s first three singles as a solo artist went to No. 1 on the U.S. country charts, added a fourth No. 1 and charted more than 20 singles. Right now she is working on a new album said to be different than anything going on in country music today.
“The state of country music today, I don’t answer that question,” she said. “I am a Judd not a judge. Having deliberate ignorance is wonderful. I stay focused on my own thing.”
And her own thing can change by the minute for she definitely beats from a different drum.
“I have grown into quite the character,” she said. “I am known for my antics, a child spirit. I try to get away with a lot musically or just playing pranks.”
That maverick style, Wynonna says, will be the same whether it’s Las Vegas, the county fair or the White House.
“I learned early on to know who your audience is and what they want,” she said. “Some nights I sing Young Love (Strong Love) and feel like when I was a teenager or I go into a sassy mood for Nowhere Else On Earth. My show is a tragic comedy.”
The tragic is reflected from dealing with her husband Cactus Moser losing his left leg in an Aug. 2012 motorcycle accident along with seeing her sister/actress and No. 1 University of Kentucky fan Ashley Judd cope with husband and 3-time Indy 500 winner Dario Franchitti’s career-ending injuries last month at the Grand Prix of Houston.
“The night I sang after Cactus’ accident I don’t even remember anything or how I did it,” she said. I’ve learned about appreciating women and men who have had their limbs removed, having been a nurse of my husband for nine-plus months. Cactus is a spokesperson of hope and he’s just constantly a blessing for so many people.”
And for the Orleans audience that will see her perform, the show could be like a church for Love Can Build a Bridge or so raucous it blows the roof off.
“I have the greatest support group of all genres,” Wynonna said. “I know what I like. My favorites are still Loretta Lynn, Merle, George Jones.
“Being out in Vegas will sure beat sitting home and complaining. Country music fans are the greatest. It’s my third generation of Judd Heads. It’s been quite a trip.”
Mark Mayer has over 35 years covering sports events and is the sports editor at GT. Reach him at [email protected].