Larger than life figures in the entertainment industry are in short supply these days, and many of those figures who breathe rarified air, such as Bono, Cher and Madonna, possess a lone moniker. Add Wynonna Judd, who has been credited as Wynonna since her solo career commenced in 1992, to that list.
Like her legendary pals, Judd is a pistol who is witty, unpredictable and often amusing. Judd, who will perform with her band, aptly dubbed the Big Noise on Thursday at the Bing Crosby Theater, doesn’t grant many interviews.
During a chat with the country music icon a few years ago, Judd was charming and blunt. Judd, 55, who initially tasted fame and success a generation ago as part of the country duo the Judds with her vocalist mother Naomi Judd, has four songs that hit the top of the country charts: “She Is His Only Need,” “I Saw the Light,” “My Strongest Weakness” and “No One Else on Earth.”
The cheeky vocalist-guitarist has always been filed in the country bin, but she also has recorded roots-rock, blues and gospel. Actress Ashley Judd’s outspoken sister has never cared about marketing or potentially alienating her audience since she embraces an out of the box approach.
“It’s more fun that way,” Judd said during a chat. “I’ve always done things differently. I felt tormented by the fact that I didn’t give in. Being unique is lonely. No one is ever going to give you a prize for coloring outside of the lines. It’s a messy job being a pioneer.”
It’s a refreshing take in an increasingly conservative industry, especially when it comes to social media. It’s common for young recording artists to think twice before posting on Twitter or Instagram. However, Judd is comfortable in her own skin when she connects with fans via technology or onstage.
The fearless Judd has eschewed the cookie cutter path. “I’ve had to do things my way,” Judd said. “It’s nice because I feel like I’ve been the girl with the scarlet letter. I’m the girl who brought a pop artist (Michael Bolton) to sing with me on the CMAs. It was, like, ‘What’s wrong with her? Is she on prescription drugs?’ Now they have pop artists with country artists on the CMAs all of the time.”
Give Judd credit for taking a chance by singing with Bolton, who has been a whipping boy throughout his career. The gutsy Judd has no problem going against the grain. “No matter what I’m going to do, I’ll never be a conventional artist,” Judd said. My friend Bono said it best: ‘Dreamers are the saviors of the world.’ ”
Judd has envisioned stardom since she was a disadvantaged kid growing up in a hardscrabble section of Ashland, Kentucky. Her family lived hand to mouth with an uncertain future, but the Judds found a way to make it.
“I went from welfare to millionaire,” Judd cracked. That’s no exaggeration. Judd’s childhood was a constant struggle. Judd and her mother and sister bounced around between Los Angeles and Kentucky hoping for a career in music during the 1970s.
Her family moved to Nashville in 1979, and it took four years before the mother/daughter act signed to RCA Records as the Judds. The duo became one of the hottest acts in Music City not long after inking the deal.
Between 1983 and 1991, the Judds amassed 23 hit singles on the Billboard Hot Country Singles charts. A staggering 14 songs went to No. 1. More than 20 million Judds albums were purchased, and the tandem won more than 60 industry awards.
Hepatitis C plagued Naomi Judd, and it prompted a farewell tour in 1991. Wynonna Judd went solo, although mom and daughter reunited in 2015 for the show “Girls Night Out” at the Venetian in Las Vegas. The common denominator between her work with Naomi Judd and what has been created during her second act is love songs.
“To Be Loved by You,” “Heaven Help My Heart” and “Somebody to Love You” are examples of Judd tunes. There also is her covers album, 2003’s “What the World Needs Now Is Love,” which features Judd’s gorgeous version of Foreigner’s “I Want to Know What Love Is.”
Judd’s passion for love songs stands out today. There aren’t as many songs inspired by the most powerful muscle in the human body as there were a generation or two ago. Conspicuous consumption and unabashed lust have trumped love songs.
The old school Judd misses how it was done. “Maybe I’m getting old, but I believe that, in song, we’ve bypassed the heart and gone straight for the libido,” Judd said. “It’s a shame. …You’ll see that I’m still going for the heart. That’s what matters most.”
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