In May, Wilson wiped out on an ATV, and during the next couple of shows, she recalls, "it was pretty difficult to breathe -- not sing, but breathe. So I told my tour manager, 'Why don't we go get a picture made?'" X-rays soon revealed that she'd fractured two ribs. The damage hindered her breathing, which most likely contributed to a severe chest cold she contracted shortly thereafter. And then, days later, she says, "I came around the corner of my bus barefooted and hit my toe on my tile shower so hard I think I broke it." Laughing, she adds, "It's the life of the retarded redneck."
Fortunately, the rest of Wilson's world seems to be spinning quite nicely. Her debut disc, 2004's Here for the Party, won her fans beyond the typical country constituency; thanks to "Redneck Woman," an unlikely crossover smash, the CD's sales have topped four million. More recently, All Jacked Up, Wilson's 2005 release, went platinum, as did Undressed, a live DVD that hit stores in April. Around that time, Wilson announced her next project, Gretchen Wilson: I'll Tell You What a Redneck Woman Is, a book due in November. Among the folks she'll salute in the opus is Diane Jackson, a woman who lived in the Pocahontas, Illinois, trailer park where Wilson came of age. "She had five boys and one girl, and they all had buzz haircuts and were meaner than hell," she notes. "She didn't do nothin' but clean house and fry cheeseburgers and whip children all day long, but she was an amazing woman."
The proceeds from these projects are earmarked for a sprawling spread outside Nashville; Wilson lives there with her five-year-old daughter, Grace, and is building log cabins on the property for several family members. "It's pretty much taken all I've got," she says, "but I think I'm doing the right thing. I'm setting us up so that regardless of what happens in the future, we'll have something."
She's paying the price of fame in other ways, too. For instance, Tennessee Attorney General Paul Summers asked that she stop pulling a can of chewing tobacco from her back pocket during live performances of the tune "Skoal Ring." She acquiesced "because I'm a mom," but the request still chafed. "Nobody would ask Trace Adkins not to do that," she points out. "And you know what? Country music has been talkin' about cheatin', smokin', lyin' and everything else that's not good since the beginning of time. That's real. So it's not a problem for me not to hold a can up. But it's not going to make me stop singing that song."
Granted, singing any song is tough these days. But with all the medication she's gobbling for other maladies, including "antibiotics and sinus pills and something for bronchitis," she can't linger on any wound for long. "It's like, 'Ribs? What ribs?'" she says. "I'm just trying not to cough like an old man in the grocery store."
That'd be adding insult to injury.