Naomi Judd Interview
Naomi Judd. She makes up half of the popular singing duo — The Judds.
Along with daughter Wynonna, they were signed to RCA Records in 1983.
The Judds quickly became Country Music's most honored act. They were named "Duet
of the Year" for a decade. They took home six Grammys, and have sold over 15
million albums worldwide. In 1991, The Judds were the Number One touring act
in the industry.
At the height of their career, Naomi Judd came forward with the news that she
was retiring because of a life-threatening liver disease.
Naomi Judd has just written her autobiography titled "Love Can Build A Bridge" (Villard
We talked with Naomi Judd about the book that was three years in the making.
Q. I saw you and Wynona and Ashley on t.v. at the Super Bowl
half-time festivities. How*d you get that gig and was that your first appearance
at a Super Bowl?
A. The Super Bowl committee called us and said, Would you and Wynonna consider
re-uniting at the Super Bowl half-time, to do the Grand Finale and sing "Love
Can Build A Bridge?" ' I was stunned, because I knew they could have any entertainers
in the world. I felt very humbled and very honored that they would ask these
two redheaded boogie-woogie babes from Mars, you know. They specifically requested
'Love Can Build A Bridge,' which was a song that I wrote years ago, about hope,
about what I saw going on in America. It was the very last song that Wynonna
and I ever sang together. That was the song we did at the conclusion of our
Farewell Concert. I had not made a public appearance in two years. The Super
Bowl Committee said there's gonna be a billion people watch¬ing, and the
most watched t.v. event in history. I said I would of course. I hung up the
phone and I was just flabbergasted. I remember sitting on the side of my bed
just sort of staring off into space for a few minutes, thinking how I believe
in signs and symbols. I thought there's no such thing as coincidence. It's
just the Lord's way of staying invisible. There's a reason why they chose Wynonna
and Naomi Judd, and there's a reason why they asked us to sing 'Love Can Build
A Bridge'. Wynonna was just ecstatic. She called me just squealing into the
phone, 'Mo¬mmy, mommy we get to sing again'. I was just a nerve knot. We're
down there in the Green Room and it's Tanya Tucker, Clint Black, Travis Tritt
and me and Wynonna and all of our handlers. I was just getting more and more
nervous. Wynonnas on one side of me, and Ashley, my 25 year old daughter, who's
an actress is on the other side. We came out of the tunnel and started to walk
across the field and the moment the people in the stands saw us, they started
hollering, 'Welcome Back Naomi'. I just felt this peace come over me. It was
like a warm shower. I just felt so at home.
Q. Aren't you a little young to be writing your autobiography?
Did you want to set the record straight?
A. Well, it wasn’t my idea. (Laughs) In fact in ’89 when I had
just been diagnosed with a potentially fatal liver disease, our manager came
to me, and I think he didn't think I was gonna make it. I was in a fetal position
in a darkened room, we shut down the tour, and nobody had been told yet publicly
that I was very, very ill. He had some idea, just snippets, here and there
that I'd had this bizarre, phenomenal life, he wanted me to record it, for
Wynonna and Ashley and for the grandchildren I would never live to see. He
said, 'How’d you like to write your life story?' I remember sort of looking
up at him, bleary-eyed, from my pillow and saying, 'Ken, liver disease affects
your liver, not your brain. I'm not stupid'. (Laughs). But he went ahead and
signed us to a contract with Random House. I really didn't think anything about
it, 'cause for the next 3 years, my life was just overwhelming. I was having
trouble keeping my head above water. We did the Farewell Tour. After the last
concert, he came up to my farm one day and said, 'Remember when your body had
poisoned you, and you weren't thinking clearly, and you signed your name on
this contract?' He said, 'Well, it's time.' I was very resentful. I didn't
want to do this. For one thing, I was grieving the career loss. I was having
a hard time. It was like after a funeral. Wynonna was out on the road doing
her solo gig. Ashley was on location doing an Oliver Stone movie. Larry, my
husband, who is a manager an producer was out with his country group. And presto,
chango, the Queen of Everything, as they call me, is home alone, and I had
to write my stinkin' autobiography. It was just preposterous.
Q. How did you write this book, by tallriwg your memories
A. I wrote it myself in longhand on a legal pad. I remember looking at that
blank legal pad thinking, 'Oh, my God, I don't want to talk about the stupid
mistakes I've made. I don't want to have to divulge very intimate, private
details of my personal life.' I took a walk in the woods, and stayed out all
day, and was just praying about it. You-know, what am I gonna do? I've really
bitten off more than I can chew this time. And the message came through loud
and clear to me that what Wynonna, and Ashley and I are as women, as human
beings, has a voice of it's own alongside of the music. I decided my job was
to sit perfectly still and be quiet and listen to that voice. We've always
gone through our changes in public. Wynonna grew up in a goldfish bowl, under
a microscope, in the spotlight.
Q. You worked for the Fifth Dimension and booked tours for
Tony Orlando and Dawn, years before The Judds were ever thought of. So, you
really had a good understanding of the business side of show business. That
had to have helped you out.
A. No, I actually only did it for a couple of months. See, I never worked a
day in my life in the workplace. I got out to Hollyweird and had these two
kids and got divorced. I never held a job. I'd been a wife and a mommy, balancing
a checkbook, changing diapers, and scrubbing floors. And, here I am in Hollyweird,
and I don't know a soul. I had no job skills. I applied for the job as a receptionist
with the Fifth Dimension. As I said in the book, they had a black girl instead,
'cause they were getting some flack from blacks about not having more representation
in their office. So, they hired a black girl to be their receptionist and I
got hired as just a secretary to one of the agents. So, I had just connected
with Tony Orlando and his two girls, Telma, and Joyce. I really just communicated
with them on the phone, asking them when they wanted to leave to go on the
road. I saw Marc Gordon who was married to Florence LaRue of the group (The
Fifth Dimension) every¬day. I was just around it a couple of months, and
then all of a sudden, the guy that I worked for was having an affair, and he
hired his new girlfriend to replace me. (Laughs). The reason I took that gig
was I didn't have a car. My ex-husband had taken our car, and their office
was just a couple of blocks from where I lived.
Q. You did a video with The Doors. Did you meet Jim Morrison?
A. They aged me to over the age of a hundred. Ralph Gu-lko, was the cosmetologist
who did that. I think he did 'Planet of the Apes'. He's quite phenomenal.
I didn't meet Jim Morrison. I wish I had. I never met Elvis either.
Q. Well, maybe there's still hope.
A. (Laughs). But, I live with his alter-ego. See Elvis used to introduce my
husband Larry everynight on stage, in concert as his alter-ego. Larry was
the bass singer and has this beautiful, rich, deep bass voice and Elvis always
wan¬ted to sound like Larry.
Q. John Lennon once said, "Famous people are weird” Johnny
Carson said “Creative people are not normal by most standards, whatever
normal means.” And finally Bette Midler says you have to have “great
anxiety and violent insecurity in order to succeed in show business.” Would
all of these people be describing Naomi Judd?
A. Absolutely not. First of all, I think normal people are just folks you don't
know well enough yet. People think that I'm normal, but if you go back and
read the book, and read about my ancestors, and the murders, and suicides,
we've all got that in our family. 1 think that's why families are important.
You learn how to deal with everybody. You may not love your family members,
but you have to like them. It's like a microsome of civilization. You have
to put up with the eccentric aunt, and you have to understand why your uncle
has an addiction. I was raised in a very undemonstrative family. I said in
the book that I was like a big pinata. I just sort of walked around and prayed
that someone would break me open so I could spill out my emotions, and my secrets.
I know that's why communication is the most important thing to me, because
I didn't have much of it, when I was growing up. I think that our circumstances
in life mold us. I've been through so much struggle and tragedy in my life.
When I was 37 we got into Country music, and I was able to channel all that
and almost make sense of it, because I was able to communicate and relate to
people. I saw myself in their circumstances. If the maid in the hotel is talking
to me while she's chang¬ing my bed about the fact that her husband just
left her, and she's raising kids by herself, and had to take a minimum wage
job, (laughs), I lived a paycheck away from the streets. And I lived with an
ex-con who did heroin, and beat the crap out of me. I was an abused woman.
I put myself through college when I was in my 30's, and the impossible dream
of getting into Country music, which is they say the quintessential rags to
riches story. Wynonna and Ashley Judd and I are unbelievably laid-back and
down to earth. We don't wear make-up unless we"re on t.v. We live on adjoining
farms out in the middle of nowhere. We read. We walk in the woods. We have
horses. We laugh all the time. We cook our own food as much as possible. Family
is the most important thing in the world to us.
Q. This past summer, Paul Revere and The Raiders were at Miller
Court at the New York State Fair. Paul made a joke about Wynonna's weight,
and the joke, got no laughs. Does that kind of thing bother Wynonna, when
people make fun of her looks, of her personal appearance?
A. Well, of course it does. I don't know Paul Revere. He obviously isn't a
very enlightened being. The first time we ever appeared on the cover of The
National Enquirer, we were horrified that someone we didn't know, was allowed
to get away with making up, concocting some lies about us, a very hurtful,
shameful lie. Wynonna and I were stunned. It was really an education, to discover
that in America, people can dream up some fantasy, put it out there as a rumor
and watch it get snowballed, and maybe even wind up in legitimate press or
on the six o'clock news. I remember that night. In fact, I drove over to Wynonna's
house and I said, 'O.K. we need to decide right now what kind of an attitude
adjustment we're "going to do on ourselves, so that we can stand up for justice,
so that we can personally stay calm, about this unfair situation. We determined
that the truth is God's domain, and it will always stand the test. I said sometimes
it takes longer than we would like but, you just have to hold your head high.
I've always told the girls I would rather be lied about than be a liar. Even
though it's an unfortunate predicament, I would rather be maligned than be
the one who has no ethics. I'm really upset with the insatiable lust the press
has these days for negativity, and for sensationalism. I'm profoundly disturbed
by it, because it says something about our lack of class and morals in this
Q. Do you get recognized when you're out in public? How do
you handle that? Do people ask you for an autograph?
A. Of course they do. Everywhere I go, whether it's the grocery store or to
the mall, 'cause I have to buy underwear, or church or to the restaurant; first
of all we live in a small town, and everybody knows everybody automatically,
whether I'm a celebrity or not. You just know everybody. For whatever reason,
maybe it's because we were mother, daughter, people realize we don't see ourselves
as different from anybody else. I always thought I was the average person's
representative out there, whether I'm on the Tonight Show' couch or accepting
a Grammy on a podium or onstage singing a song. I've always felt that I was
just a designated hitter. I think people don't put us up on some unrealistic
pedestal. People come up to me everywhere and I love it, because I'm a people
lover. It's neat, because they all know my name. They'll say 'Hey Naomi, how
are you feeling? What's going on with the liver disease?' Right now everybody
wants to talk to me about the book. I love that. It’s a social lubricant.
I just feel at home and welcome no matter where I go. I consider it a privilege
and it’s one of the blessings in my life. If Larry and I are out, if
someone comes over to our favorite little restaurant, and says, 'Can I get
your autograph?' I'll say, "Well of course, let me give it to you at the end
of our meal as we're leaving.' First and foremost I cherish my private time
with Larry, and if the kids are with us, it's family time. Sometimes people
get real hysterical 'cause they think it's their only chance in their life
to shake that hand or make that contact. I'll just reach out and cover their
hands with my other hand and say, 'O.K. now calm down.' I'll make eye contact
and say, 'Let's talk. Where are you from? What was it about the book that touched
you? What is your favorite Judds song?' You know, the shortest distance between
two points is a straight line.
Q. How important is any award to you?
A. In the book, I do a disclaimer about competition. I've always had an awareness
that sometimes competition is real destructive, and unfavorable. What I go
for is personal excellence. I love writing the best song that I can come
up with. I love doing a show that's really making a connection with the audience.
Ashley and Wynonna understand what personal excellence is. We talk about
lot. You don't ever enjoy winning at someone else’s' expense. But, Wynonna
and I were enormously blessed. We were undefeated at all the award shows for
eight straight years, which is a record. When you've done your best, when you've
put out the album which you think is the quintessential Judd endeavor, and
it gets a Grammy, it's a validation to know that other people understand. It's
a pat on the back.
Q. When you got a record deal with RCA you didn't have a demo
tape, or a picture, or a bio. You didn't even play a showcase club. Someone
you knew ushered you into the offices of RCA for a "live" audition. Doesn't
that say to all of the want to be singer/songwriter/musicians, it's still
who you know?
A. No. It's not who you know, because the guy who turned out to be our producer,
Brent Maher, I had just met him, at the hospital. (Naomi was an R.N.) He didn't
even know Joe Galante (RCA Records), or the people at RCA. He just called up
and said I have these, two weird girls. They don’t have an 8 by 10, they
don’t have a demo tape they're very unsophisticated, and I would like
to bring them in and let them sing "live" for you. And, their interest was
peaked. So we walked in with twenty dollar flea market dresses on, and old
cheap guitars with plastic strings. I think what it tells people is that the
human touch is still alive, and that you can do things the old-fashioned way.
I think it gives people hope, cause we did it backwards.
Official Website: NaomiJudd.com
© Gary James All Rights Reserved