- Stacie Collins gazes at her rising star.
Ever since Gretchen Wilson's "Redneck Woman" seized No. 1 in 2004, a new outlaw movement has threatened to ransack Nashville: the badass country mama. We're talking about a gritty babe who takes no shit from men, who's honed her barstool feminism in roadhouses, who knows "all the words to every Charlie Daniels song."
To date, the movement has been a two-woman show, featuring Wilson and Sony's Miranda Lambert, the sassy Texas blonde who finished third on Nashville Star, country's answer to American Idol. Lambert may look good in low-riders, but her Crazy Ex-Girlfriend pose comes off like a priss scaling the mechanical bull, trying to prove she's one tough chick.
Then there's up-and-coming Stacie Collins, the rambunctious tomboy Lambert would've thumbed her nose at back in high school. A popular club draw in Music City, she also wears denim really well. More important, Collins rocks far harder than Lambert and Wilson, wedding vintage honky-tonk, Chicago blues, and Stones-fried boogie.
"Country is cool," says Collins, who just self-released her sophomore disc, The Lucky Spot. "But there's a big-ass market of people who are starving for good old make-you-wanna-move-dance-touch-ya, feel-good rock and roll."
On The Lucky Spot, Collins and her band tear through a wide swath of Americana: stuttering blues, Texas swing, and every shotgun marriage of C&W and Keith Richards-inspired trash rock imaginable. Crusty guitars claw at each other, while the rhythm section plows forward relentlessly. Add pedal steel, organ, and piano, and the jams turn downright claustrophobic, especially since former Georgia Satellite Dan Baird recorded the band live with no overdubs. "The record has some warts," says Collins. "But there's an energy to it."
Collins' vocals are an exercise in tension. She denies her voice its comfy zone, producing a dry, choked twang reminiscent of Merle Haggard's rollicking croon on classics like "Workin' Man Blues" and "Fightin' Side of Me." Collins, ironically, is far more of a country traditionalist than Wilson, who sounds as if she grew up listening to southern rock, not actual honky-tonk.
Then again, Collins' squealing harmonica offers a bluesy wallop, which leaves no easy way to pigeonhole this band. "I could open up for ZZ Top, a blues band, or a good country band like Shooter Jennings," she says.
So is she country or rock and roll? It's a question fans asked Shooter's dad, Waylon, throughout the '70s. Like Waymore, who began his career in the '50s, plucking bass for Buddy Holly, Collins' background is steeped in both genres. She was raised in "Nashville West" -- Bakersfield, California -- where she spent her childhood digging Loretta, Patsy, and her hero, Merle.
In her teens, she moved to L.A. These were the hair-metal years of Guns N' Roses, and Collins transformed herself from rural babe to urban hottie.
"My husband, Allen, and I met on Sunset Boulevard in front of the Roxie and the Rainbow back in the '80s," she says. After Allen's rock band called it quits, the couple landed in Cleveland, his hometown. It was here that Stacie honed her chops on mouth harp while the duo went folkie, playing open-mic nights at clubs like the Barking Spider Tavern. "Cleveland gave us the confidence. That was the catalyst for our move to Nashville," she says.
But Stacie and Allen wanted to get back to the heavy stuff. "Wine is fine," she explains, "but I prefer whiskey."
In Tennessee, they hooked up with Baird. They also befriended one of roots rock's great six-stringers, cow-punk Warner Hodges, formerly of Jason & the Scorchers. The introductions all but ensured that Collins would be backed by the heaviest band in Nashville. But not so easily has come mainstream recognition.
Corporate Nashville is gaga for middle-of-the-road males like Keith Urban. As Allmusic.com points out, "Redneck Woman" became the first single "by a solo female singer to top the Billboard country singles chart in over two years."
Like the original outlaws, Collins craves fame, but has zero interest in selling herself as some Music Row whore. Still, Waylon released his debut single in 1958. He didn't earn his first No. 1 album until 1975. Can you muster that kind of dedication, Ms. Collins?
"I don't need anybody from the music industry telling me I'm good," she says. "I know I am."