Originally published in the April 4, 2016 issue of Country Weekly magazine.
Martina McBride will admit to a time in her life when “going out on a limb” was more than just a well-worn phrase. It accurately described her philosophy of life, developed from her rebellious teen years. On this particular day, however, she is leaving nothing to the winds of fate or chance. Her manager has texted her the directions to the Nash Country Weekly campus, as she wants to ensure a timely arrival.
“Nashville has changed so much,” explains Martina, a Music City resident for around 25 years. “I don’t know where anything is anymore. Even when I drive around Music Row, some of the buildings are so new and a lot of the places I remember aren’t there now. I always want to be on time and not have to rush around looking for something.”
It’s the kind of professionalism that has marked her incredibly consistent career, which dates back to 1992 (she’s now eligible for the Country Music Hall of Fame in the Modern Era category). Since her debut that year with, appropriately enough, “The Time Has Come,” Martina has come to embody the “big voice” singer that younger artists strive to emulate. She’s enjoyed five No. 1 singles over that span and won four Country Music Association awards for Female Vocalist of the Year (three of them consecutively). All the while, she and husband John, a top-notch sound engineer and owner of his own Nashville recording studio, have served as exemplary parents, raising three daughters amid the often-volatile world of the music business.
Martina’s career continues to soar with new projects, including a just-released single, an upcoming album and a tour partnership with Hospital Corporation of America that aims to fight cancer. As Martina settles into a chair in the NCW offices, she’s excited to talk about the single, “Reckless,” which she notes carries both personal and universal implications.
The “Reckless” title need not be taken too literally, as it doesn’t particularly describe wanton behavior like bungee jumping from a hotel room or stuffing several of your friends into a Volkswagen. “It’s a song about showing gratitude for unconditional love,” Martina says, a wide smile spreading across her face. “To me, it’s about someone who is just going to jump in there and love you no matter what. I think the word ‘reckless’ can mean a lot of things. Maybe you had someone who believed in you and helped you through a hard time. It could be a boyfriend or girlfriend who goes off to college and you stick with each other. The song is more like taking a chance on love. ‘Going out on a limb’ might be a good way to put it.”
Martina also offers a personal glimpse inside “Reckless,” ironically a tune she did not write. “Reckless” was penned by a formidable trio of Music Row writers: Sarah Buxton, Zach Crowell and Heather Morgan. “I totally related it to my personal life,” Martina says. “Basically, when I met my husband, I was around 20 years old and was kind of a rebellious person. I was barely out of my teen years and I thought I knew everything.” At that period in her life in the late 1980s, Martina was performing with a rock band in the Wichita, Kan., area. She rented studio space from John, a studio engineer looking for a career breakthrough, and the two began dating.
“I was singing in clubs and that scene is not great for a 20-year-old kid,” she says with a laugh. “John came along at a time when I really needed somebody to lift me up.” John and Martina married in 1988 and moved to Nashville a year later, hoping to crack the country music establishment.
“People back home thought we were crazy, just picking up and moving across the country to find a job,” Martina says, laughing at the still-vivid memory. “Nashville seemed like a million miles away. We didn’t know anybody there or how the whole system worked. We were definitely taking a chance and I guess we were both reckless and maybe even naïve enough to go for it. And that’s why ‘Reckless’ reminded me of that time.”
The “Reckless” single is part of a larger album project, also titled Reckless, set to roll out to stores and online retailers later in the spring. It’s her first album for the Nash Icon Records label, also home to Reba McEntire, Hank Williams Jr. and Ronnie Dunn. “I think the album is very balanced,” Martina offers. “There are a few songs about strength and confidence and hope. I am always drawn to songs that have a thread of hope to them. But then, there are also some story songs and heartbreak songs.” Martina adds that Reckless could be favorably compared to her 1997 album, Evolution, in terms of its musical and sonic diversity.
At 49, Martina still drums up plenty of enthusiasm for recording and even the rigors of touring. “Singing has always been so much of who I am,” she says, gazing downward. “I don’t know what I would do if I wasn’t singing or performing.”
And she’s enjoyed enough longevity to warrant some milestone celebrations. This past March, for instance, marked the 20-year anniversary of her first No. 1 single, “Wild Angels,” a feat that when mentioned caught her a bit by surprise. “I had no idea, really,” she says, smiling. “I don’t think about statistics or those kinds of numbers. I’m not aware of them until people post them on Twitter.”
But the anniversary does give her cause for reflection. Martina concedes that by that time, in early 1996, she harbored all the typical paranoiac artist concerns. One that stood out—when was that first No. 1 record going to happen? Or would it even happen at all? Martina had come close to hitting the bull’s-eye in 1993 when “My Baby Loves Me” peaked at the No. 2 spot. The anthem that vaulted Martina to country’s forefront, “Independence Day,” failed to even crack the Top 10, though it took home the Country Music Association award for Song of the Year in 1994.
There were several singles, though, that disappeared from the charts about as quickly as they debuted. Such inconsistency can rattle the confidence of even the most stable of artists. “I was very concerned,” Martina says, almost in understatement. “It seemed like in the early part of my career, we were taking three steps forward and two steps back. I really wondered if I was ever going to get that first No. 1 single.”
The relief was certainly palpable when Martina
received the good news about “Wild Angels.” Martina remembers exactly where she was the day she found out. “We were on a radio tour and we flew into Dallas,” she recalls. “Our [record label] regional rep had gotten a message that it had gone No. 1. Right after we landed, he told me, and I was like walking on air. I was so happy that it finally happened. The validation was cool.” Flashing a sly smile, Martina adds, “You start thinking that maybe this is gonna work out after all.”
By whatever measure you choose, you can safely state that music has been good to Martina. She can happily lay claim to nearly 25 years on the charts, beating the odds by more than a two-to-one margin. “They usually say the career is between five and 10 years,” Martina points out. “I figured if I could get 10 good years, that would be great. It’s amazing, really. And to me, it’s due to the fans. For them to still follow me and be as interested and passionate as they are, well, it’s just amazing.”
And there are no indications that she’ll either cut back on all the activity or bring it to a complete halt. “I never even think about slowing down or not doing this anymore,” Martina assures. “It’s not even in my thought process.” With a satisfied smile, she pauses and adds, “It is just a great feeling to still be doing this.” NCW
Banding Against Cancer
Martina McBride is joining the battle against cancer with Hospital Corporation of America for the launch of a new nationwide initiative. Martina will serve as the flagship artist for the Band Against Cancer program and the headliner for The Sarah Cannon Tour concert series.
“Basically, the tour will raise awareness for Sarah Cannon,” Martina says, referring to the cancer institute of Hospital Corporation of America. The facility was named for Grand Ole Opry legend Minnie Pearl, whose offstage married name was Sarah Cannon. “They came to me and it seemed like really important work that they are doing.”
Sarah Cannon provides state-of-the-art cancer care to a number of communities throughout the U.S. “They are doing all sorts of amazing experimental treatments and having great success,” Martina says. “Helping families who are facing cancer is a cause I believe in. When somebody is diagnosed with cancer, I can’t imagine how many questions you must have and how much advice you seek out. Sarah Cannon is letting people know that you don’t have to go far away for treatment and that help is available at a lot of regional centers.”
Martina will wrap the tour in Nashville with a special show at the Grand Ole Opry in October. The additional Sarah Cannon Tour dates will be announced shortly. “We’re doing four shows for the tour in different markets,” Martina explains. “They are mixing in with our regular tour dates.”
For more information, visit bandagainstcancer.com.