Country Music Hall of Famer and Grand Ole Opry star Jean Shepard took some time from her schedule to reflect on her country career and she chatted about her forthcoming book.
Shepard is often dubbed as the "Grand Lady of the Grand Ole Opry," and rightfully so, since she is the first female country artist to have been a member of the Opry for over 50 years.
Throughout her illustrious career in country, Shepard was the first female artist to sell one million copies and she was the first female vocalist to overdub her voice on her albums; moreover, she was the first female country musician to make a color television commercial with country star Hank Thompson. "I have had a lot of firsts, and I am very grateful for every one of them," she said.
She starred in the first network country music show The Ozark Jubilee. "I left Oklahoma and we migrated to California and from there I went to Texas, and from Texas I went to the Ozark Jubilee in Springfield, Missouri. Then I lived in Nashville, Tennessee, and decided that this is where I would stay. That was 57 years ago. The Ozark Jubilee was the first country show to be aired, with a whole bunch of my friends that were there," she said.
Her newest book "Down Through The Years," is expected to be out within the next few years. "I am real proud of it. It took about 15 years in the writing. We finally finished it and I am so happy," she said. "I just wrote about my life as a country music entertainer and what has happened to me over the years. I talked about musicians and everything. The first two or three chapters are about my life, so they are like a biography, and I think people are going to find it really interesting. We have had a lot of feedback on it. People are really waiting for it and it'll be ready in a couple of weeks. I will be so happy to get this off my shoulders."
She added, "I had a good time writing it. It brought back a lot of memories, going through my childhood since we were very poor in Oklahoma."
When asked which song from her lengthy catalog is her personal favorite, she responded, "I Don't See How I Can Make It." "I just fell in love with the song. We recorded it, and it's just a great song," she said.
Shepard shared that she still sings "Many Happy Hangovers To You" in her live shows.
In 2011, Shepard was inducted into the coveted Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum. "It look a long time to get in there. They bypassed me several times, but that's okay. I don't know how they go about choosing the people that they put in the Hall of Fame. I think everybody votes on it. I will be at the Grand Ole Opry 58 years in November," she said. "I have been at the Opry since 1955. I think I have left a record that nobody will ever be able to top, because 58 years with the company is just ridiculous, but I have enjoyed every minute of it."
She noted that a difference exists when singing in the studio and when she is performing live. "In the studio, you want to get everything down right, which is hard to do at times, unless you are well-rehearsed, it is really hard. I love the live shows since you can joke with the people and have a good time with your audience and that's what it's all about. You want to make your audience feel good and to come back and see you," she said. "I love when they holler things back at me. When they ask me 'how old are you,' I respond to them 'how old do you want me to be.' The live audience is wonderful."
Although she has pretty much "retired more or less from the road," she continues to perform at the Opry once a week and she does occasional show dates.
On the key to longevity in country music, she stated, "It's a music of the people. The good country songs that I like to sing, they all tell a story. As long as you have a good story, you have a good record. I am not fond of the country music that they do in this day and time. That's just not my cup of tea. I like Porter Wagoner, Don Gibson, Marty Robbins and Lefty Frizzell. These are the people that made country music what it is, and I am so thankful that I come up in the days that was country music. I devoted my life to country music and I will until the day that I die."
Particularly impressive about Shepard is that she gave country music legend George Jones his very first job. "He played my guitar and I bought him a couple of shirts and we took him out on the road to New Mexico and Arizona. I knew he was destined to be a star, because he had what it takes," she said.
For young hopefuls that wish to go into country music professionally, she underscored the importance of obtaining an education first. "You need something to fall back on, since you never know. Then they need to go and look in the mirror and ask themselves face to face if they are able to do this and a make a living. If you do not have any faith in yourself, then nobody else will. Be truthful," she said.
For her fans, she concluded, "I love them and I appreciate them hanging in there with us. I love my fans and I have never been rude to any of my fans in my entire life. They are what makes the cake come together."
For more information on country music living legend Jean Shepard, visit her official website.