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Dixie Chicks take ‘Long Way’ to superstardom

Personnel changes and personal views have all had an effect on the trio
/ Source: Access Hollywood

The Dixie Chicks have come along way since their humble beginnings in Dallas, Texas in the late ’80s. Despite boasting eight Grammy awards, multi-platinum and gold albums, sold out arenas across the globe, and acclaimed critical success, things haven't always been easy for the group.

And despite having already sold over 1 million copies of their latest release “Taking The Long Way Home” heading into their U.S. tour, thanks to the group's disparaging comments about President Bush, controversy is still hanging around.

But just as the sound has changed over the years — beginning with their debut release “Thank Heavens For Dale Evans” in 1990 — the message, and even the personnel has evolved as well.

Originally hatched in 1989, the first incarnation of the Chicks included sisters Martie Erwin and Emily Erwin, Laura Lynch and Robin Lynn Macy. (Martie and Emily have since married and their names are now Martie Maguire and Emily Robison.) The sisters provided the instrumental firepower while the other two were the lead singers.

With a heavy bluegrass feel, the group started to gain limited notoriety as an opening act for artists like Garth Brooks, Reba McEntire and George Strait. But still, the Chicks found no airplay outside of public radio.

In 1991, the girls released the Christmas single “Home on the Radar Range,” and followed it in 1992 with their second album, “Little Ol' Cowgirl,” both releases featured steel guitar legend Lloyd Maines — fans of the group will recognize the name as a foreshadowing of personnel changes to come.

As the band began to progress into a more contemporary sound, Robin Lynn Macy left the group in 1992, preferring to stick to her bluegrass roots. Now a trio, the Chicks released their third album, “Shouldn't a Told You That,” with Laura Lynch acting as the sole lead singer. Yet, a commercial breakthrough still eluded them.

In 1995, it was out with Lynch and in with current frontwoman Natalie Maines (daughter of the aforementioned Lloyd Maines). Around the same time, Sony scouted the band and success wasn't far off.

With Natalie at the helm, the group quickly became known for their lively group personae, instrumental virtuosity, fashion sense, and outspoken views — and mainstream music fans soon took notice of The Dixie Chicks.

Their 1997 single “I Can Love You Better” stormed into the Top 10 on the country chart. The 1998 album “Wide Open Spaces” produced three No. 1 singles on the country chart and went on to sell more than 12 million copies, becoming one of the 50 best-selling albums in U.S. history.

The Chicks wasted no time proving fans and critics alike that their hit-making skills were no fluke. In 2000, they released the smash album “Fly,” which went on to sell an impressive 10 million copies.

Due to a dispute with their record label, their next release — “Home” in 2002 — was recorded without drums and was very bluegrass heavy, featuring deeply thoughtful ballads. In addition to its non-commercial sound, the lyrics of the first single, “Long Time Gone,” blatantly attacked contemporary country music radio, accusing it of ignoring the soul of the genre as exemplified by legends such as Merle Haggard, Johnny Cash, and Hank Williams.

Despite all this, the single soared to No. 2 on the country chart, leading “Home” to over 6 million copies sold in the U.S., which might have been still more but for the political controversy to come. “Long Time Gone” also became the Chicks' first top ten hit on the U.S. pop singles chart. “Home” dominated the 2003 Grammys, winning four awards, including best country album.

However, the glow of success would soon be overshadowed by the darkness of controversy for the girls, and especially for the oft-outspoken Natalie.

Just a few weeks later, during a March 10 performance in London, and just 10 days before the U.S. would invade Iraq, Natalie made a comment to the crowd in between songs that would prove costly to the group's reputation and popularity in the months and even years to come.

“Just so you know, we're ashamed the President of the United States is from Texas,” the Texas-born Maines said.

Once the comments made it into American media, controversy erupted and quickly engulfed the girls. Following the uproar and the start of a boycott of their music, Natalie tried to clarify her remarks, but to no avail.

And while the chaos from the controversy has since softened, it is still affecting the Chicks and their music in 2006.

As they prepare to set out on their U.S. tour in support of their latest release “Taking The Long Way Home,” Access Hollywood's Shaun Robinson sat down with Natalie, Martie and Emily to find out if the backlash is still being felt by the Chicks.

“The ticket sales are doing very well in a lot of markets,” Shaun said. “Do you think that there are some markets where the controversy is still effecting ticket sales?”

“Oh definitely,” Natalie said. “We sold out the entire last tour in one day, so we are very realistic and honest with ourselves and we aren't hiding behind anything saying that it's selling the way the last tour did.”

Although it's been two years since their anti-Bush statement, several country radio stations across the U.S. still refuse to play their music and will not promote their “Accidents and Accusations” tour.

However, their country colleague Faith Hill's anti-war anthem on her latest CD hasn't created quite the same stir. But why?

“I think a lot of people say things now and it's safer,” Natalie contends. “I think we said it in a time when the president's approval rating was really high and Katrina hadn't happened yet.”

With their private rehearsal in full swing, the girls are ready for the tour's first stop on July 21 in Detroit. And for this tour, they'll each have their kids in tow — all seven of them. Balancing motherhood and the rock star life might explain outspoken Natalie's new slim figure.

“You look great. There is less of you here today then there was last time. How did you get the weight off?” Shaun asked Maines.

“When we aren't working, I can just sort of eat whatever I want and not care. I'm on the Mary-Kate Olsen diet,” she laughed. “Just kidding. Just kidding.”