The Dixie Chicks have brought a number of uber-catchy, pop-country songs like “Goodbye Earl,” “Wide Open Spaces,” and “Travelin’ Soldier” into the world over the years, winning them multiple Grammy Awards and shaking up the country music industry. Comprised of sisters Martie Maguire and Emily Strayer, as well as lead vocalist Natalie Maines, the trio officially formed in 1995, and, by the late ’90s, they were dominating the airwaves. They spent the next decade at the top of the charts, before going on a hiatus in the late 2000s.
However, the Dixie Chicks weren’t gone for good, as they went on a world tour in 2016, performed alongside Beyoncé at the 2016 Country Music Association Awards, collaborated with Taylor Swift in 2019, and announced a new album in 2020: Gaslighter. So if you thought the Dixie Chicks were done, you were wrong — thank goodness!
So what else is there to know about the insanely talented trio? And why did they really take a 14-year hiatus? Read on to discover the untold truth of the Dixie Chicks.
How did the Dixie Chicks get their name?
While the Dixie Chicks in their current incarnation were formed in 1995, their story starts several years before in 1989 in Dallas, Texas. That’s when Martie Maguire and Emily Strayer began making music together as the Dixie Chicks, but with two other members: vocalist Laura Lynch and guitar player Robin Lynn Macy. After several years of cutting albums and performing together, the original lineup shuffled and changed until Natalie Maines was added in 1995. That’s when the glue dried and the magic happened for the trio, heralding their imminent rise to musical stardom.
So where did Maguire and Strayer come up with the moniker of Dixie Chicks? As it turns out, they named themselves after the Little Feat song “Dixie Chicken,” which was popular in the late ’80s, according to The New York Times. Unlike some bands, who try on a variety of names before the right one sticks, the Dixie Chicks found one with staying power right out of the gate.
The Dixie Chicks almost didn't survive this controversy
While plenty of musicians are open about their political beliefs and the causes they support, not all of them have faced the backlash that the Dixie Chicks did back in 2003. One March evening that year, while on stage in London, Natalie Maines got candid concerning her feelings about the Iraq War, as reported by Rolling Stone. “Just so you know, we’re on the good side with y’all,” she said to the crowd. “We do not want this war, this violence, and we’re ashamed that the president of the United States is from Texas.”
What Maines hadn’t anticipated was the anger that statement would arouse in both country music fans and radio programmers, who were furious about her remarks. The band received criticism from pundits and threats from hysterical haters, but the women soldiered on despite the crowds that smashed their CDs outside of their concerts.
That experience forever changed the trio, and understandably so. “I joke that I have PTSD, but there’s probably truth in that joke,” Maines confessed to Rolling Stone. “It all put an ugly light on people that I was kind of happily naive to.”
Martie Maguire thought the Dixie Chicks were over… until Taylor Swift changed her mind
While the Dixie Chicks came back in a big way after dropping “Gaslighter” in 2020, quickly racking up millions of views and streams, their eagerly-anticipated return wasn’t always 100 percent in the cards. That was something that Martie Maguire pondered at a 2011 Taylor Swift concert with her daughter. “I was feeling like maybe our time had passed, and this was Taylor’s time,” she revealed to The New York Times. How sad!
But then, something rather magical happened: Swift launched into a cover of the Dixie Chicks’ 1999 hit song “Cowboy Take Me Away.” Much to both her and her daughter’s surprise, the crowd sang along to the entire song with great gusto, showing Maguire that there was still lots of love out there for the Dixie Chicks. She called the experience both “super emotional” and “surreal,” understandably overjoyed to learn that the Dixie Chicks had not been forgotten. What an inspiring moment!
The Dixie Chicks are proud of their 2020 comeback album
“Gaslighter” is the first single from the Dixie Chicks’ 2020 album, and there’s no question that the trio take great pride in their work. “I’m so proud of this album. No matter what happens with it,” Emily Strayer gushed in an interview with Allure. “It might be a slow burn; it might be a quick burn. I don’t know, but it will find its way to our fans.” That’s despite the fact that country radio stations have been shown to discriminate against female artists, according to Rolling Stone.
But given the changes in the music industry that have happened since the Dixie Chicks released their last album, such as streaming platforms and social media, there are fewer barriers now between bands and their fans. So it might not matter if radio stations decline to spin Dixie Chicks records at all.
Natalie Maines also said she’s extremely proud of the album and that any success it has will be the cherry on top of the sundae.
Before the Dixie Chicks made their 2020 album, this member went to therapy
Before the Dixie Chicks were able to return to the studio together to record Gaslighter, Natalie Maines had some important work to do on herself. Specifically, she started going to therapy, and not just because of the scars left from the Iraq War controversy fallout. “I think I’ve always been sort of a person that just pushes the feelings down, and then they do eventually come back up,” she revealed to Rolling Stone. “So I didn’t have tools to know how to deal with them or acknowledge them.”
Additionally, for a long time, Maines knew that Emily Strayer and Martie Maguire longed to return to the studio as a trio, and that obligation gnawed at her as well. “That was a lot of what I had to work out in therapy, too, because you do become this unit and you do feel an obligation,” she continued.
Fortunately, Maines did get back into a space where she felt creative, and that empowered her to once again be a Dixie Chick.
When the Dixie Chicks released "Goodbye Earl," it was met with controversy
In 1999, the Dixie Chicks released their album Fly, which, true to form, broke the rules and occupied the top spot on the charts, according to Rolling Stone. But it was one track in particular that stirred up controversy: “Goodbye Earl,” about a woman named Wanda who ends her abusive husband’s life. Natalie Maines delivers the vocals with glee, detailing how Wanda and her friend Mary Anne put Earl in the ground and get away with the crime.
While the Dixie Chicks were clearly singing tongue in their cheek, some listeners were offended by the lyrical content, as they felt it glorified domestic violence. Many radio stations refused to play the song, too, but that didn’t stop the song’s success, according to country music editor Lon Helton. “The single is going up our [country airplay] charts as fast as any single the Chicks have put out,” he explained to the Los Angeles Times. “Programmers were nervous at first about offending parts of their audience, but I think they’ve gotten the message.”
Natalie Maines of the Dixie Chicks is proud of what she said about President Bush
Despite the fact that Natalie Maines’ remarks about President George W. Bush and the Iraq War sparked intense controversy, the Dixie Chicks member doesn’t regret what she said on that fateful night. “I’m really proud of what went down,” she revealed in an interview with The New York Times. “I spoke up for what I believe — that’s what art is about and what musicians should be about.” That’s a pretty brave sentiment, given how scary things got at times, which was chronicled in the 2006 documentary Shut Up and Sing. It was intense, to say the least!
In fact, if Maines was given the chance to do it all over again, she would have been even more emphatic in her criticism of the 43rd president. “If I’d known anybody was listening, I would have said something to really make a mark,” she continued. She went on, “With social media, opinions all start becoming noise, but at that point, people weren’t really supposed to have an opinion.”
The Dixie Chicks are done with the country music industry
While the Dixie Chicks have always done things a little differently than their peers, they had nothing but fond feelings for the country music industry at the outset. “We always waved that country flag when people would say it wasn’t cool,” Natalie Maines revealed in an interview with Allure. “And then to see how quickly the entire industry turned on us…” It was sobering for them, to say the least, in the wake of the 2003 Iraq War controversy.
To that end, the Dixie Chicks have said they’re done trying to fit in with the country music world, as they haven’t felt like a part of it for some time. “I was shocked that people thought that we were different than what we were,” Maines continued. “I always felt like we were so genuine.”
Given that streaming platforms have changed the way people think about musical genres, it will be interesting to see what direction that the Dixie Chicks go in the future. Only time can tell.
In 2001, the Dixie Chicks sued their record label
One of the biggest fights that the Dixie Chicks had to deal with started in July 2001, when the trio filed a lawsuit against their record label. They told Sony that they planned to stop recording with the label with paperwork, as noted by CBS News. In response, Sony sued the Dixie Chicks, stating that they were obligated to record five additional albums, lest they be out $100 million.
That wasn’t the end of the story, however, as the Dixie Chicks then accused Sony of breach of contract in another lawsuit, claiming that they were due millions of dollars in unpaid royalties. Clearly they were not backing down!
Both parties settled the following year, with Sony issuing the Dixie Chicks a new record contract that upped their royalty rate to 20 percent. They also got a $20 million bonus, though they had to cough up $15 million to Sony for marketing costs as well. With both parties satisfied, the Dixie Chicks were clear to release their album Home. “Our reconciliation with Sony Music couldn’t have come at a better time,” they said in a statement.
Natalie Maines knew immediately that the Dixie Chicks were going to be great
While Emily Strayer and Martie Maguire had been with the Dixie Chicks since the beginning, Natalie Maines came in years after they initially formed the band. But that didn’t stop Maines from being 100 percent sure they were going to make it big, a confidence the other two members didn’t necessarily share. “Before the first show, I was like, ‘No big deal, we’re gonna be great,'” she proclaimed in an interview with Rolling Stone. “And I remember Martie [Maguire] was freaking out.”
Maines then asked Maguire why she was so nervous, aware that she and Strayer had yet to find the success they longed for. “I’m sure on the inside, she’s going, ‘Because I’ve done this for 10 years!’ But it was great,” she continued. “I was right — that was just the beginning of her learning that I am right!”
Indeed Maines was correct in her prognostication, as shortly thereafter the Dixie Chicks signed a record deal — and became famous seemingly overnight.
Emily Strayer of the Dixie Chicks can play eight instruments
If you’ve done your homework on the Dixie Chicks, you probably know that all three of them are insanely talented when it comes to their abilities. In fact, Emily Strayer, who usually defaults to the banjo or guitar, can actually play eight instruments. “When I’m home, I want to play things I don’t know how to play,” she told Allure. “I’m trying to learn the piano, or I’ll pick up a ukulele.” She added that her husband bought her a drum set too, though she says she’s not very good at using it.
Being proficient on so many instruments is rare for a person, let alone a woman, and that’s something that’s not lost on Martie Maguire and Natalie Maines. “I don’t know about you guys, but when I see a girl rip a guitar solo, I’m blown away,” Maines shared. “It’s still very rare.” Rare, maybe, but, thanks to the Dixie Chicks, it’s a reality.
Natalie Maines of the Dixie Chicks is a total introvert
Despite the fact that the Dixie Chicks are world famous and poised to have a long and enduring career, Natalie Maines isn’t outgoing just because she’s a lead singer — far from it, actually. “I never want to leave my house, ever. I hate going out,” she confessed in a chat with Allure. “I’m an introvert.” That sentiment was echoed by Martie Maguire, who also describes herself as an introvert.
Maines also wears the same thing every day — allegedly a Miley Cyrus hoodie, according to her bandmates — and dislikes ever having to femme it up. “I hate thinking about clothes,” she explained to Rolling Stone. “I hate shopping. I haven’t gotten a manicure or pedicure in six years.” She also loves her super short haircut, though she admits her children wish she would grow it back out. Sorry, kids, but that’s probably not going to happen.
Why did the Dixie Chicks take such a long hiatus?
While the fallout from the Iraq War controversy would be enough for anyone to want to take a break, that wasn’t the main reason the Dixie Chicks took such a long hiatus. Rather, as Martie Maguire explained, all three of the women had family obligations to attend to. “Our nine kids collectively are why we paused for so long, and finding out that teenagers are a lot harder than babies,” she revealed in an interview with Apple Music. Sounds like they had their hands full!
While each of the Dixie Chicks put out new music during their time apart — Natalie Maines put out a solo album, and Emily Strayer and Maguire released songs as the Court Yard Hounds — the impetus to really get the band back together took a while to manifest. “I think the tour in 2016 really solidified our want to do this,” Strayer added.
The Dixie Chicks believe in their kids' generation
With all that the Dixie Chicks have been through together, it seems natural that they hope the world can be a better place in the future. As to how that will happen, the trio believe that their children will be a force for change. “I actually feel like there’s a shift happening right now,” Martie Maguire told Allure. “I’m amazed when I hear my daughters with their friends.” She added that it gives her hope to see her children be so open-minded on issues such as gender.
Emily Strayer agrees, and she shared that she’s learning a lot from her kids’ generation. “It’s the young people that are going to save the world,” she proclaimed. “I’ve been buying all the reusable this, that, and the other, and I think it’s just starting.”
Natalie Maines also expressed her concern about the climate crisis, and she hopes that collective change can cause the government to take action.
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