After Bucking the Rodeo Circuit, Singer Reba Mcentire Finds Country Music a Cinch
Still, McEntire shows no sign of easing up, and the truck lurches along. She is obviously in her element, as much a part of this Oklahoma landscape as the early morning shadows stretching from nearby Chockie Mountain. After three weeks on tour with her band, she has come home to "no telephones, no people asking you questions."
For McEntire, 29, there have been plenty of both lately. Last year her singles Can't Even Get the Blues and You're the First Time I've Thought About Leaving popped to the top of the country charts. Just a Little Love, her newest release, is now hitting country playlists and reminding listeners of Patsy Cline, whom McEntire regards with near-apostolic deference. "She was always a mystery lady to me," says Reba of the superstar who died in a plane crash 21 years ago. "I get people who knew her to tell me about her, and I read everything I can get on her. Nobody yet has sung better."
Reba's singing found its first audience when she was scarcely 5 and accompanying her parents on a tour of the summer rodeo circuit. Grandpa John McEntire had been the 1934 world-champion steer roper, and Clark McEntire, Reba's father, owned the title in 1957, 1958 and 1961. During a stopover in Cheyenne, Wyo., Reba watched as brother Pake, then 7, sang Hound Dog in the hotel lobby and collected a quarter from onlookers. "That lightened my eyes up a bit," remembers Reba, who quickly joined in on a squeaky version of Jesus Loves Me. The performance brought a nickle contribution. "But I earned that," says Reba, sounding like any singer claiming a postconcert paycheck.
In her teens Reba teamed up with Pake and younger sister Susie, performing in Oklahoma farm towns for $13 a night. Later she augmented her stage earnings by tending cattle and competing in rodeos as a barrel racer. Chosen to sing the national anthem at a 1975 rodeo in Lubbock, Texas, she there met Battles, already a star and 10 years her senior. Within a year Reba had signed to record her first album, and the couple had married.
Six more albums followed, and she now spends 150 days on the road each year, treating audiences to a show that is part Vegas flash, part down-home folksiness. Off the road, only the latter seems evident on the 250-acre String-town spread she shares with Battles and Lance, 17, one of Battles' two teenage sons. "If I've got a big decision to make, if I want to get deep down and straight with the Lord, I get out in the woods and pray a bunch," explains the lifelong Baptist.
On rented land nearby the couple has been raising 1,200 head of Brahman and Hereford cattle for market. For now, though, that is all the breeding that McEntire has planned. "One of the main reasons I'll never have children is that kids nowadays have no respect for their elders," she says adamantly, joking that family get-togethers with nieces and nephews are quite enough. ("After they're gone, I go in the bathroom and eat a whole package of birth control pills.")
McEntire gets all the respect she needs these days from her fellow performers. "Charley Pride likes my phrasing," she says happily, "and T.G. Sheppard told me I was his favorite female singer. My head swelled up."
Bolstered by such praise she has recently switched labels—from Mercury to MCA—in hopes of finding "more commitment." The onetime rodeo rider insists she has plenty of stardom ahead of her. Says Reba modestly, "I'm not even a twinkle yet." For her country-music competitors, that may be cause for worry.
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