Country's Mom-and-Daughter Duo, Naomi and Wynonna Judd, Storm the Charts with Homespun Harmonies

updated 08/20/1984 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 08/20/1984 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Take one homespun Kentucky beauty able to recognize a copperhead and put up a hog lot. Send her to L.A. Delete the husband, add a variety of colorful jobs held to support two kids, one with a voice as rich and potent as moonshine. Back in Nashville, drop in one guitar, a heap o' gumption, wait two years and listen.

What you'll hear are the lushly rustic strains of the Judds, country's latest success story and most striking mother-daughter look-alikes. Not since the Carter Family have the family harmonies been as sweet as those warbled by mom Naomi, 38, and daughter Wynonna Judd, 20—nor the generation gap so hard to discern. "We're just two redheaded country girls," claims Mom modestly. "Our story is just not normal."

Neither is their sound. While many country artists are crossing over to more lucrative pop pastures, the Judds haven't forgotten their rural mountain roots. Wynonna's bluesy lead vocals and Naomi's deep alto harmonies blend into an acoustic, almost spare mixture of bluegrass, rock and traditional folk. It all rings right as rain to them and to fans of their first single, Had a Dream (For the Heart), who put the tune into the Top 20 and propelled the Judds' latest, Mama He's Crazy, straight into the No. 1 spot.

Naomi figured she had to be crazy back in March of '83, when she dragged Wynonna and her guitar into RCA/Nashville for a rare live audition for the brass. "I was 18," Wynonna shrugs. "What did I know?" Recalls Naomi: "We walked in and my knees went weak. I thought, what in the world have I done?" What the two down-home upstarts did, within one hour, was get themselves a record deal.

A Nashville songwriter couldn't have fashioned a pithier story, right down to the lye soap Naomi makes by hand. Born in Ashland, Ky., she married her hometown sweetheart, then had Wynonna the week of high school graduation. Divorced in L.A. after an eight-year marriage (and the birth of second daughter Ashley, now 16), she worked in the Fifth Dimension's office and as an advertising model. The schools were excellent "but the kids were starting to think Hollywood was normal and that summers home were just vacations," says Naomi. "It was lopsided." Returning to tiny Morrill, Ky., "We went from having three TVs, two refrigerators and four phones to having none of the above," smirks Wynonna. While Naomi attended nursing school, Wynonna started teaching herself guitar and seriously listening to music—mostly bluegrass—for the first time. "I started singing and Mom'd be doin' chores and she'd start singing lower harmony. We'd sit around the supper table and sing just to pass the time." By 16, Wynonna had won her high school talent show, stopped being a straight-A student ("Amen") and decided that music was the road for her.

Finding their manager through Ricky Skaggs and their producer through a patient of Naomi's, the two spent a year honing "the Judd sound" and style. "We haven't played honky-tonks. I won't subject my daughter," insists Mother, which may be why Wynonna's wondering, "Where are all the male groupies I hear about?" No matter: Her boyfriend, Stephen, lives near the duo's Victorian, white frame house in Franklin, Tenn., and Naomi, fresh out of a "heartbreaking" four-year relationship, freely admits to "a maternal instinct as fierce as a mountain lion's."

For now, mother-daughter relations are uppermost. Even though "we disagree on things," says Wynonna, "we're dealing with it. There are times when I have to remind myself that this is what I want." But, says Naomi proudly, "Onstage I'll look over and think, 'Good grief, where did that voice come from?' " As a mother, she adds, "I've had to learn to walk away sometimes and give up control. I have to realize that this brat I used to diaper is a 50-50 financial partner."

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