Reba McEntire: Talking About My Story (1994)
In an exclusive first interview on the 300-page book, the beautiful Reba told Country Weekly, “It says a lot about what I’m all about.”
Originally published in the April 26, 1994 issue of Country Weekly featuring Reba on the cover. This story is presented here in its entirety.
“I cried a river of tears writing this book. It tore at my heart to relive the pain and heartbreak. But now that’s it’s over I’m glad I did it and I hope my fans learn more about me and forgive me my shortcomings.”
Her usually strong voice seemed to quaver slightly as Reba McEntire, today’s indisputable queen of country music talked about Reba: My Story, her long awaited autobiography that will go on sale in bookstores nationwide this week.
In an exclusive first interview on the 300-page book, the beautiful Reba told Country Weekly, “It’s not a tell-all book—I don’t reveal every little thing about me or about others—there’s no purpose in that. But it says a lot about what I’m all about.”
“It’s like a country song—it’s very honest and it touches on the joys and pains we all feel in our lives—lost loves, the death of loved ones, new successes and the start of new generations. There are some things that don’t make me look so good. But it has a happy ending.”
The book not only chronicles Reba’s rise to stardom from the plains of Oklahoma to the Grand Ole Opry and Carnegie Hall, it deals with the emotional issues of her divorce from rodeo champion Charlie Battles and provides a gripping and heart-wrenching description of the personally painful aftermath of the tragic 1991 San Diego plane crash that killed eight members of her band and crew.
“The plane crash and divorce were definitely the hardest things to write about,” Reba said. “Definitely, by far. The plane crash because we lost all those folks. In the book I’ve taken an in-depth look at what happened that March 16, 1991—mine and Narvel’s (husband Narvel Blackstock) reaction. A moment-to-moment re-creation of what happened and the things that went through my mind. The horror and the devastation of losing so many people so close to you and terrible loss felt by their families.
“Those of us—family members, colleagues, friends—who lost people in the crash will be marked by it forever,” she wrote, noting that Waylon Jennings, who gave up his seat on a small plane to the Big Bopper, who then died when the plane went down. Waylon, Reba said, cautioned her not to feel guilty because of the crash, adding, “It wasn’t meant for you to be on that plane or you would have been. So don’t blame yourself and don’t feel guilty.”
McEntire tells of another poignant moment when she asked Vince Gill how she was going to handle it when she went onstage and turned around and her regular band members were not there. “If you want me to,” the soft-hearted Gill told her with compassion, “I’ll be on your stage. I’ll be there for you.”
“I found solace in the Lord and in my music,” Reba reveals, but she admits the pain still runs deep. She told Country Weekly that, out of respect for the victims’ families, she’s “very torn” about accepting offers to turn the book into a movie. “It would be too much of a heavy reminder of what happened, and I don’t think I’d like to put the families through that, unless the movie can serve as a tribute to their legacies.”
“Even after I finished writing about it and rereading it hundreds of times, it never got easier. I had to read the book for an audio tape version and it was a long process getting that done. Reading the part about the plane crash took longer than reading the rest of the book. I had to stop and start over again so many times—go outside and pull myself together so I could make another try at it.”
Reba said she wrote the book, “To tell my side of the divorce and my side of the stories that have come out on me.”
“I never even talked about this stuff before and didn’t want to talk about it. It’s just not something you’re proud of—going through a divorce. You hurt a lot of people and it’s just not a happy time.”
“There are some things that don’t make me look too good. But I’m very glad I did it. I hope the fans learn a little bit about me and I hope they forgive me of my shortcomings. I’ve got bunches of them.”
Those fans should get more than a kick out of the insightful look into her colorful past and vivacious present. The MCA Records artist reveals how she has dealt with her challenges. “My personal faith in God has seen me through when nothing else could help, and my music has also been a constant source of consolation. If there’s anything I’ve learned it is that there’s no greater source of happiness than my family.”
The book contains a delightful array of facts from childhood on—trivia as well as treasure. Born a breech baby March 28, 1995, Reba arrived during the only year that her parents were without health insurance. “As Daddy likes to tell it, he had to sell some hogs to pay for me!”
Few people have had a more “country” upbringing than Reba’s. In one side-splitting chapter, she tells of helping her father castrate bulls. “Many times when we were done, I helped carry that bucket of testicles to the house and Susie, Alice and I would sit outside the back door and clean them. We called them mountain oysters. Then we’d take them into Mama and she’d slice them thin, roll them in flour and fry them in hot grease in a huge cast-iron skillet. I was literally raised on mountain oysters.”
From mountain oysters to pearls of wisdom, the childhood memories are soft and winsome. “Some of my fondest childhood memories have to do with Grandma telling me Bible stories when she and I fished from the pond dam . . . I accepted Jesus Christ as my personal savior when I was little bitty, sitting on a pond dam with Grandma.”
Music entered her life early, according to the book’s account of how Reba and Susie would stand in front of a bedroom mirror, use hairbrushes as microphones and lip-synch the lyrics to The Singing Nun’s “Dominique” as it played on a record player. “Once a week, the four of us would come parading down the hall in our pajamas, dancing and singing to the music of 77 Sunset Strip while it was coming on TV.”
McEntire writes that her first paying performance came during a rodeo trip to Cheyenne, Wyo. In a hotel lobby filled with cowboys, her brother Pake was requested to sing a song. “Hound Dog” was his choice. Observing that Pake received a quarter for his effort, and not wanting to be left out, Reba sang “Jesus Loves Me.” She received a nickel and sassily remarks in the book, “Back then was just like today. The girl singer does as much work as the guy but she gets less money for it. I’ve been fighting that all my life!”
The book shows how McEntire moved into the mainline of country music, getting a big boost in Nashville from singer and songwriter Red Steagall. When Reba waffled about going to Nashville, her mother pleaded, “I’m living all my dreams through you.” That made up Reba’s mind. After being rejected by some Nashville record companies, Reba finally ended up on Phonogram in 1975, receiving advances for each of the first four years—$7,500, $10,000, $15,000 and $20,000. She was worried that the company might drop her since she wasn’t an instant hit, but the next year she scored with her first hit song, “I Don’t Want To Be a One Night Stand.”
That same year she married Charlie Battles, a world-champion steer wrestler. As her career took off, her marriage to Battles began to suffer. “I sometimes thought that he felt demeaned by my becoming more successful, getting lots of attention and making more money than he did. “It’s not that he didn’t care—he did, a lot—but he was so bullheaded about seeing things his way.”
Reba admits she gave as good as she took. “One thing led to another and for the first time in our life together, I thought Charlie was going to hit me, as he reared back with his shaving kit in his hand.” The marriage died in 1987.
Two years later she married Blackstock, himself recently divorced. “I want to say right now that Narvel Blackstock didn’t break up my marriage and I didn’t break up his. Both marriages had been in trouble a long time.”