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Lee Ann Womack hopes to join the big (country) dance

By Jeffrey B. Remz, May 2000

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Bobbie Cryner, who had two critically acclaimed, but commercially lackluster albums on MCA, penned "Stronger Than I Am."

"Like most of my great things, Frank brought it to me. He was walking down the hall at a publishing company, and he heard Bobbie playing it on the piano in a writer's room," says Womack. "It was brand new. He brought me a piano vocal of it that night and popped it in the cassette that night. Frank is so smart. He never sets things up. He just says, 'listen to this.'"

"The piano started, and then I heard Bobbie come in singing. It's just one of those that sucks you in from the first line," she says. "A song about a divorced mom and a mother and a daughter. I just try to throw that (her own similar story) all out the window. I try to think 'does that song move me?' and that song moved me."

Womack is not exactly a prolific songwriter, although she wrote "Forgetting Something" with Wynn Varble and Sellers.

(While pursuing her career, Womack also was married to Sellers, who was trying to get his own singing career going. The two wrote together. Sellers eventually released one album on RCA and a second in early April, two weeks after he was axed.

Womack and Sellers had one daughter, and although they wrote together for her new album, that was before they were divorced. They did sing on each other's records.)

"Often times, it's like getting blood from a turnip for me. The ideas come. Songwriting is a craft and is something if you're going to do well, it takes time to cultivate that. I haven't had the time. It's something you'll see me more in the future. I'll take the time when I feel I can. I look very much forward to doing that. Hopefully, there will come a time when I can write an entire album."

"I don't like to do anything if I can't be the best," she says.

Seemingly, Womack always has had a drive in her.

From the start, Womack wanted out of her hometown, Jacksonville, Texas.

"It was very small town - one high school, a two-Dairy Queen town," she says of the town of 12,000 people.

"I felt like I was in the middle of nowhere. It really bothered me. If we can't go to Nashville, let's just go to Dallas. I just wanted to go somewhere where things were happening. It was very difficult for me. I don't know why a child would long for something they ever had or never experience, but I did."

Womack may have her dad to blame for the country influence. Aubry Womack spun discs full-time at the local radio station, KEBE and KOOI.

"I remember listening to him on the radio, and everywhere we went, everyone knew who he was. He was something, as most on air personalities are, of a local celebrity. I noticed that and thought 'that's neat.' He had and still has a passion for great country songs. There's an art for great country songs if it's done right. He loved 'Mama Tried' and some of those real classic country things. I think I picked that up from him too - just him talking about those songs and how it made him feel."

Womack was too young to remember visits by the likes of Dolly Parton and Porter Wagoner to the stations. But maybe something must have stuck from the visit with Parton because she is a key influence today on Womack and sounds like her a bit on the title track.

Her love of country resulted in a high school guidance counselor finding Womack a program in country music at South Plains Junior College in Texas where she went before moving for three years onto the educational bastion of country music, Belmont in Nashville where Trisha Yearwood went.

"I first went to Belmont - I signed up for their music business (program) - sound, engineering, copyright. I was also interning at MCA Records."

Womack did not do much singing but would return to Texas during the summer months. She later sang on demos in Nashville.

"I was doing some showcases around town and was doing really traditional stuff, and no one else was at the time. Pat McMakin from Sony Tree Publishing came out to see me and took me to Tree and got me a writing deal there. Six months later, I signed a record deal with Decca through Sony Tree Publishing."

Womack was a bit unusual. Whereas most artists would be willing to sign with almost any label, Womack was hung up on MCA, of which Decca was a part.

"When I went to Nashville initially, I didn't want to be an intern at any place but there. It was because of (label President) Tony Brown. I never changed from that. I've always kind of had a fascination with MCA."

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