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Barbara Mandrell Interview

It’s our pleasure to offer you an exclusive interview with none other than the legendary Barbara Mandrell! We sat down with the music icon earlier this month (September 5th, 2009) in St. Louis, MO to chat about her inductions into the Steel Guitar Players Hall of Fame and Country Music Hall of Fame, her late father Irby Mandrell, affluent beliefs as a devout Christian, fondness for her precious daughter-in-law Christy Sutherland, and various highlights from her blazing career in the country music biz plus much more!! We'd like to thank Ms. Mandrell, her husband Kenneth, and wonderful son Matthew for helping make this interview possible. We are very grateful to share Barbara's timeless legacy with our beloved readers.

Enjoy and God Bless, Country Stars Central


(CSC) 1. Congrats on your induction into the Steel Guitar Hall of Fame! What does this induction mean to you as a fellow steel player and one of the very few women to say the least?


(Barbara Mandrell)

Thanks Christian. It’s always nice to see you! It’s amazing, (my induction) it’s really amazing. I’m overjoyed because as you know steel guitar brings out passion in people, it’s just an amazing instrument, a very versatile instrument; what really terrific people that play it. My father Irby, who has died this past year, he knew about this induction before he went home to heaven and he was as excited as you can imagine. It meant just as much to him as it did to me. Of course, he’s the one that pounded out rhythm for me a lot when I was a little girl learning to play the steel but I had been playing about six months being taught by Norman Hamlet, Merle Haggard’s steel guitarist and band leader of forty-two years, who is here with us to induct me. I had been playing about six months when I had gotten my first job in Las Vegas, and then from there I became a regular on a television show called town hall party and that was all from the steel guitar and also saxophone.


The other gentleman that is here to induct me into the Steel Guitar Players Hall of Fame is Mike “Cookie Monster” Jones. I met Mike and hired Mike my last twenty-one years in the business. He was my steel guitarist and he and I did the “Barbara Mandrell and The Mandrell Sisters” with us, he did all my road shows; you know he’s phenomenal, just absolutely amazing. So alongside you, in the last little while I just got to enjoy listening to Norman Hamlet and Mike “Cookie Monster” Jones play for everyone and it’s just an enormous thrill.


To say that I’m excited and proud and honored is very much an understatement, and I’m told that I’m the only woman in the Steel Guitar Players Hall of Fame. To put in my two cents worth, I want to say that really shouldn’t be and I’m sure that will change because I’ve always talked up steel guitar to women, it’s not a masculine instrument, it’s an amazing instrument and as long as you’re a tomboy and you can lift some weight to carry that instrument it’s doable. So, I encourage women to play the steel guitar; we play with a lot of feeling too you know.

(CSC) 2. Speaking of Hall of Fames, this past year you became a part of the historic Country Music Hall of Fame. What does this historic achievement mean to you on a personal level?


(Barbara Mandrell)

I think the Country Music Hall of Fame is the pinnacle of, it’s kind of like a forever more thing; I don’t know anything bigger, better or beyond. My daddy worked so hard to get me to this point in my career. It feels great, it just feels great!!  


(CSC) 3. Being a talented musician, you’ve played various instruments in your live shows. Do you have a particular favorite and how did you learn to play them?


(Barbara Mandrell)

Well, I started playing the steel and took up sax two weeks later because they were offering it in band at school and I wanted to learn to play the alto sax, so both of those are what started it for me. Later when my father owned a music store there was a song (Laughs), you know Earl Scruggs from the Beverly Hillbillies theme and that was very popular, so there was a five-string banjo in daddy’s music store that I just took and started messing with it until I could learn that song and that song is what started the five string for me. The Dobro I just adore; I think it is so sweet and mournful and so funky and it rocks; I love Dobro!! My steel guitar that’s a four-neck Wright Custom I kept that, it’s in the Country Music Hall of Fame. Other than my Dobro that my parents bought me and had made and engraved to me, other than those two I sold all of my instruments because I didn’t want any temptation when I retired (Laughs) but I kept my bar and my picks and my Dobro and then I kept my four-neck Wright. Those are just sweet, sweet memories you know.   


(CSC) 4. How has your dear father Irby Mandrell influenced you personally as a father and professionally as a mentor?


(Barbara Mandrell)

Dad and I really were side by side partners because he really was a mentor; he picked, he sang, he was a very smart businessman, he was a hard-working man, he was from the old school too of a man’s word is his bond, to be responsible and to give it your all. He was a great example not just telling me but by doing it. We played music together, he booked me, he drove my bus, he managed me and it was Dad and I side by side, so yes, we were partners.   


(CSC) 5. What are some of your fondest memories about him that come to mind?


(Barbara Mandrell)

Above all the unlimited numerous things he did for me career wise are just boundless. After having said that, there was no better Daddy; I miss my Daddy. If he is looking down on me today, I’m sure he’s definitely smiling. (Laughs) The Steel Guitar convention is a really great thing. Over the last thirty-eight years Dewitt Scott has done amazing things with this convention, it has grown by leaps and bounds.  


(CSC) 6. You were the very first artist to win the CMA’s prestigious “Entertainer of The Year” award for two consecutive years. What do you attribute those awards to?


(Barbara Mandrell)

I always consider myself an entertainer so that felt great to me to be the first to win “Entertainer of The Year” twice in a row because it said, “We like what you’re doing, and you’re doing a good job of it.” It was most encouraging to me as an entertainer. This is a very candid statement I’m going to make to you, it’s not the first time I’ve made this statement but I haven’t said it much; when there were the awards shows if I was nominated for an award and if I won it motivated me, if I lost it motivated me, either way win or lose it was going to make me really in a determined fashion to push even harder. I’d say to myself, “Oh I’m just so overjoyed that you did this and I’m going to do everything I possibly can to make you feel that you voted for the right person.” It really motivated me. If I lost, I’d say to myself, “Well you just wait until next year or I’ll get it next year, I’ll show you I’m going to work really hard.” It served the same for me either way although it felt a whole lot better to win! (Laughs)   


(CSC) 7. Tell me about your dear friend Dottie Rambo and how have you coped with her loss?


(Barbara Mandrell)

Dottie Rambo was in the true sense of the word “extraordinarily gifted” writer. She was a very blessed woman. I mean God gave her miraculous songs, songs that touched so many people in such a huge way. She was fun, and she was sweet, and she was real and she was very good to me; I love Dottie. She recorded with me on my first Gospel album when I asked for certain people to do duets with me and we recorded her song that she wrote called “I Will Glory in the Cross.” She was an anointed singer so I miss her very much. I have now a daughter-in-law, Christy Sutherland that is a Christian writer and singer/artist that also adored Dottie Rambo; of course, who didn’t. I loved the fact of watching Christy early on when she’s just written a song and something’s new and to hear what God’s given her, it’s a very exciting time. I’m skipping around here some but you make me think of things Christian. The only Grammy’s I ever won were for Gospel Christian music so thank you Lord, and then I also heard that the only ones Elvis Presley ever won were for Gospel Christian music so I thought to myself, “You know that’s in good company.”


(CSC) 8. How has your daughter-in-law Christy Sutherland’s music/ministry affected you personally?


(Barbara Mandrell)

Because I’m Christy Sutherland’s mother-in-law it affords me the opportunity and the joy to see her close up and personal (Laughs) you know; I’m her mom. In fact, you can see me smiling so much right now, and I wish that those reading this could see that. It’s wonderful to watch for real how much she loves our Lord and how she gives him the credit which he and he alone deserves for the beautiful compositions that he puts on her in her heart and in her mind to create for him, and to watch her perform. My sister Louise once said to me, “Golly Christy’s so great live, when you watch her, she’s just so polished and so at ease on the stage.” I said to Louise, “Well of course she is Louise, she’s done it just like you and I did, she’s done it since she was a little girl that’s her home.” Louise replied, “Well that’s right I forgot about that.” (Laughs) My son Matthew manages Christy and orchestrates her career and where it goes and books her and all, and the two of them are very grateful for the journey God’s got them on.   


(CSC) 9. You went beyond country music when you starred on your own top-rated variety show with your sisters Louise and Irlene. What did you enjoy most about that time in your life?


(Barbara Mandrell)

When I really think about what I’m saying it blows my mind but it felt amazing to have a hit television show, because in the early 80’s when we had our “Barbara Mandrell and The Mandrell Sisters” show it was before all of the cable; so, when I think back you would only see ABC, NBC, CBS, and PBS basically. Every week we averaged 40 million people watching us, I mean that’s mind blowing and then to feel the impact that that had when we would depart from the work load and go for a Christmas holiday or something it was amazing, just amazing!! To say I’m grateful, to say I’ll never forget it, and that I’m so pleased is just truly an understatement. It was most difficult though because of my health, because of my throat, after two years I had to leave the show, I was told by the doctors; it was that or it would have an effect on my voice forever. It’s hard to walk up with a hit show and say “That’s it, I can’t do this any longer” but its okay, it’s a beautiful, beautiful memory and I enjoyed it. How terrific it was working with Louise and Irlene; it was just really neat. I’m told also that it was the last successful variety show and that’s a shame because variety is very cool!


(CSC) 10. One thing I admire most about you is your Christianity. How have your strong beliefs as a Christian played a role in your daily life?


(Barbara Mandrell)

Thank you. You know this is just a journey we’re all on Christian, we’re headed somewhere and I know I’m goin’ to heaven, I know I’m going to be with the Lord and I know that everything about my life that’s been good and been wonderful it’s totally and absolutely because of him. Whenever I would be the way one should always be and that is be it in business life or domestic life when there was a decision to be made or things to think about and all of that, when I would do what I should do and that is ask God, “What would you have me do, show me the way.” Everything was just always perfect. The only time I ever messed up was when I would forget about that and just jump in with both feet on my own without asking for his guidance.


God loves us so much; we can’t even fathom how much he loves us. Even when it’s the hard times he’s there for us, he loves us and there’s always victory in Jesus, always. We come out the stronger and the better for it when we overcome these things. When it’s the good things and all it’s really easy to be able to say, “Thank you Lord, Thank you Lord, Thank you Lord.” I’m so glad that I belong to him. My daughter Jaime just got back about ten days ago from a mission trip in Kenya and we are blessed, we’re so privileged to be in America; a lot wrong here but it’s the most perfect place in the world!!


(CSC) 11. What is one thing that you would like to be remembered for and why?


(Barbara Mandrell)

I’d love for people to remember me as a person that really entertained them, that was a fine entertainer, and I’d like them to remember that I loved and appreciated everybody that let me entertain them. I feel really good about the thirty-eight-year career that God gave me. It was fun and that’s because of the people.




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