Reba McEntire on Dance Music, Drag Queens, and That ‘Ted Lasso’ Reference
Reba McEntire may be known as a country music traditionalist, but she paid tribute to a diverse range of influences on the 1995 covers album Starting Over , including a faithful version of Diana Ross & the Supremes’ “You Keep Me Hangin’ On.” Through a remix of the same song by production trio Love to Infinity — who replaced the familiar Motown stomp with slicked-back, snapping percussion and soulful house-music keys — McEntire turned heads in Nashville and earned her only career hit on the U.S. dance-music charts.
“It was new, especially to country, especially to me,” McEntire, 66, tells Rolling Stone .
The remix of “You Keep Me Hangin’ On” fits in comfortably on the second disc of McEntire’s new three-disc collection Revived Remixed Revisited , which offers 30 variations on some of her best-known songs: Revived pulls in McEntire’s stage band to capture the way she performs songs like “The Greatest Man I Never Knew” and “You Lie” in a live setting; Remixed includes danceable reworks by Dave Audé, Ralphi Rosario, and the trans producer Lafemmebear; and Revisited puts McEntire in the studio with producer Dave Cobb for stripped-down, intimate interpretations that include the first duet between McEntire and Dolly Parton.
“I’ve sang for her, she’s sang for me, but we’ve never done a duet together,” McEntire says. “I was so thrilled that she said yes.”
When McEntire kicks off her headlining tour in January 2022, it will have been nearly two full years since her last touring performance in March 2020. This time around will inevitably be different than before, but McEntire is confident about the way they’re prioritizing safety to make the trek successful. “We’re taking all the precautions we can, making sure the vaccinations are where they need to be,” she says. “And also, we’re eliminating the backstage passes. Just to keep everybody healthy and safe as possible is our main goal.”
What were the criteria for a song to be included on Revived Remixed Revisited ?
Basically what we’d do is take a poll of what’s the favorite songs. At the beginning, when we first came up with this, I wanted to do songs on the albums that were never singles. You’ve got an album of 10-15 songs… After three or four singles, the record label would go, “Hey, you gotta put out a new album.” Because of real estate in the record stores, you’ve gotta keep putting out the product. That’s the way it used to be. There’s a lot of songs on those albums I know could’ve made really great singles. That’s what I wanted to do, and they said, “Well, no, we want to do something the fans are more familiar with,” so we went with the Number One records.
You recorded with Chris Stapleton’s producer Dave Cobb on the Revisited disc. What was different about working with him?
You didn’t have 15 people in the studio. It was about five or six musicians. And Dave’s idea is, “When she sings, everybody back up, back off, get out of her way.” We all got in there together and sang and had fun. It was just very relaxed — that’s the best adjective I can use for the Dave Cobb sessions.
In 1996, you released a remixed version of your cover of “You Keep Me Hangin’ On.” Was that the first time you’d ever had a remix commissioned?
To my knowledge, yeah, that was the first one.
Were you into dance music at all? Did you pay attention to it?
No, not at all. When they came to me and said, “We’re gonna do a dance mix on this,” I went with it, because it was a Diana Ross and the Supremes song, so it made sense. But then when they wanted to do a dance mix of “I’m a Survivor,” I’m like, “What? Are y’all sure?” And they sent it to me, and I was like, “Yeah, that’ll work!” I don’t know how the fans will respond to this, but so far the people who’ve listened to the dance mixes absolutely love ‘em.
Were you involved at all during the remixing process?
They would send them off to different people and come back in and play it for me. And I either said, “I don’t like this” or “That’s perfect,” and then sent it back to them and they’d fix what I didn’t like, and keep what we all liked. It was a good team effort and I applaud those people who do that, I don’t know how they do it — it must be very tedious and take a long time.
I’ve seen numerous drag performances to “Fancy” and “The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia.” What’s the crucial thing one needs to do a proper Reba impersonation?
You gotta have the red hair [and] you gotta have the red dress, especially if you’re gonna do “Fancy.” And most of them do “Fancy”!
“Fancy” is the one song that shows up on all three of the discs. Why do you think people continue to respond to it?
It’s a great song. Bobbie Gentry wrote it and had a Number One song on it in 1968. A great song is timeless, it’s got the foundation to last forever. And I love rags-to-riches songs and stories — it’s like Cinderella , Annie Get Your Gun , I absolutely love that. And the fans love it too. It has attitude, it has heart and a story, and survival.
Did you hear the version of “Fancy” that Orville Peck put out on his EP?
I thought it was great. I don’t think I would have appreciated it as much if it had been just like mine or Bobbie Gentry’s, so it was different and I liked it.
What keeps you motivated to keep recording and making new music?
I love to do it. There’s always more great songs to sing. A huge thrill is to find a song you absolutely fall in love with the first time you hear it. You can’t wait to sing it, you can’t wait to make it your own, you can’t wait to get into the studio to record it, to put it down on tape. That’s a huge excitement for me.
When’s the last time that happened?
The last time I went into the studio, because every song I record, I do love it that much.
I was surprised to hear your name come up in an episode of Ted Lasso . How did you feel about that?
I was too! I was sitting there that night, my dog and I were on the couch, and [Roy Kent] said, “I believe you have a ticket for Reba McEntire.” I went, “Oh my gosh!” I love that show. I absolutely love it. We got to get on Facebook and Instagram, talking about it. And when Ted Lasso won for the Emmy , I said, “Hey guys, congratulations! Sorry I couldn’t get in. Somebody didn’t leave me a ticket at the ticket booth, [hashtag] Roy Kent.” It was fun to volley back and forth. That show has heart.