(This interview with country singer Louise Mandrell was originally published in the St. Petersburg Times on November 16, 1984. — Bob Andelman)
Louise Mandrell bubbles as she talks. It comes across in her stage and television appearances, and it was even apparent in a long distance interview with her from the phone in her bus, parked somewhere in San Antonio, Texas.
The middle Mandrell sister is not as well-known as Barbara, but it’s not for lack of trying. Louise averages over 200 dates on the concert road each year.
“I don’t know how many, and I don’t wanna know,” she said, laughing. “Last year I got off the road for three months, but it was not by choice. The doctors took me off. This time I planned a vacation.”
Why does she tour so much?
“I like it. It’s my favorite part of the music business. I just feel like I work like everybody else. Everyone else works every day … ”
NOT EVERYONE else watched by thousands of people when they work or has to look fabulous every day; even a star can get tired of that. Almost.
“There are mornings that I’m absolutely exhausted and can’t get out of bed because I dread getting in front of the mirror and putting on makeup. But as soon as I walk out of my hotel room or my bus and one person says, ‘gee, you look nice,’ or ‘I “- liked your show,’ it’s worth it. I don’t know any woman – or any man who doesn’t appreciate a good pat on the back. Luckily, in my business, I get that,” she said.
Mandrell first blossomed on NBC-TV’s 1980-82 show Barbara Mandrell and-die Mandrell Sisters, which also featured younger sister Irlene, now a regular on Hee Haw.
Television was an even tougher grind than touring, she said.
“What I’m doing now is time demanding, but it’s not as much pressure. When we did a TV show for each week, we had to learn the dialogue, dances we had never danced before, all the instrumentals to that week’s song. Then on Friday you finished taping, and they handed you a script and said, ‘Okay, here’s next week’s.’ It was a wonderful time, and it was an exhausting time.
“I really believe what made our show a hit wasn’t necessarily the music,” she added. “I’m not saying it didn’t help, but I feel that what made that show work was that we were honest. If we made a mistake, we laughed, we went on. People could tell we all loved each other. We could say anything to each other because we were sisters. We could pour water on the head or throw a pie … For the first year, I got so tired of hearing, ‘Do y’all really do that stuff all the time?’ Well, of course I don’t go around throwing pies at my sister. I mean, that would not be a popular thing to do.”
Not every day, perhaps, but for Barbara’s 30th birthday, Mandrell decided to throw a surprise party attended by 100 friends. “The surprise was I had an exploding cake. The whole evening was just a riot. I thought, we have fun on TV, let’s just go for it. What’s she going to do (to me) with all these people around?”
HER WINTER vacation plans include Christmas in Aspen with Barbara, who is still recovering from a painful auto accident.
“She’s doing better each day,” Mandrell said. “Right now, it’s just a matter of time. I feel lost because people say, ‘How much time?’ We don’t know. She’s got a serious broken leg, and her ankle’s broke, and her knee is banged up – all of it on her right leg. So it’s hard for us to say Barbara will be well next month, January or next March.”
Before she became a solo singer, Mandrell went through many musical stages, beginning as an electric bassist. “My mother used to play it in the Mandrell Family Band. She wanted to retire, and they wouldn’t let her so she taught me.”
She eventually became an original member of Barbara’s “Do-Rites” band, later backing up Grand Ole Opry star Stu Philips and spending a year with Merle Haggard.
LOUISE MANDRELL interview excerpt: “I really believe what made our show a hit wasn’t necessarily the music,” she added. “I’m not saying it didn’t help, but I feel that what made that show work was that we were honest. If we made a mistake, we laughed, we went on. People could tell we all loved each other. We could say anything to each other because we were sisters. We could pour water on the head or throw a pie … For the first year, I got so tired of hearing, ‘Do y’all really do that stuff all the time?’ Well, of course I don’t go around throwing pies at my sister. I mean, that would not be a popular thing to do.”
In 1977, Mandrell signed a recording _contract and a year later met her husband, songwriter R.C. Bannon. For the three years preceding the TV show, she performed with Bannon, releasing songs like “Reunited,” “Me and My R.C.” and “You’re My Super Woman, You’re My Incredible Man.”
On her own, she has released three albums since 1982: Close-Up, Too Hot to Sleep and the latest, I’m Not Through Loving You Yet. The title reached number seven on Billboard’s country charts, and “This Bed Is Not Big Enough” has just been released.
MANDRELL HAS a reputation for mounting lively, energetic and colorful stage productions. This year, the word patriotic can be added to that description.
“I feel people aren’t just coming to my concert to say, ‘Okay, sing your records,” she said. “Hopefully, they like Louise Mandrell and want to know more about her.” In preparing for the current tour, “I said I want to do an American tribute and I don’t want to sing the same stuff everybody else sings. R.C. said ‘Okay, I can take care of that, I’ll write you some special material.’ I said, ‘That isn’t enough. Think for a minute. Pretend we’re at a parade. Just think America, apple pie, banners. What makes a statement that says: Hey, I believe in. our country?’ ”
The answer was a combination of military songs, the Pledge of Allegiance, special songs and a precision rifle drill. “I’d never even twirled a baton,” she remarked, but the number has become the hit of her shows.
“I feel awkward after I do my number,” she said. “When they start clapping and yelling and going wild, I know It’s not for me. Or it shouldn’t be for me. It’s for what I believe in and what they believe in. That’s why, at the end of my number, I always have the veterans stand up. I don’t walk off to that applause. I sing a closer afterwards. That applause was not for me, and I can’t walk off and ignore what they just did. So I don’t leave the stage. I’m real funny about it. I don’t want people to start thinking that I took for granted what they did. They’re standing for America … I am probably one of the hammiest people you’ll meet in your life. I will take applause when I feel I deserve it.”