Few artists better defined country music in the ’70s and ’80s than Barbara Mandrell, and now fans can revisit her acclaimed hits with After All These Years: A Collection. Releasing on vinyl July 10, the greatest hits package was curated by the iconic artist, who retired from country music in 2000.
If the new hits collection isn’t enough to get Mandrell fans teeming with excitement, there’s more good news. Her chart-topping hit, “Sleeping Single in a Double Bed,” was recently remixed by Dave Audé, who won a Grammy for his remix of the Bruno Mars’ mega hit “Uptown Funk” and has also worked with such artists as Katy Perry, Rihanna, Lady Gaga, Madonna, U2, Sting and others.
Mandrell credits her longtime friend Clint Higham, a Nashville-based manager whose clients include Kenny Chesney, with suggesting Audé revive one of her songs. “We’ve known him for so many years and Clint is just brilliant,” Mandrell tells Sounds Like Nashville in an upbeat tone that sounds like she’s sharing exciting news with a girlfriend. “Out of the blue, Clint asked me if I’d heard some of Dave’s remix stuff and I said, ‘No I don’t think so.’ He said Dave would be really great remixing something of mine.”
When she got Audé’s dance remix of “Sleeping Single in a Double Bed,” Mandrell loved the results. “I didn’t expect anything that,” Mandrell says. “It’s fantastic. He’s very talented, this Dave. I was more than thrilled the first time I heard it.”
Written by Kye Fleming and Dennis Morgan, the original “Sleeping Single in a Double Bed” spent three weeks at No. 1 for Mandrell in 1978 and helped launch a string of hits such as “(If Loving You is Wrong) I Don’t Want to be Right,” “Crackers,” “Wish You Were Here” and “I Was Country When Country Wasn’t Cool,” which are among the 14 songs included on After All These Years: A Collection.
Mandrell herself selected the songs that appear on the album, which will be available exclusively at all Cracker Barrel Old Country Store locations and online. “My daughter Jaime was the one who suggested the title,” says Mandrell, who has been riding out the pandemic with family at her cabin outside of Nashville. “After All These Years: A Collection just seemed perfect. I told Jamie, ‘That’s perfect because that’s what it is.’”
Mandrell’s career is legendary. Her love of music began very early in life. She was reading sheet music before she could read words and by age 11, she was a prodigy on the steel guitar. People were mesmerized by the talented child and she caught the attention of Chet Atkins and “Uncle” Joe Maphis who shepherded her entrance into the music business. By the time she was a teenager, she was touring with The Johnny Cash Show. She earned her first hit with a remake of Otis Redding’s classic “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long” and scored her first No. 1 with “Midnight Oil.” “Sleeping Single in a Double Bed” came soon after and the momentum continued for decades.
In 1980, the Country Music Association (CMA) named Mandrell Entertainer of the Year. At the time, she was only the third woman to have ever won that honor. She won again in 1981, becoming the first artist to win entertainer twice. Taylor Swift is the only other woman to have received the entertainer prize twice. Over the years, Mandrell has won numerous accolades from CMA, Academy of Country Music, Grammy Awards, American Music Awards and People’s Choice Awards, among others. Mandrell was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2009 and into the Musicians Hall of Fame in 2016. She’s been a member of the Grand Ole Opry since 1972. She brought new fans to country music with her popular NBC television show Barbara Mandrell & the Mandrell Sisters.
Mandrell has always loved different styles of music and in selecting songs for the hits package she wanted to include songs that shared her affinity for R&B, traditional country and pop. “There’s some R&B songs that were really good for me that I cut—‘Married, But Not To Each Other,’ ‘Woman To Woman’ and ‘If Loving Is Wrong, I Don’t Want To Be Right,’” she says. “There is also my signature song that Kye and Dennis wrote for me, ‘I Was Country When Country Wasn’t Cool,’ and then there’s ‘Till You’re Gone’ and ‘Fast Lanes and Country Roads.’ I think Kye and Dennis wrote like six songs on there [including] ‘Years.’ It’s a standard. It’s such a fine piece of music that they wrote and allowed me to record.”
Fleming and Morgan were the hit writing team behind many of Mandrell’s biggest songs, including “Sleeping Single in a Double Bed.” “My producer, Tom Collins, had been with his momma and daddy in East Tennessee for the weekend,” Mandrell recalls. “Evidently it had been their anniversary and somebody had asked them, ‘How can you have such a happy marriage all this time and be so in love with each other?’ His daddy had said, ‘Well I guess sleeping double in a single bed,’ and he laughed and laughed. He brought that story back with him and he told Kye and Dennis. They had never written together before and he said, ‘I want you to write a song for Barbara Mandrell. I’m not saying this is it. I’m just saying this happened this weekend and is kind of a good idea. If you want it, take it.’ They turned it around to ‘sleeping single in a double bed’ and made it the opposite. I admire people that are that clever.”
Mandrell also recalls the conversation that led to Fleming and Morgan writing “I was Country When Country Wasn’t Cool.” “I was speaking to Kye and Dennis in Tom’s office. We were just visiting,” she says. “I was born in Houston, TX and then I was raised in Southern California. As we were just chit chatting, they asked what was that like doing country music as a kid in California. I just started telling them stories, one of which was every Saturday night on Channel 11 in Los Angeles, the Town Hall Party television show was on with all of the big names in country music. When they would play California, they would always do a guest spot on there. It was live. I was in 5th or 6th grade and I would go back to school on Monday morning after having performed on Saturday night and I’d hear things like, ‘Yee Haw! Love that country music!’ just poking fun at me. I told them stories of stuff like that.”
Mandrell says she was surprised at how quickly Fleming and Morgan turned those memories into a hit song. “It was about 24 or 48 hours later, Kye and Dennis said ‘Hey, when you come into the office today we have a song we wrote. We want to see if you like it.’ That’s when they sang ‘I Was Country When Country Wasn’t Cool,’” she says. “I just admire them and thank them so much.”
Putting together the hits collection was like taking a walk down memory lane for Mandrell. She shares a funny story about performing “Standing Room Only,” written by Charles Silver and Susan Manchester. “I was on the Opry ‘Standing Room Only.’ I was very pregnant with our daughter Jaime at the time,” she recalls. “I was really sticking out there looking big, and ‘Standing Room Only’ was my big hit right then. So I went out onstage at the Opry. The song kicks off and the first line is ‘You must think my bed’s a bus stop the way you come and go.’ I really hadn’t thought about it in that way until I’m standing there that pregnant. It was pretty funny.”
After nearly 40 years in the business, Mandrell surprised fans by announcing her retirement, and performed her last concert in 1997. Unlike many artists who retire, then regret it and stage a comeback, Mandrell truly left the business and began enjoying life offstage. “I’ve been living a very relaxed wonderful life. Before this virus, I was just at home. I would cook and clean and just be with my husband,” she says of her husband of 53 years Ken Dudney. “I watch a lot of TV and I see my grandson Jax. Ken and I FaceTime him and our daughter Jaime every night.”
The Mandrell family has cabins outside of Nashville and she has been spending quarantine time there. “We have a camp for our family, for our kids and us,” she says of their three children. “We have 64 acres and we built cabins, one for each of the kids and then there’s a family cabin with a full kitchen. We are staying here so that we stay away from people and our oldest son Matt is a professional chef so this is great. He’s been taking care of us and running whatever errands for us with his mask and gloves on. Then he cleans the groceries when they get here outside the cabin and brings them in. Since he’s a professional chef he makes our dinner. I can’t complain.”
Jaime and Jax have also spent time at the family camp. “She’s the best mother in the whole world. She really is,” Mandrells says with pride. “I thought I was a pretty good one, but I ain’t nothing compared to her. Jax is five now and he’s a miracle because he was what they call an ultra preemie. He was two pounds when he was born.”
Mandrell’s family also includes her beloved Yorkie Poos—Trevi and Milli and she is adding two more to the clan. “The other two are Maggie and Wilson. They belonged to Ken’s Aunt Martha, who raised him all through high school,” Mandrell says. “She passed away, so we’re going to be taking Wilson and Maggie and adding them to our family with Trevi and Milli. So we’ll have four puppy dogs because we had promised Aunt Martha that if anything ever happened to her we’d take them gladly. We’re big animal lovers.”
Mandrell and her husband have been enjoying time at their cabin during the pandemic. “I love it out here at camp,” she enthuses. “Yesterday my son Matt and I were in the Side by Side (SxS vehicle) and headed up to the top of the hill. He made a big garden up there and as we were getting ready to go, there were two deer that just stood and looked at us. We turned the engine off and just sat there and watched them for several minutes before they took off. Today he video-taped for me one of those big water turtles, and then we have one momma and five baby groundhogs that we’ve been enjoying for the last few weeks. I take them food out there every day and we have raccoons. I love the animals, so I’m very happy out here camping.”
When asked if she’s ever regretted retiring, especially at such a young age, Mandrell replies, “I was still in my 40’s and no, I have not for one second regretted it. I’m very, very blessed that I was able to work for 38 years. That’s a lot and every second of it was pretty much fantastic. I have no regrets with any of it. There were many, many, many things God blessed me with during my career that I would have never dreamed that I could have done and had and been a part of so I’m very grateful. I just never had a chance to be just a wife and just a mother and all of that, so being retired gave me that chance.”
Though she has no regrets, she admits there are things she misses. “My band. I loved them and still do,” she says of The Do-Rites. “Obviously I miss my fans. And this will sound nuts, but I miss—and I don’t know if anybody will get this except for a performer—I miss the lights, the way they felt on me. I remember it hit me hard when we were at one of the Nashville Predator games. At a certain point the big spotlights started going around slow on the people just circling around and when it came across me I thought, ‘Oh man, I miss that.’ You can feel the lights and it’s cool.”
Mandrell acknowledges that many people thought she’d come out of retirement. “There were lots of people that said to me, ‘You are going to be so miserable. You are going to miss it more than you can ever [imagine]. It’s going to be sad. You’ll come back,’” she says, “but no, really not for one second. That’s a huge difference to go from being an entertainer, touring and recording and then quit. We prayed about it and when God makes your decisions for you, they are right. That’s it.”
As the interview draws to a close, Mandrell speaks warmly of her fans and how appreciative she is for all they’ve done. “I’m just deeply grateful for them making it possible for me to have such a wonderful life,” she says. “It was them and God that gave us a great life. I just appreciate them and love them.”