How I clipped the Dixie Chicks' wings

The yee-haw-ing trio won five Grammy awards last night and no-one's happier than me. Because, four years ago, I almost destroyed their career.

Good eggs... The Dixie Chicks have had the final laugh after almost being destroyed by the reaction to their 2003 comments about George Bush. Photograph: EPA

In a reversal of fortunes that even the Teflon-coated Kate Moss would have found hard to pull off, the Dixie Chicks are the biggest band in the world. Last night they won five Grammy awards, including the non-country and much-coveted album and song of the year trophies and no-one's happier about it than me. Because, four years ago, I almost destroyed the yee-haw-ing trio's career.

Remember Natalie Maines' infamous comment: "Just so you know, we're ashamed the President of the United States is from Texas"? Though I didn't put the words in the baby Dolly Parton's mouth on March 11 2003 at Shepherd's Bush Empire, London, I repeated them in my review of the gig for the Guardian.

Back then, the Dixie Chicks were already country music's most controversial stars. They'd just won four Grammy awards and the disapproval of the country establishment, who didn't approve of their feisty songs, their provocative style or the fact they were selling huge numbers of progressive bluegrass records to pop kids. But this was different. America had just declared war on Iraq and the Dixie Chicks were part of the ultra-conservative country community. The review practically wrote itself.

In the days that followed, I didn't dwell on the Dixie Chicks and their PR faux pas. Then the emails started arriving, the phone didn't stop ringing. Details emerged of death threats made to Maines and equally "guilty" cohorts Martie Maguire and Emily Robison, of records being banned and CDs crushed by bulldozers at mass demonstrations.

It was surreal. I was used to reviewing music - now I was part of one of the biggest stories in the world. Though I stood by my review and my decision to include Maines' quote - and was disappointed when I discovered she initially denied it - the sight of this modern day witch trial was unnerving.

But the Dixie Chicks came out with their dukes up, appearing on the cover of Entertainment Weekly naked and painted with insults, and joining the likes of Bruce Springsteen and REM on 2004's anti-Bush Vote For Change Tour. Last year's Rick Rubin-produced Taking the Long Way Round tackled the controversy and reaffirmed the band's popularity whilst establishing a new-found credibility.

In June 2006, the band returned to the UK and to Shepherd's Bush Empire. They sold T-shirts bearing the legend: "The Only Bush we Trust is Shepherd's Bush" and Maines reiterated that the band were ashamed that the President came from Texas. Four years on and six Grammys later, it looks like the Dixie Chicks have won.


Betty Clarke

The GuardianTramp

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