Lisa Brokop is celebrating the great ladies of country music

Lisa Brokop. Photo Erika Anderson Photography

Dolly Parton, Tammy Wynette, Loretta Lynn and Patsy Cline, these names resonate in the great country music songbook. Their music and their strong personalities made them fan favourites and role models for dozens of young female performers.

One of those young performers was a seven year old from Surrey, BC., named Lisa Brokop who was even then performing with her mother. By 12 Brokop was working with bands in Vancouver and at 15 she was on the road. At 17 she had a hit single and her career was well and truly launched.

These days Brokop lives in the Nashville,Tennessee area and has been there for 25 years. She doesn’t perform as much, as in those heady early days. Instead she prefers to prepare a project and then take it out on tour. She did that with The Patsy Cline Project and now she’s got another one, this time devoted to those Legendary Ladies of Country Music. The show will be at Centrepointe Theatre on April 2 with Patricia Conroy and Amanda Wilkinson.

Brokop went south in the 1990s because that’s where the business was centred.

“Now I have my family here so Nashville is home. My daughter was born here.” And to a Canadian ear she does have a hint of a Tennessee accent. Down there people hear the true north. “It just depends on where I am,” she said with a laugh.

No matter, this music crosses all borders.

“The show is paying tribute, but we are not trying to be those artists. I won’t be dressing up as Dolly or Loretta. We will do our versions of the songs.

“Many of the ladies were very influential to me and to Patricia and Amanda. They paved the way for us.”

When Brokop started she wasn’t writing her own material so she’d sit in with a band and sing a cover of a Patsy Cline or Tammy Wynette tune.

“Those were the songs everybody would choose because everybody knew them and they could play them like Walking After Midnight or Crazy.”

She has not been lucky enough to meet Loretta Lynn or Dolly Parton but she did meet Tammy Wynette years ago.

But you can bump into them in the booming capital of country music, she said. These days tourism is driving a lot of the money that is coming into Nashville and filling up places on Broadway like Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge and of course the legendary Ryman Auditorium, the home of the Grand Ol’ Opry. Nashville, she said, is a destination for a good time.

Not that she goes downtown much. Brokop is married to singer Paul Jefferson and the couple has a nine year old at home so nights out are past tense for the most part. She probably listens to as much Taylor Swift as she used to hear Dolly Parton 20 years ago.

That said, she has witnessed the changes in the country music industry which today is an entertainment behemoth that is far removed from people like the Carter Family or Jimmie Rogers or the stars of the ’50s, ’60 and ’70s.

Does these ladies have a place today?

“I think they were almost a genre of their own. That kind of music is not being played on the radio today. It certainly doesn’t fit in the narrow streets of what country music is today. And it is very narrow and also bigger than ever.”

For Brokop, that is a bittersweet reality.

“Unfortunately some of the older stuff has been forgotten.” However she believes that the pendulum is swinging back a bit, and away from bro-country, with the success of women like Kacey Musgraves at the Grammys this year.

“I think people have loved the new country thing, but then they start to long for the old stuff because I think it’s more real. We are living in the crazy world with all kinds of negative coming at us, that I think ultimately people want a solid foundation. They want something that touches their emotions and what they are feeling. Some of the current music doesn’t do that.”

She says that Canada’s country music scene allows a little bit more freedom, more chance to do what you want to do.

“I am very happy to see a lot of young Canadian women singers getting radio play today.”

When Brokop started it could be pretty scary. It was a male dominated business.

“You would go visit these radio stations and there were a lot great people but there also were some who were pretty creepy. It was not easy. I don’t know if it would be the same for a guy out there.

“It has always been harder for women. We have been looked at as the weaker side of things, even though emotionally we are stronger.

“These last several years there has been a long cycle of guys and it has been frustrating. There are women that I see at shows who want to hear other women and they want to relate to us and see us as role models.”

But, she said, it’s a business and the radio stations have to make money and it all becomes a vicious cycle.

“Now it looks like it’s starting to turn. Back in the 1990s it was Shania Twain and Lee Ann Womack and all these awesome female artists. I think the listener isn’t that different today. The world has changed but basically we still have hearts that break. I don’t fully understand why it was ‘Women don’t sell records’ all of a sudden.

“We are seeing again that women do sell records.”

With her current show, which she has been touring in Canada for a year now, she said she wanted to do something different with her good friends.

“I’m not out there doing the radio tours and looking to get play. I still get a little bit, thank goodness, I am lucky.”

She says she always includes covers of these older songs in her shows so she decided to do an entire show of that music. She has put her own reminiscences into the show of when she hear this or that tune.

She wanted to emulate them. “Dottie West had that rich tone and I wanted to sing like that because I have a low end voice like she did. The same with Barbara Mandrell, I learned so much from these ladies especially the Barbara Mandrell show. I’d stay up and watch that and then The Dukes of Hazard would come on right after that.”

Lisa Brokop presents Legendary Ladies of Country Music
Where: Centrepointe Theatre
When: April 2 at 8 p.m.
Tickets and information:

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Peter Robb began his connection with the arts community in Ottawa in the mid-1980s when he was the administrator and public relations director of the Great Canadian Theatre Company. After a long career in journalism with the Ottawa Citizen where he served in a number of different posts he returned to the arts when he became the Citizen's arts editor.