Margo Price begins her stunning, emotional, inspiring new memoir describing her dreams growing up in tiny Aledo, Ill.
“As a little girl, I was plagued by rebellion. My straight blond hair grew long and unruly, into jagged corkscrew curls that turned light auburn. Elusive dreams beckoned me. My lust for life had me chasing after intangible things from the very start. I moved recklessly, running full speed ahead to what, I did not know. But I was always driven to do whatever I set my mind to, even if it meant burning some bridges along the way.”
Written starting in 2018, in “Maybe We’ll Make It,” the 39-year-old Price tells of the countless struggles and obstacles she’s wrestled with on the way to country music stardom. The acclaimed memoir of loss, motherhood, and the search for artistic freedom reflects agony experienced by so many aspiring musicians: bad gigs and long tours, rejection and sexual harassment, too much drinking and barely enough money to live on, according to a synopsis.
Price refused to break, and turned her lowest moments into the classic country songs that eventually comprised the debut album that launched her career, 2016’s “Midwest Farmer’s Daughter,” leading to a Grammy nomination for Best New Artist. That break, however, didn’t come until years after she dropped out of Northern Illinois University at 19, moving to Nashville to become a musician.
In her authentic, no-nonsense voice, Price shares the stories that became songs, and the small acts of love and camaraderie it takes to survive in a music industry that is often unkind to women.
Country legend and Price’s friend Willie Nelson wrote of the new memoir: “Margo’s book hits you right in the gut—and the heart—just like her songs.” Another of her heroes, Lucinda Williams, said of the book: “Margo’s beautifully captured story pulled me in from the start. She’s my musical sister, and I loved this book.”
Price is on a national book tour to promote the 271-page volume (which she wrote entirely herself, without a ghostwriter), stopping in Iowa City on Oct. 22, where she spoke exclusively to Local 4 News just before the Prairie Lights reading, Q & A and signing,
500 pages before COVID
With husband (and fellow musician) Jeremy Ivey, Price has a 12-year-old son, Judah, and a 3-year-old daughter, Ramona. Their twin son Ezra, born in 2010, died after 10 days due to a heart defect (she dedicates “Maybe We’ll Make It” to him).
Why did she decide to tackle an autobiography now?
“I had kind of just gotten my career off the ground and I found myself knocked up again, and my daughter Ramona has been the biggest blessing and the best thing to ever happen,” Price said during Saturday’s Q&A. “But when that happened, I was worried about everything being over.”
“I thought, maybe I should start writing this book now, before I forget all the little details,” she said. “A wonderful woman from Chicago, Jessica Hopper, reached out and said, ‘I heard you’re writing a book, can I read the manuscript?’”
Hopper is the series editor of The American Music Series at the University of Texas Press, of which Price’s memoir is now part.
When the pandemic hit in March 2020, Price had 500 pages written, and quarantine was a good time to do editing.
“I had the bulk of the book before the pandemic hit,” she said. “I knew the longer that time passed, the more difficulty I would have remembering those details.”
She was greatly inspired by Patti Smith’s 2010 memoir “Just Kids” (which won the National Book Award for nonfiction).
Price came up with the title from the start, the name of a 2008 tour she had gone on with her husband and friends.
“Maybe we’ll make it across the United States in this 1986 Winnebago and the car won’t break down, or maybe we’ll make it – get discovered and get a record deal,” she recalled. “Then as time wore on, that phrase kept coming back to haunt us – maybe we’ll make it as a couple, maybe our marriage will stay together.
“And more recently, maybe humanity will make it,” Price said.
Learning about herself
“The book has really been an exercise in figuring out who I am. I had a lot of epiphanies and self-realizations through the time I spent writing it,” Price said. “I learned I have a lot of perseverance; also that I’m stubborn.”
Even with all of her struggles, she also gave up alcohol two years ago.
“Especially being in the music business, it was around all the time, wrapped up in my personality,” Price said. “I think quitting drinking was the most rebellious thing I’ve ever done. Think about the revolution we’d have if everybody was motivated.”
“I had been really working on my bad-girl image since I was 12,” she said later, noting that’s when she had her first beer. “I just really want to reframe how addiction is placed on people in this country. I think alcohol gets such a pass. We say, when somebody struggles with alcohol, they’re an alcoholic. Why don’t we say someone addicted to cigarettes, they’re a cigarette-aholic?”
“I was worried about people judging me and just not being cool anymore,” Price said. “The funny thing is, I still love to go to bars and hang out with people.”
For a long time, the government wanted to keep marijuana, cannabis and psilocybin illegal, though they actually open your mind, she said. She talks a lot about in the book about that.
“I hope this book also can bring a little bit of removing the stigma around all of that,” Price (a proponent of cannabis) said. Marijuana use is legal now in 19 states, including Illinois.
“Everybody’s saying it’s counterproductive to lock people up for smoking a plant that God grew,” she said.
Collaborating with the greats
Price has been very close to legendary country icon Willie Nelson (who’s now 89) after first meeting him performing in Farm Aid six years ago. “I got to go on the bus with him and smoke a big fat joint with him, sit down and talk about things that really matter,” she recalled.
“I’ve been blown away by how the entire Nelson family is so down to the earth, and shout out to his wife, Annie Nelson, because she’s doing a lot of work behind the scenes,” Price (the first female musician to serve on the Farm Aid board) said.
In addition to recording songs with Willie Nelson, Price got to duet with the equally iconic Loretta Lynn in February 2021, on Lynn’s “One’s on the Way,” a tale of parenthood initially released in 1971. She supported Price through her last pregnancy; Lynn just died on Oct. 4, 2022 at 90.
“She really lifted me up and I have no doubt, I wouldn’t be making country music today if it wasn’t for Loretta,” Price said.
“Obviously, I love her voice. I love the way she sings, it’s so powerful, but it is what she’s saying and how she’s saying it,” she said of Lynn in a 2021 accompanying behind-the-scenes video. “It was an important song at the time, and it’s still an important song,” she added of “One’s on the Way.” “To be able to talk about birth control and women’s rights in country music — it was legendary.”
Price will be part of a CMT celebration of life of Loretta Lynn, from the Grand Ole Opry House in Nashville, set to air commercial-free on Sunday, Oct. 30th at 6 p.m.
Hosted by NBC’s “Today Show” co-host and close family friend Jenna Bush Hager, the public celebration will feature never-before-seen performances and collaborations, with special guest appearances from Brandi Carlile, Crystal Gayle, Darius Rucker, Emmy Russell & Lukas Nelson, George Strait, Keith Urban, Little Big Town, Tanya Tucker, Wynonna and more.
In May 2020, Price released “Perfectly Imperfect at the Ryman,” an 11-song live collection from her 2018 shows at the famed Ryman Auditorium in Nashville. That included three duets — with Jack White on the 2007 White Stripes song “Honey, We Can’t Afford to Look This Cheap,” Emmylou Harris on “Wild Women” and Sturgill Simpson on Rodney Crowell’s “Ain’t Livin’ Long Like This.”
Never giving up
She wanted to get her story out so people would know exactly what it took to get from small-town Aledo, to the pinnacle of her profession.
“I do see things getting better, but I also see things staying the same or worse, country radio in particular,” Price said. “We’re still fighting some hard battles, but we’ll knock down more doors while I’m still alive.”
Her awards include 2016 Emerging Artist of the Year and 2018 Song of the Year (for “A Little Pain”) from Americana Music Honors & Awards, and 2017 American Music Prize for Best Debut Album (for “Midwest Farmer’s Daughter”).
Among Price’s biggest influences are Patti Smith, Joni Mitchell, Lucinda Williams, John Prine, Bob Dylan and Tom Petty, she said.
Even if she didn’t get that life-changing record deal for her 2016 debut, Price said she’d still be writing songs.
“I think art is so important and I think when people make music and write songs, when you don’t actually expect any reward or accolades from it, I think that’s the most pure art from you can take,” she said at Prairie Lights. “I was just born stubborn and it’s a personality trait that’s been harmful in a lot of ways.
“Music and my career have become like an addiction; I want to do my best and succeed at things,” Price said. “I try to keep myself grounded and remind myself why I started doing it in the first place.”
In response to a question from a budding songwriter, she said:
“I constantly have to remind myself why I’m doing it and why I started doing it. I just got my very first song on Triple-A radio; I don’t know what changed…Just keep following your heart and your passion, and try to ignore what other people say. Everyone’s gonna have an opinion on it, and the only opinion that matters is yours.”
Price took voice lessons from Sue Clark in Bettendorf, from ages 13 to 18. “She was so mean,” Price recalled Saturday. “But I really love her. I’d love to see her again someday. She gave me such a strong backbone.”
In the book, she wrote: “She was very strict and didn’t waste any time whipping me into shape. She taught classical-style singing, proper breathing techniques and pronunciation….I owe a lot to Sue. She gave me a strong backbone and built my confidence.”
First headlining since 2018
Since COVID, Price has been on a lot of other tours and festivals, but hasn’t done her own headline tour since 2018.
“I never lost my ability to be grateful, because I had really just gotten my career off the ground when I found myself pregnant with Ramona, then with COVID and everything, it was hard to have to sit out, but it was the right thing to do,” Price said.
Her fourth studio album, “Strays,” will be out in January and Price will play in Madison, Wis., on Feb. 20 and Chicago Feb. 21.
She wrote and recorded during the pandemic, in Topanga Canyon, Calif., with producer Jonathan Wilson. “I’m really excited to get this record out,” Price said.
She said she definitely doesn’t get back home as much as she’d like.
“I still love to go out and visit my grandmother Mary Price,” she said. “I love getting back here. I was getting quite nostalgic on the drive through, just thinking about where I’m from and where I’m going. It’s always bittersweet to be back here.”
Price hasn’t performed in the QC since Oct. 5, 2017, when she was part of Chris Stapleton’s All-American Road Show at the (now) Vibrant Arena at The MARK. Price released her acclaimed second album, “All American Made,” that month via Third Man Records.
Just two years prior, in October 2015, Price sang at Rozz-Tox in Rock Island, five months before her debut disc, “Midwest Farmer’s Daughter” (a title that echoed Lynn’s “Coal Miner’s Daughter”).
The music industry makes women feel they “have to fit in this mold of beauty and perfection,” she told Saturday’s audience of about 50. “I’ve really been struggling with that my whole life. Being in the public eye has not been easy.”
“I think people see me from the outside and think, ‘She’s so confident and so strong,’ but that’s not always the case,” Price said.
Among the praise on the back cover of “Maybe We’ll Make It” is from pop culture writer Alex Pappademas, who said the whole point of her new account is that “even talent on loan from God won’t put gas in the van. You have to be braver than an acrobat to walk this path at all, let alone walk it without compromise.
“Anyone who’s ever bared their heart to empty rooms and measured out time in smashed bottles, dreaming of just breaking even, will see themselves in this story,” he wrote.
Despite her success, Price still struggles with her looks and self-image, as she writes at the end of the powerful book. (She also has a strong, prolific voice on social media, writing nearly all of her daily tweets herself to 86,500 followers.)
“I’m no longer angry at myself for these thoughts; I’m angry at a culture that bullies us into feeling that we are not good enough,” Price writes in “Maybe We’ll Make It,” adding she’s also working to change the music business.
“I’m proud to stand for equality, diversity, and fair pay. Musicians and writers are fighting for the right to be paid for our intellectual property. I’ve been called radical and controversial for repeatedly speaking my mind, but I’m not going to stop.”
To order Price’s book, her new album, and for more information, click HERE.