Welcome to State Of The Union, appearing each month in bluegrass now magazine! This column provides the spouses of professional bluegrass musicians with a forum in which they can share their insights, observations, and experience with fans and other bluegrass spouses.
August 2003: Debbie Gulley on CONTENTMENT
When she was just a little girl, Debbie Gulley began warbling gospel favorites in church with her three sisters and her aunt. At 13, she went solo. I sang at every talent show, country music and gospel show my mama would take me to, until I was grown! she says.
In 1983, one of Debbie's friends urged her to audition for the Renfro Valley Jamboree in Renfro Valley, Kentucky. The friend kept talking about a great band, a bunch of Christian guys who were all really cool.
I went, and the first time I saw Steve Gulley, I instantly had a crush on him. When he started singing, I was floored. I told my friend jokingly that I was going marry him someday, though at the time we were both married to someone else. The two became good friends, and worked at Renfro Valley each weekend till about 1987, when they left the Jamboree and went their separate ways.
I didn't see Steve but a couple of times after that, until spring of 1991. Renfro Valley had really grown since the 80s, and he and his dad (Don Gulley) were performing there again. One of the owners called and asked if I would come back. Struggling with marital problems at the time, and supporting two children on her own, Debbie was happy to have the regular weekend work.
By 1992, Steve was single as well. One day, he asked Debbie to a concert at the Kentucky State Fair. We have never been apart since, she says happily. We were married in December 1993. Music brought us together, but there's so much more that keeps us together. He is a good man, someone who loves me unconditionally. I never forget that, or take it for granted.
When Debbie accompanied Steve to IBMA's World of Bluegrass last year, she realized for the first time how popular he had become. We could not walk two feet without someone stopping him to shake his hand or tell him how much they enjoyed his music, she remembers with pride. It's what he's always dreamed of, and where he deserves to be.
In spite of 30 years of stage fright, Debbie still sings every weekend, March through December, at the Renfro Valley Barn Dance. I don't get to see Mountain Heart perform much, except during our off season in January and February. I always tell Steve I really could get into being a groupie! she adds teasingly.
Still, Debbie says she has never resented Steve's growing fame. I used to want that for myself, but my priorities changed as I got older. I'm a caregiver! I chose to have children, and I'm very content performing at Renfro Valley because that is home to me. I get my own spotlight there. She also admits that she is a reluctant traveler. I like to sleep in my own bed!
For 18 years, she's been a full-time employee of the Kentucky State Government. Between the job, weekends of performing, and motherhood (she has two kids; he has three; their ages range from 12 to 24), Debbie has had her hands full. I don't have time to worry whether I'm being left out or not. I'm just very busy all the time! She also works hard to ensure Steve looks good on the road. I pick out all of his clothes and he trusts my judgment. You'll never see him without a crease in his britches. I think if he looks untidy, it reflects not only on him but his wife. Smiling gently, she adds, That was how my mama raised me.
The Gulleys try to talk every day when Steve is traveling. Neither of us could ever do without our cell phones. It's a good thing we have nationwide calling! There are times I miss him so much that I play his voice on our answering machine just so I can hear him. I know that sounds corny, but it's true.
Mountain Heart has a pretty tight auxiliary team, comprised of the wives and girlfriends of the band members, and Debbie has found close friendships there. We are a close group, and we take care of each other. The guys are great guys, but they all have great women behind them that support them. Maybe that's what makes them so great! she laughs.
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