“Why Not Me”
Written by Harlan Howard, Brent Maher, and Sonny Throckmorton
Before delving into the story behind the song, it’s worth noting that songwriter Harlan Howard wrote “Why Not Me” to reflect both Naomi and Wynonna Judds’ respective personalities. It says so much about the song with so little, really, and, as the duo’s first No. 1 song, helped launch them as one of the most daring acts of country music’s neotraditional movement.
The daughter of an Ashland, Kentucky, service station owner, Naomi (then Diana Ellen) Judd was an imaginative child, always dreaming of becoming a music star. After living in California for a while, though, Judd, in 1976, then a divorced mother of two equally strong-willed daughters, Ashley and Wynonna (then Christina) moved back to her native Kentucky.
As she explains in Ken Burns’ Country Music documentary, “I had taken them back home to a mountaintop in Kentucky to expose them to their ancestry. I wanted to plug the kids into their incredibly rich, eight-generation Kentucky heritage.”
Wynonna didn’t quite adapt to her mother’s philosophy, but it did inspire her to practice guitar, what with nothing else to do and all. Music, for Naomi and Wynonna, was a way to mend those tensions between them. Even when they couldn’t talk to each other, they could sing together.
Still, they weren’t quite on their way to Nashville just yet. Naomi finished her nursing degree in 1977 in Hollywood. Her restored 1957 Chevy was rented for the movie More American Graffiti, and Naomi used the opportunity to land jobs as crowd scene extras for herself and Wynonna, plus a secretarial slot on the production staff. That job financed a move to Franklin, Tennessee, just south of Nashville.
While Wynonna harnessed her vocal talents, Naomi simultaenously worked as a nurse and canvassed Music Row, hoping someone would believe in her mother-daughter duo concept. That dream, however, began to look dire after several unsuccessful attempts. Finally, through the help of a patient Naomi nursed back to health, the two managed to get an appointment with Joe Galante, head of RCA Records, and two of his producers. While the two were nervous from a fight they’d had over the decision, once they sang, every executive in the room was blown away. Plus, the patient Naomi nursed happened to be record producer Brent Maher’s daughter, and Maher paired the duo with guitarist/arranger Don Potter.
With Potter, the duo created an acoustic country sound that, while not as on-the-nose as other neotraditional stylings of the time, did eschew the polished Urban Cowboy tones of the time in favor of something more organic – more natural, really. Their first No. 1 hit, “Mama He’s Crazy,” became the centerpiece of their first introductory album, which was actually just a mini-LP of six songs. As the duo worked on their debut album, Maher felt they needed something with a strong, mid-tempo groove. For that, he turned to songwriter Harlan Howard.
Howard, in turn, reached out to fellow songwriter Sonny Throckmorton, who provided a melody for the yet-to-be composed tune. Throckmorton originally developed it for a song he’d been working on, “How ‘Bout Me,” but could never finish it. At a songwriting session, Howard tinkered around with Throckmorton’s idea – which resulted in a title change to “Why Not Me” – but was dissatisfied with the title. To him, a songwriter had to write a truly exceptional song when dealing with an average title. His philosophy was to put the title in there so often that people remembered it; the weaker the title, the more people had to hear it, in other words.
Again, Howard wrote the song around the Judds’ personalities, and with its assertive lyrical focus and strong melody, it’s no surprise this eventual Grammy-winning single became their second No. 1 hit. Very few country music acts would have the influence or following the Judds would have in the ‘80s, fitting squarely into an emerging class of acts looking to return country music to its roots, but defiant enough in their sound to eschew any attempts at imitation.