As she fires up her singing career, the horse-loving, hell-raising country girl talks about life in and out of the ring — plus her killer recipe for All-Day Oven Ribs.
Growing up in Virginia, Mickie James spent a lot of time on her grandmother's horse farm and dreamed of becoming an equestrian and horse trainer. Along the way, she happened on a successful career as a WWE wrestler. Now she’s developing her career as a country singer-songwriter, moving to Nashville, and working on a second album. We talked with James about her many personas, being part of the Powhatan tribe, and her dream of settling down on her own horse farm someday.
Cowboys & Indians: Before lockdown, you’ve been in the gym rehabbing a torn ACL you had surgery on last July. What have you been doing since we’ve all been sheltering?
Mickie James: I’ve been enjoying being able to get projects around the house done. I’m rebuilding a barn at my mom’s for her horse. And I make about three train track sets for my son a day. Donovan is 5 and he loves trains! I’ve been working out every day, cooking, just spending family time.
C&I: So we can add mom and homebody to your long list of different personas. Who are you in the ring?
James: Typically I’ve been a bad guy and good guy. Now I’m close to Mickie James as a person — I’m fortunate to be able to use my real name. People do actually believe you are the wrestling personality. It’s adrenaline-based in the ring, and it’s a very male-dominated sport. Now women are the main events, with longer, more serious matches. My music allows me to put out the other side of me — a softer, more feminine, down-home side.
C&I: Where are you living?
James: In Richmond, Virginia, where I’m from. I grew up in a small town. I’m actually in a transition. We’re relocating to Nashville. We’ll move there but keep a place in Richmond because it’s my home and I love it. For business and music and my husband, [English professional wrestler] Nick Aldis, Nashville makes more sense.
C&I: And you’re also on the road, right? Where are you right now?
James: I’m actually in Orlando today at a performance center for rehab. NXT has a cool setup, like an Olympic training facility but for wrestling. I tore my ACL last June and have been out since July. Even though I’m not in the ring, I’m still on the road doing commentary like a sports analyst. I provide legitimacy because I’m a six-time WWE women’s champion. I’ve been wrestling for just over 20 years. For women, the career is always much shorter. Men can wrestle till their 60s. Women can too, but it’s rare. I’ve done so much. I don’t have a ton more to prove.
C&I: You put out your first record in the midst of your wrestling career. Are you switching your focus to music?
James: I’ve been developing my music career. It’s a balancing act. I debuted in WWE in 2005. At that point it was 250 days out of year for five years straight. I put out my first album in 2010. I had time to promote the album because I was only on the road 100 days a year then. But I went back to WWE in 2016, only doing bigger shows. And I had my son. Now I average about 150 days a year on road. I’m spending a lot more time recording and writing.
C&I: Tell us about your new record.
James: I’m getting ready to put out a new album of six songs. They’re all originals that I wrote or co-wrote. There’s no title yet. I’m collecting songs now and deciding which songs I want to use. I want to be able to tell a story, not just sing random songs.
C&I: Have you always been musical?
James: I played violin for five years through middle school and high school and then gave it up, but I wish I never had stopped playing. I love violinist Lindsey Stirling; I have all her albums. I love hearing fiddle in a song.
C&I: How do you describe your music?
James: Country Southern rock. I just write from personal experiences or experiences of people around me. It wasn’t until I was on the road full time with WWE and driving a lot at night that I started writing. I would put on the radio and sing and then write. I realized I was writing to the cadence of the music. I’d always wanted to sing when I was a little girl, but I didn’t have the confidence to get up in front of people. As a kid I so fearful and doubtful of myself, but even then I had the desire to sing.
C&I: Succeeding in the WWE must have done something for your confidence.
James: When I was training to be a wrestler, it was all men. The odds of me making it were pretty slim. I was a small-town girl from Montpelier, Virginia. The confidence and perseverance I gained transferred to music. I just went to Nashville, found [producer] Kent Wells [Dolly Parton], and he produced my first album. He also put me together with other writers.
C&I: It’s got to be very gratifying.
James: It definitely is. To see words that came out of your heart come to life and touch other people — that’s where the real magic is for me.
C&I: Tell us about your Powhatan heritage.
James: My Native heritage is on my mother’s side. My grandmother grew up on the rez. My mother grew up there for part of her young life. I go to lots of powwows and the “August meeting.” Our tribe has Pocahontas’ necklace. Ours is one of oldest and smallest reservations. Spiritually, my Powhatan heritage is very much a part of my life. I wish I knew the language. I grew up Christian/Southern Baptist. As I’ve grown, I’ve become more open to spirituality, to the universe. I’m such a hippie. There’s so much truth in Native spirituality. It’s all universal. I’m proud of my heritage and have incorporated it into my life and design. I’ve put feathers etc. in my ring gear. I feel like “Native American” is a perception based on what people have seen on TV, which is crazy. Less than 4 percent of the population is Native American.
C&I: I read that you want a horse farm someday. How did you come to love horses and country living so much?
James: My grandmother was Native American. She had a 47-acre horse farm. Half of it was fenced in; the other half was trails and ponds. We had 3- and 4-wheelers. That’s how I fell in love with horses. I started riding when I was about 4. When I was 6 I had my first riding lessons. I had a pony named Sugar; I learned to ride on Sugar — shorter distance to fall.
I have two horses now. My grandma bred and showed Morgans, but we did quarter horses. Most of shows we did were Morgans. My first horse, Rhapsody, was a gift when I was 11. She was my Christmas and birthday present. I had her till she was 33, when I had to put her down. I still have Bunny, her last daughter. I also have Casanova; he was the last colt out of my grandmother’s favorite horse from the farm.
C&I: How about the horse farm you’ve always wanted?
James: I thought I was going to be a horse trainer when I set my goals as a teenager. “After I get out of high school … ” that was my plan. College wasn’t in the picture without a scholarship. Horses are just pleasure now. We’ve been looking at small horse properties in Nashville and Virginia both. I want chickens and everything. I love animals. l have two dogs — Butch, who’s a lab mix, and Pixie, a miniature pincer and Chihuahua mix — and a cat.
C&I: Tell us about Childhelp. What is the organization and what do you do as an ambassador?
James: I had been doing work with a therapy center where they use horses for mutual healing: horses healing humans, humans healing horses. These were situations of abuse and neglect. There is a bond that happens in that healing. With children, it’s sometimes easier to speak to an animal than a therapist.
When I was looking into how to open a place like that, I found Childhelp. It’s one of the oldest nonprofits dedicated to the prevention and treatment of child abuse. They contacted me about doing a Christmas toy drive. I toured the facility and thought, Oh, my gosh, they’re doing what I want to do in this therapy village. It was horses and a therapist helping with healing. Arizona is their major headquarters. I’ve also gone to their village in California and the one in Virginia. They have helped more than 10.5 million children who have been abused and neglected.
Five children die every day of child abuse. People don’t want to admit that the people hurting these children are often their own family members. My thing is to bring awareness to the facts and to the amazing work they are doing changing these kids’ lives and making them victors instead of victims.
C&I: That’s heavy stuff and such important work.
James: It is. The good news is these kids are amazing. They’re not broken for life. What has happened to them is not their fault. They are completely innocent, and Childhelp really does help.
C&I: We hear you’ve been in the kitchen cooking during lockdown. Any favorite recipes to share?
James: How about my All-Day Oven Ribs?
Mickie’s All-Day Oven Ribs
You Will Need
- Dry rub (recipe follows).
- An oven.
- Heavy-duty aluminum foil.
- Large flat sheet, 1-inch-deep minimum. (If you have something that raises the ribs off of the sheet, that’s even better but not necessary.)
- Basting brush.
- 8 pounds ribs of your choice.
- Liquid Smoke.
- 1 cup of homemade BBQ sauce (recipes follows), or your favorite BBQ sauce.
Dry Rub Ingredients
2½ tablespoons Himalayan seasalt *smoked
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 1/2 cups packed brown sugar
1 teaspoon season salt (I use Nature’s Own)
1 teaspoon dry ground mustard
1 tablespoon smoked paprika
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon celery salt
½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 tablespoon dried minced onion (optional)
1 tablespoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon onion powder
1 teaspoon ground sage (optional)
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
Note: I sometimes improvise if I don’t have all the ingredients on hand. So feel free to do so as well.
Preparing the Ribs
I try to rub the ribs and put them in the fridge overnight but have turned them around in an hour after rubbing and they’re still as delicious!
- Pull thin layer of membrane off the back of the ribs. I do this because it makes the meat a lot more tender and easier to cut through, especially when you’re separating them later to eat.
- Lay down a long pull of aluminum foil to work on and start wrapping the ribs. Place ribs meat side down on foil.
- On the backside where the rib bones are, take about 1 tablespoon of Liquid Smoke and rub it into the meat and bone-in backside. (This will bring out a real smoky flavor without salting up the meat too much.)
- Lightly salt and pepper the meat first.
- Apply dry rub.
- Wrap up and seal tight so the juices don’t spill out.
- Put in fridge overnight or until you’re ready to cook.
Cooking the Ribs
- Preheat oven to 250 degrees.
- Place in oven on pan (lifted sheet) bone side up. Cook 2 hours.
- Flip (meat side up). Cook 1 hour.
- Flip (bone side up again). Cook 1 hour.
- Take ribs out of oven.
- Put oven on broil and move rack on the highest level.
- Unwrap and allow to slightly cool.
- Cut in portion-size pieces.
- Place ribs meat side up on baking sheet.
- 10.Baste with BBQ sauce (recipe follows).
- 11.Put back in the oven on the top rack and broil about 5 minutes. (Do keep a close eye on them just to get that crispiness on the edges. You can flip them over and even do the other side.)
Homemade Finger-Licking BBQ Sauce
1 teaspoon Himalayan sea salt
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 1/2 cups ketchup
1 1/2 tablespoon Sriracha
1 tablespoon molasses
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 cup packed light brown sugar
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup water
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon onion powder
1/4 teaspoon ground mustard
1/4 teaspoon paprika
For more on Mickie James, visit her website.
Go behind the scenes of “With the Love of a Child,” Mickie James’ duet with Rosevelt Rawls.
Reach back for some old favorites to tide you over till the new record comes out:
“Somebody’s Gonna Pay”
“I Don’t Give A”