Granny Rich is the 87-year-old grandmother of country duo Big and Rich’s John Rich. His whiskey line, Redneck Riviera, recently released a more refined, aged whiskey, aptly named the “Granny Rich Reserve.” She is spunky and driven, and she ends each day with a pull of whiskey. Known as the “Queen of the Working Class,” she’s lived through the Dust Bowl days, the Great Depression and World War II. She has owned her alterations shop, Rich Design and Alterations, for 19 years, and at the end of our interview, she let us know she was headed right back to work … “Okay, I’ve gotta go sew some more Velcro on some more pajamas!”
She has a glass-half-full perspective on life and attributes that to her longevity (that and her cigarettes, she says). Today, she’s here to share some of her best advice, the excitement around her new Granny Rich Reserve, and the history that led her to where she is today. Introducing, Granny Rich!
Tell us a little bit about your background.
Well, it’s a long background for 87 years, you know. It’s been a lot of ins and outs and ups and downs in my background. I was born in Pampa, Texas — at the top of Texas near Amarillo — in 1932. I lived on a farm and helped my parents with gardening and chickens and turkeys, and I just grew up like a normal country girl.
You’ve been dubbed the “Queen of the Working Class.” Why is that?
Well, I don’t know … because I’ve always worked, I guess. And I still love to work. Right now, I’m sitting in my alterations shop in Ashland City, Tennessee. I am sewing Velcro on a man’s pajamas who has had a stroke and he can’t button buttons anymore, so I took his buttons off and I’m putting Velcro on his pajamas.
I enjoy working! I just don’t like to not be busy. I gotta be busy. Sitting around doesn’t help anybody.
My mother taught me how to sew when I was just a little girl, and she died when I was 13. I could already take a pattern and make a dress. I learned on an old treadle sewing machine. You pump it with your foot.
You’ve been in Tennessee for more than 40 years. What’s one thing you love about living in the South?
Well, I just love it because it’s been good for my family. I still don’t like it because I can’t see — too many trees! I come from the plains where you can see 20 miles in any direction, and if there’s a tornado coming, you can see it coming.
Nashville has been good to the Rich family. The people around here have been so good to me. I’ve been right here for 20 years, and I’ve always had plenty of work. And they seem to like my company!
You have your own whiskey now! Tell us what you love about Granny Rich Reserve.
Well, it’s the smoothest whiskey I ever put in my mouth. Of course, Redneck Riviera Whiskey is smooth too, but it’s not nearly as smooth as mine. Mine’s the reserve … it’s a little more aged. I guess that gives it a little more balance. I’m not an expert, I just know what it tastes like.
The first time I tried whiskey I was probably 14 or 15, and now across America, there are people drinking my whiskey and reading my story on the back of the bottle. It just tickles me to death. It’s a lot of fun! That’s when you’ve got a silly grandson who wants to do stuff like that.
What’s the best book you’ve ever read? Favorite song?
I’ve read the Bible quite a lot. That’s probably it.
There’s a lot of songs in my world. When I was growing up, I liked Hoagy Carmichael. In country music, of course, I like George Jones and Eddy Arnold. I like Tennessee Ernie Ford’s “Sixteen Tons.”
What’s your secret to a long life?
Working hard. A little bit of drinking. Smoking cigarettes, I guess. Just enjoying life and not being negative about anything. I look forward to every day and do my best to enjoy it. I was married to a pessimist, but I, myself, am an optimist.
How do you drink your whiskey?
Over crushed ice, in a mason jar. I fill it all the way up with ice and I pour a jigger of whiskey over it and it melts down. An easy drink.
What is the accomplishment you’re most proud of so far?
My family. I got a whole bunch of good grandkids and great-grandkids, and even great-great grandkids and kids, too. I never made it and got rich like some people I know, but that’s alright. I didn’t need to.
It sounds like Granny Rich Reserve is able to give back in a unique way. Tell us about that.
Ten percent of sales from every bottle of Granny Rich Reserve sold goes to Folds of Honor. I love it. Those kids have possibly been kind of forgotten about. They probably got a chunk of money when their parent passed away, but that doesn’t last very long or put them through college. My whiskey helps get those scholarship checks written.
Some people help others out, but they do so begrudgingly. You have to feel free to help others whenever you can and they need it.
What’s your best piece of advice?
Be caring and loving and look at everything in a positive way, instead of looking for the bad in everybody and everything. We sometimes think things are the end of the world, but it’s not. The world keeps turning, and good things keep happening.
Aside from faith, family and friends, what are three things you cannot live without?
Oh gosh, let’s see. I wouldn’t want to live without my cigarettes, and I like my nightly drink. And the availability of good food anytime I want it. There’s a place in Springfield called Larry’s, and he makes the best hot roast beef sandwich you’ve ever put in your mouth. It’s a platter-full. I’m a little person, but I can put that away. He’s about as old as I am, and he walks around that restaurant and makes sure his customers are well taken care of. And his food is always really good.
A big thanks to Granny Rich for sharing with us today! And thanks to Leila Grossman of Grannis Photography for these fun photos.
To meet more FACES of the South, find our archives here.