On The Fringe
She's the Queen of Country but there are many more songs to be sung. She's the Coal Miner's Daughter but there are still many more pages to be written. Having recently faced some of the toughest times of her extraordinary life, Loretta Lynn celebrates her 40th anniversary on record with her first solo album of original material since 1988-and if you thought the lady from Butcher Holler, Kentucky, might not be as feisty as she once was, then you don't know Loretta.
"I haven't changed with the times, the times have followed me," says Lynn, who has overcome more obstacles and broken down more barriers, as well as had twenty-six (26) #1 songs. "When I came to Nashville, there was a lot of pop. No one was as country as me. It's the same thing today. I've just been waitin' 'til it comes around again."
The waitin' is over. On Still Country! (Audium Records), released September 12, 2000 produced by Randy Scruggs, Loretta proves she is, well more than woman enough to bring country into a new millennium. "The way I look at it I was writing about things 25 years ahead of their time. So I figure I'm comin' in right on time 'bout now."
Though she joined Dolly Parton and Tammy Wynette on the 1993 trio album Honky Tonk Angels (which boasted "Silver Threads and Golden Needles"), was the subject of a 1994 three-CD box set and released a 1997 double-CD package All Time Gospel Favorites, Lynn has not recorded a solo album of new material since 1988's Who Was That Stranger. "I'm a singer. I never thought I'd not do what I do. But I had a few hard years there."
For five of those years, she spent most of her time at the bedside of her ill husband Mooney Lynn (affectionately called Doolittle), who passed away in 1996 at their home in Hurricane Mills, Tennessee. By each other's side for 48 years, his death devastated her. "Every time I'd turn around, something would remind me of him," recalls Loretta. "So I took off for Nashville. He never liked Nashville. I don't know what I did except I was just existing. Before I realized it, I hadn't been home in a year-and it was time to get back."
Still, she continued to perform and write songs. Two of them appear on Still Country! "God's Country" and the co-written "I Can't Hear The Music." "Doo was very sick and I didn't know he couldn't hear. One day I was playing something for him and he said, 'I can't hear the music anymore.'"
Her genuinely emotional performance almost was never recorded. "I went into the studio and said, 'I don't think I can do this.' A couple weeks later I tried it again and I just couldn't finish singing it, so one of the songwriters he sang it. The third time I struggled through but stopped on the verse and had to take a break. Oh gosh yes, that cryin' is for real."
Lynn has never been one to give up. Her story is a classic American folk tale about perseverance. Growing up in a log cabin in the Kentucky mountains, Loretta Webb was 13 when she met Lynn. She was 14 and pregnant when she joined her new husband in Washington where he went to find work. She took care of the house-three rooms, an outhouse, no running water-and their children (four of her six were born before she was 21 and she was a grandmother at the age of 29).
When she sang to her children, Mooney thought she sounded as good as anyone on the radio. So for her 26th birthday he bought her a $17 guitar and urged her to learn how to play. Local bands and radio shows led to her forming her own group and playing throughout the Northwest. In 1960, Zero Records, a tiny Vancouver label, released her debut single, "I'm A Honky Tonk Girl." "We did that with two tape recorders. I was the first girl in country music to sing her own harmony."
Mooney mailed copies to radio stations nationwide and they went on their own promo tour, logging 80,000 miles and subsisting on bologna and cheese-and-crackers. The song was a hit and Loretta signed to Decca (later MCA). In 1962, she scored her first Top 10, "Success," and became a member of the Grand Ole Opry (which in 2000 celebrates its 75th anniversary). "I thought they'd throw me out of Nashville," she says with a laugh. "If you talk slow, you walk slow. And I'm not slow. I'm like a Kentucky racehorse. I'm always a runnin.'"
Loretta became more than simply the most successful female performer in country. She was also a pioneer among women songwriters, the first female recording artist to be inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame. In 1966 alone, she wrote the classics "You Ain't Woman Enough To Take My Man" and co-wrote "Don't Come Home A-Drinkin' (With Lovin' On Your Mind)" (whose album of the same title became the first by a female country artist to be certified gold). As she says with a smile, "I may be country but I'm a little bit smart too. You can't wait for someone else to write you a hit. I just got off my butt and went to work."
In 1967, she won the first Country Music Association (CMA) award for Female Vocalist of the Year. Her string of '60s hits such as "Blue Kentucky Girl," "The Home You're Tearing Down," "If You're Not Gone Too Long," "Fist City," "I'm The Other Woman" and "You've Just Stepped In (From Stepping Out On Me)" were a prelude to even greater success in the '70s, a decade which began, appropriately, with her autobiographical "Coal Miner's Daughter" (named by National Public Radio in 2000 as one of the "100 most important American musical works of the 20th century").
After teaming with Ernest Tubb, she began a partnership with Conway Twitty, and they became the greatest male-female duo in country. For 12 consecutive years, 1971-1982, they were nominated as Vocal Duo of the Year by the CMA and won four years running (1972-1975). Of their dozen Top 10 singles, five went to #1, including "After The Fire Is Gone" (which also won a Grammy as Best County Duet). "Lead Me On," "Louisiana Woman, Mississippi Man," "As Soon As I Hang Up The Phone" and "Feelins'."
In 1972, she was the first woman named CMA's Entertainer of the Year. The next year, she became the first country star on the cover of Newsweek. Among her solo hits that decade were "Here I Am Again," "Love Is The Foundation," "They Don't Make 'Em Like My Daddy," "Trouble In Paradise," "Home," "When The Tingle Becomes a Chill," "Red, White and Blue," "Why Can't He Be You," "Spring Fever," "We've Come a Long Way Baby," "I Can't Feel You Anymore" and "I've Got A Picture Of You On My Mind." The Academy of Country Music named her its Artist of the Decade.
Throughout her career, Lynn has also recorded some of the most controversial songs from a female country artist, such as "The Pill." "Everyone was taking it but me and I have the kids to prove it. I write about everyday life and that's what got me into so much trouble. Women weren't supposed to talk about those things in public." In 1976, the inspiring tale of her life, Coal Miner's Daughter, was published and became a best seller. Four years later, the movie version was released, earning seven Oscar nominations and winning for Sissy Spacek's portrayal of Loretta.
The '80s featured more hits ("Pregnant Again," "Naked In The Rain," "I Lie," "Somebody Led Me Away") and more honors (highlighted by induction into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1988). Through it all, Lynn has remained as humble as her beginnings. "A big star is something in the night sky when you look up. Everyone comes in this world naked and we're all gonna leave the same way."
In the meantime, she has stopped counting birthdays. "I don't have 'em anymore. People who feel like old grouches look it, and I have never felt old. Besides, everybody knows I have a daughter just 14 years younger than me, so she wants me to stop telling people my age."
She's known Scruggs all his life but Still Country! marks the first time they have collaborated. "I wanted Randy to do the album because I knew that no matter what happened he could get the best out of me." Scruggs also contributed with the heartbreaking "On My Own Again" and the working class anthem "Working Girl" (co-written by Matraca Berg).
But it's Lynn's voice, as vibrant and contemporary as ever, which distinguished Still Country! "Just about everyone is sounding alike today," she says, "all the women and all the boys, and it's kind of sad. They all should do their own thing. Whatever I do, I put my own way to it. I don't see anyone today who does what I've done."
Much of what she's done will be recalled in the sequel to Coal Miner's Daughter, due to be published later this year. "I hadn't done anything except have babies," she says of the first book, which traced her rise from age 13 to 25. "I've lived through some hard times and good times since."
Entertainment Weekly honored her in 1999 as one of its 100 Greatest Entertainers 1950-2000. But Loretta has always been more than a singer. The Ladies Home Journal once listed her among the 10 most admired women in the world, with the likes of Mother Teresa, Jackie Kennedy, Golda Meir and Queen Elizabeth. Lynn will glory in none of that. "All I've done is try to help others, starting with my family. I never did this for myself."
Thankfully for country music, today Loretta Lynn is still woman enough to tell her stories and sing her songs.
From Loretta Lynn's Official Website.
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