Loretta Lynn released her first record, Honky Tonk Girl, in 1960 and began a 53-year-and-counting career that has made her the most awarded woman in country music. A true-to-her-roots Kentucky girl, Lynn never let the bright lights of Nashville blind her, and she met the pitfalls of fame in public, working through addiction and marital disharmony with candor and unmatched humility.
The self-made superstar was ahead of her time on women’s issues, singing about double standards, birth control, and the relational effect of the Vietnam War long before her contemporaries.
Still sassy at 81, Lynn continues to work hard and inspire generations of musicians from Cyndi Lauper and Alison Krauss to Grace Potter and Jack White.
The straight-talking songstress spoke with C-VILLE Weekly by phone about who’s country in Nashville, dressing the part, and her next career moves. When her assistant asked if we were ready to speak with Ms. Lynn, she immediately came on the line and said, “There ain’t nobody ready for me!”
She is a living legend and a national treasure. Lynn will perform at the Benefit for the Charlottesville Free Clinic on July 27 at the Pavilion. FM Radio with Schuyler Fisk and Tim Myers opens.
C-VILLE Weekly: You were a young mom who became a self-taught country musician trying to make it in a music business dominated by men. What kept you motivated in those early years?
Loretta Lynn: “I was 27 when I started singing. When I got into the business I just kicked one guy this-a-way and one guy that-a-way. They couldn’t believe it—that this girl was coming into the business and kind of taking over. There’s so many girls doing it today I can’t even tell you who they are. But, I work a lot you know, so I’m not paying any attention.”
Did you ever work in another profession outside of music?
“I picked strawberries, did house cleaning for people, and did it all before I started singing. I thought singing was probably the easiest.”
You were labeled a feminist in regard to your songwriting and strength of character. Did it feel appropriate for people to call you a feminist in the ’60s and ’70s?
“It did because I was still a girl, and a mother, and did the things all the girls did. But I wasn’t afraid to let ’em know I was out there doing what the boys did.”
Have women come to you over the years for personal and professional advice?
“I used to get mail begging me for advice, and today they still ask me. Some of ‘em still holler from the audience.”
I imagine a lot of people in the audience want your attention.
“I’ll tell you the strangest thing that’s happened from the audience. There was a guy in the audience who went backstage and got into my overnight kit. In my kit I always carried extra panties, and there was a pair of black lace panties in there. He held them up in the audience and I liked to pass out. I couldn’t believe it.”
You’ve sung so many duets. From Conway Twitty all those years to the most recent with Poison’s Bret Michaels. Do you have a favorite memory?
“It would have to be Conway. We had 12 albums out. We worked together all the time. Conway was always a gentleman. A great singer, a great performer, and a great person.”
“One story I can say that was a little out of the way for Conway was someone came up (who was drinkin’) and said ‘Hey you son of a bitch, would you sign this picture?’ and Conway hit him right between the eyes. And I said ‘Conway he’s drunk,’ and he said, ‘I don’t care.’ That was a side I’d never seen of Conway.”
You’ve witnessed a lot of changes in the music business. What is the one piece of advice you would give to artists trying to make it in the music business today?
“Don’t stop. Give it all you’ve got. If you want to make it big in this business and stay there 50 years, you’ve got to give it all you’ve got.”
“Miranda Lambert is my friend and I think she is one of the greatest girl singers we have goin’ today that is really country. Really country.”
You frequently perform in your signature evening gowns. Talk about your passion for fancy dresses.
“I think the way people dress on stage anymore is cheatin’ the audience. I think when a star walks on stage you oughta look like one. Them big beautiful dresses I wear, the people let me know about it. There’s so many that goes out there in old faded out blue jeans that mommy wouldn’t a let us kids wear when we were little. She woulda had patches all over them. They don’t dress like stars anymore. I think that is one of the worst things they could do. I think when people come and pay to see you, I think you owe them something…The guys walk on and only have half the buttons on their shirt, it’s awful.”
What’s the status of the Broadway production of Coal Miner’s Daughter?
“They are working on it now. Getting it ready. Zooey (Deschanel) is playing the part, and she was in Nashville just the other day.”
What’s next for Loretta Lynn?
“We are coming out with a religious album and a Christmas album. I’m doing an album for Appalachia. It’s all old-timey songs like ‘The Wreck on the Highway,’ ‘Little Orphan Girl,’ and ‘The Great Titanic.’ I’ve got these cut.”
What can we expect to hear at the show on Saturday?
“Whatever you want to hear. I take requests (laughs). My show is live!”