THE LEGEND LORETTA WILL ALWAYS BE
by Norman Warwick
Loretta Lynn passed away on October 4, peacefully in her sleep at her home in Hurricane Mills, Tennessee. She was 90.
Paul Zoll, for American Songwriter,spoke to the legendary singer in 2020 about her popular song “Coal Miner’s Daughter.”
Read below what she for had to say about the iconic hit.
“You can call me anytime,” says Miss Loretta, over the phone from her ranch in Hurricane Mills, Tennessee. She’s kindly agreed to talk about the origins of her most famous song, “Coal Miner’s Daughter,” verifying that this classic Country standard had many other verses which she not only cut out, she threw away. They’re lost forever. “I wish I had kept them,” she said.
Born in 1932 in Butcher’s Holler, Kentucky, (left) she wrote about the real facts of her life and turned it into a classic song. Songwriters struggle every day with the old quandary of wanting to write about specifics, but not so specific as to lose your audience.
But time and time again we learn the same lesson. Which is that the most universal songs are the most specific ones. The beauty and undying strength of “Coal Miner’s Daughter” lies in the truth. Every line is true.
Yet even those of us who have never been to Butcher’s Holler – or any Holler for that matter – can experience the world of her childhood. It’s all there. That is, except the parts she cut out, as she related in her gentle, musical voice.
I wrote it on a little $17 guitar. It didn’t stay in tune. And $17 was a lot of money, cause at the time we didn’t have any money. But then Gibson gave me a guitar, and I wrote all the others on that one.
Every word is true. My daddy would work all night in the coal mine. During the day he would work in the cornfields. There were ten of us. He had to make a living for us. Eight kids. I was second, so I would take care of the kids while Mommy did the sewing and the cleaning and everything else. I think that’s why I sing. I’d rock the babies to sleep and sing to them.
The song says Mommy’s fingers were bleeding. I’d seen them bleed many times. In the wintertime, we had these old clotheslines made out of wire. It would be so cold that her fingers would stick to that wire. She’d pull them loose and I’d see the hide come off of those fingers. I would hide and cry. Monday was wash day. She’d scrub on those washboards all day and her fingers would bleed. But she didn’t complain.
My mommy, to me, was beautiful. I’d see everything she’d do, whether it was crying or laughing. She would rock the babies by the coal oil light, like in the song. That was our light. We didn’t have much light. Butcher Holler, Kentucky was dark at night. You go up a long holler, and there’s trees everywhere and it’s very dark.
We had a well. I would help my daddy a lot and bring the water in at night when I wasn’t being lazy.
The song says we’d go without shoes in the summer. We would wear our shoes out before it would be warm enough to be without shoes. We’d have holes in our shoes, and put paste-board in our shoes. But halfway to school, the paste-board would come out. One time my daddy found me by the creek with my shoes off, just crying, cause it was so cold from those shoes with holes. And Daddy picked me up and carried me home. And Daddy only weighed 117 pounds. I don’t know how he did it, but he did.
You know you hear about poor people in other countries. There are a lot of poor people in our country if you go to the right places. There are a lot of hollers, not just Butcher Holler. I’ve seen them. I guarantee you there’s kids right to this day in the Kentucky hills that don’t have shoes.
There’s the line “Daddy always managed to get the money somewhere.” Parents do what they have to do. Daddy would usually try to get two hogs, one to raise and one to sell. So the other hog would pay for itself. We had a rough life. It was a hard life. Mommy would raise a garden in the summer, and we’d help her. She would can, and I would pick wild blackberries. I would go and pick from morning till night. And Mommy would pack up 100 quarts of blackberries.
The song doesn’t tell half of it. If I told the whole story nobody would believe it now anyway.
Producer Owen Bradley (right) heard me writing it. It had about ten verses, and he said it was too long. He said, “There’s already been an ‘El Paso,’ there didn’t need to be another one.” He knew it was about my life, and he didn’t care about my life and figured nobody else would. So I cut out, I think, four verses. And I cried the whole time. And I have lost those verses, I do not remember them. I wish I did.
We cut it in Owen’s studio in his barn. It was my arrangement. I told him exactly how I wanted it, whether I wanted the steel to start it, or the fiddle. Then I sang the song to the band, and said, “This is what we’re gonna do now.” And I sang it live with the band. Just sang, I didn’t play guitar. Just a couple of takes at the most. I never did many takes of anything. The more I sing, the worse I get. I like to make it fresh.
It was my husband Doo’s idea to put a banjo on it after. He was right. It added so much to the song. None of us could believe it.
It was a fun session. I stopped at the store before going to the barn. I’d get half a roll of bologna cut up, and cheese, bread, onion, and potato chips. We made everything fun. I didn’t have a drink but whoever had a drink had a drink. A hillbilly party. I didn’t want my sessions not to be fun. Because if you go into a recording studio and you think you’re a better singer than the boys that’s gonna play behind you, then you better not go. It’s a thing you are feeling and you can sense, and I know the musicians can sense it.
On the announcement of Loretta´s death last week, another American Songwriter journalist, Lauren Surbey, recalled Loretta´s life and achievemnts and began to consider the legacy she will leave.
Today, music lost its leading lady of country, wrote Lauren. Loretta Lynn, (left) The legendary singer passed away peacefully in her sleep on Tuesday (Oct. 4) at the age of 90. Her death was confirmed by her publicist.
“Our precious mom, Loretta Lynn, passed away peacefully this morning, October 4th, in her sleep at home at her beloved ranch in Hurricane Mills,” the family of Loretta Lynn said in a statement. The family has asked for privacy during this time, as they grieve. An announcement regarding a memorial will be forthcoming in a public announcement.
Lynn is known for her classic country tunes and for paving the path for women in the genre.
Loretta Lynn was born Loretta Webb in Butcher Holler, Kentucky on April 14, 1932, to Clara Marie and coal miner, Ted Webb. Lynn was the second of eight children, and together they were avid country listeners. Lynn could easily be found singing around the house to her favorite musician, Kitty Wells. Little did she know that she was going to become one of the most famous and celebrated country musicians.
The southern star met her husband at a pie social at 16, where she baked a pie with salt rather than sugar. Men bid money on their favorite pie and had the pleasure of meeting the woman who made it. For Oliver “Mooney” Lynn, that was the great Loretta Lynn. The couple married in 1948, just a month after they met.
Later that same year, Lynn gave birth to her first daughter, Betty Sue, who passed away in 2013. She would go on to have three more children by 1953: Jack Benny Lynn (1949), who died at 34, Clara Marie Lynn (1952), and Ernest Ray Lynn (1953). The beloved musician had four children by the age of 22. She later went on to welcome twins Peggy Jean and Patsy Eileen Lynn (1964); who she named for her sister, Peggy Sue Wright, and Patsy Cline.
When she was 17, Lynn moved to Custer, Washington with her new family (“Mooney” and Betty Sue). That’s where the artist bought her first guitar for $17. She began learning how to play as she sang (learning lots of Kitty Wells, right), and performed with local bands at local halls. Within a few months, Lynn earned her own individual band, and the rest is history.
Perhaps you know Lynn for her hit song “Coal Miner’s Daughter” (1970). The single became one of her biggest hits, so big that it sparked both a novel and a film. Her autobiography was published in 1976, with the same title, and instantly became a bestseller. She reflected on her time undergoing poverty, growing up young, and her successes in the music industry. Coal Miner’s Daughter went on to become a film in 1980, starring Sissy Spacek and Tommy Lee Jones (left) .
But beyond the art created about her is her music. And while she was popular for “Coal Miner’s Daughter,” Lynn went on to do a lot for the music industry. She became the first woman to receive Entertainer of the Year at the Country Music Awards (CMA), entered the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1988, and has released 46 studio albums. She’s known for dropping one of the most successful duets in country history (“After the Fire is Gone” with Conway Twitty), which received CMA’s Vocal Duo of the Year in 1972. She has had over 50 top 10 hits, and 16 No. 1 hits alone between the years 1966 and 1978.
After her husband’s death in 1996, Lynn took a hiatus from her music. In 2000, Audium Records released her album Still Country. She wrote her second autobiography, Still Woman Enough in 2002, and was recognized by the Kennedy Center Honors in 2003.
While it may have been likely to find Lynn and Twitty pairing together back in 1972, it certainly wasn’t expected to discover her collaborating with The White Stripes’ musician Jack White. In 2004, White helped to produce Lynn’s 42nd studio album, Van Lear Rose.
The unlikely duo deemed working together successful as she took home the Grammy Award for Best Country Album. She crossed genres with White as she became Artist of the Year at the Americana Awards that same year.
In 2009, Lynn began rerecording her hit music. By 2021, she released her 46th and final studio album, Still Woman Enough.
Lynn was pre-deceased by her husband of 48 years Oliver Vanetta “Doolittle” Lynn, her daughter Betty Sue Lynn and son Jack Benny Lynn. She is survived by her daughters Patsy Lynn Russell, Peggy Lynn, Clara (Cissie) Marie Lynn and her son Ernest Ray Lynn as well as grandchildren Lori Lynn Smith, Ethan Lyell, Elizabeth Braun, Tayla Lynn, Jack Lynn, Ernest Ray Lynn Jr., Katherine Condya, Alexandria Lynn, Jasyntha Connelly, Megan Horkins, Anthony Brutto, Jason Lynn, Wesley Lynn, Levi Lynn, Emmy Rose Russell, David Russell, Lucca Marchetti, and step grandchildren David Greer, Jennafer Russell, Melody Russell and Natalie Rapp, and her great-grandchildren.
In lieu of flowers the family asks for donations to be made to the Loretta Lynn Foundation. Information about a memorial service/celebration of life will be made available at a later date.
editor´s note It is a track on Storms by Nanci Griffith that sums up in joust a couple of lines, about the effect and legacy of Loretta Lynn. On Listen To The Radio she sings
p am leaving Mississippi in the evening rain
through Delta towns that wear satin gowns in a high-beamed frame
Loretta Lynn guides my hand through the radio.
Where would I be withouty those songs that Loretta wrote?
If your taste runs away to jazz as well as country, Steve Bewick´s next Hot Biscuits jazz broadcast includes as its central piece a session from the Steven Pimlott Quartet at the Creative Space. Jazz from the American songbook. Also featured is music from Lara Eidi. Gypsy jazz from the Mike Piggott Hot Club Quartet. Roland Kirk with a classic and. Gaz Hughes also from a set at the Creative Space. If this sounds good tell your friends, or follow Steve 24/07 by clicking on the link below
The prime sources for this article were both originally published in American songwriter, written by Paul Zoll and Lauren Surbey respectively Check out these on-line magazines for scores of similar thought-provoking work.
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This article was collated by Norman Warwick, a weekly columnist with Lanzarote Information and owner and editor of this daily blog at Sidetracks And Detours.
Norman has also been a long serving broadcaster, co-presenting the weekly all across the arts programme on Crescent Community Radio for many years with Steve Bewick, and his own show on Sherwood Community Radio. He has been a regular guest on BBC Radio Manchester, BBC Radio Lancashire, BBC Radio Merseyside and BBC Radio Four.
As a published author and poet Norman was a founder member of Lendanear Music, with Colin Lever and Just Poets with Pam McKee, Touchstones Creative Writing Group (for which he was creative writing facilitator for a number of years) with Val Chadwick and all across the arts with Robin Parker.
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