FOR LYNN, A SORT OF HOMECOMING

By Jane Dunlap Norris – Daily Progress staff writer

While she’s preparing for Saturday’s performance in the new Charlottesville Pavilion, Loretta Lynn is thinking about three dear friends.

One is Conway Twitty, her frequent duet partner, who died in 1993. Lynn, who has 27 No. 1 singles to her credit, and Twitty, whose record of 55 No. 1 hits still stands, teamed up to win four consecutive Country Music Association Awards for vocal duo in the 1970s.

“Every time I worked in Charlottesville, Conway and I worked together,’’ Lynn said. Fans of the rich collaboration will want to keep an ear out for a song paying tribute to Twitty, because Lynn plans to recognize him.

Another is Sissy Spacek, the Albemarle County resident who won the best-actress Academy Award for portraying Lynn in “Coal Miner’s Daughter’’ in 1980. Spacek worked closely with Lynn to create an authentic portrayal and accurate singing style for the film, and Lynn said they came away from the project with a close friendship.

“You know I’ll be seeing her if I’m anywhere close to her. She’s closer than my sisters,’’ Lynn said warmly. “I’ll put Sissy’s butt on that stage. I didn’t spend a year teaching her to sing like me for nothing.’’

(Lynn’s coaching paid off – Spacek also picked up a Grammy Award nomination for the film’s
soundtrack.)

Tickets for Saturday’s grand-opening concert at Charlottesville Pavilion, which puts Loretta Lynn and opening act Old School Freight Train in the spotlight, have sold out, according to Charlottesville Pavilion LLC.

The new venue will bring in a variety of other performers. The schedule so far includes shows by Bob Weir and RatDog on Aug. 7, Little Feat on Aug. 13, Dwight Yoakam on Aug. 20, Bruce Hornsby on Aug. 21 and Violent Femmes on Aug. 25.

Lynn said she was pleased by Spacek’s portrayal and knew she’d take home the statuette for it. After Spacek was nominated for the Oscar, “I told her to go get a new dress,’’ Lynn said.

Keeping it real mattered to the native of Butcher Hollow, Ky., because the film was based on her autobiography.

“Either keep it right or there’ll be no movie,’’ she said she told the filmmakers.

That won’t surprise fans who know that keeping it real has been an important part of Lynn’s career since she first started recording in the 1960s.

Her late husband, Oliver Lynn, whom she affectionately calls “Doo’’ – short for his nickname of “Doolittle’’ – drove her from gig to radio station to recording session, and she wrote some of her biggest hits in the car while he was behind the wheel.

Along the way, the young mother sang of things that mattered to women who worked hard, raised their families and still believed in love. Her own brand of real-world feminism struck a chord with both women and men.

Her refusal to sugarcoat issues has drawn its share of controversy over the years, which she always faces with the same clear-eyed outlook. “I just hit it head on,’’ Lynn said simply.

Lynn wrote and sang about such classic country themes as the pain of adultery, but she didn’t shy away from other important issues in women’s lives – sexual and reproductive freedom, for instance, or the unfairness of stigmatizing divorced women.

“The Pill’’ was banned by one radio station after another after its 1974 release.

“When ‘The Pill’ came out, you’d have thought I’d killed someone,’’ Lynn said. Although she wasn’t a poster child for oral contraceptives herself – “I got married too daggone young. At 21, I had all six kids,’’ she said – Lynn took a lot of heat from people who didn’t like the direction a changing society was taking.

“The Vietnam War, I just never did get,’’ Lynn said. “This war should’ve never happened. I don’t know what we were fighting about. I told Doo, ‘I can’t stand to hear about war, because our boys are going to die over there.’ ’’

Her husband suggested that she write what she was feeling. When she first started performing her song “Dear Uncle Sam’’ in 1966, concert promoters in Canada refused to allow her to sing it in their country.

As the conflict wore on, Lynn said, she grew angrier when she heard about the nasty receptions some Vietnam veterans faced when they returned home – especially vets who couldn’t find work.

Since the current war in Iraq began, “I’ve been putting it back in my show,’’ Lynn said.

There’s a third friend Lynn is thinking about these days – Jack White. He’s half of the rock duo the White Stripes and a producer with a love for old-school country music.

“I love Jack,’’ she said. “He’s a great kid.’’

“Kid’’ isn’t a put-down by any means. Lynn said White was 9 when “Coal Miner’s Daughter’’ first came out, and he told her he went down to the theater and watched it repeatedly.

They teamed up to create Lynn’s latest CD, “Van Lear Rose,’’ which earned them a pair of Grammy Awards in 2004. She looks forward to taking on future projects together.

White’s direct studio style took veteran recording artist Lynn by surprise. She said he doesn’t waste a lot of time letting voices warm up.

“Every one of those songs, I just sang them one time,’’ Lynn said, a note of amazement in her voice.
“It was country. I think it was the countriest album I’ve ever done.’’

Seeing White in the studio brought back fond memories of her early days in music. Lynn said he reminded her of Owen Bradley, the Decca producer for whom she started cutting demos, then her own songs.

“He’s like an old man when he sits down at the control table,’’ Lynn said with a fond laugh.

She admits to a special fondness for the hit CD’s title track, which evokes for her memories of being rocked in her father Ted’s lap.

When she got a little too big for laptime in the rocking chair, the second of eight children would make a deal – she could sit in her daddy’s lap if she was holding the baby. The peerlessly lovely Van Lear Rose of the song is, of course, Lynn’s mother, Clara.

Lynn’s beloved Doo died in 1996 after a long illness, and the aching track “Miss Being Mrs.’’  addresses her loss.

When her friends say they’d like to work on album projects with White, Lynn said she responds, “I’ve got him tied up. You can’t have him.’’

Lynn has plenty of musical plans at the moment.

“I wrote a couple of religious songs, and I want to do a religious album,’’ Lynn said. Also on her wish list: another Christmas album.