Country music legend talks with Citizen-Times about latest album, more
By Laura Blackley
Loretta Lynn is arguably one of America’s best-known and most beloved cultural icons. The “Coal Miner’s Daughter” forged her own path to success with honest, heart-rending, take-no-guff songs based on her own rags-to-riches life. In a career spanning more than 40 years, she’s had more songs banned by country radio than any other artist. In sharp contrast, however, she’s also won numerous Country Music Association Female Vocalist of the Year Awards, and was the first woman to win the CMA’s most prestigious award, entertainer of the year, in 1972.
Lynn’s much-lauded “Van Lear Rose” (Interscope Records 2004), an inspiring tribute to everything modern country music ain’t, won a Grammy last year for best Country Album. It’s proof-positive that good women don’t just get older, they get better. The charming and affable superstar took some time from her busy touring schedule to talk about her life and music with the Citizen-Times recently.
Citizen-Times: “How, in your opinion, has country music changed since your last hit, in the ’80s, to your most recent “Van Lear Rose” recording?”
Loretta Lynn: “Let me see … I think the music changed in the country field a lot because it became more like a pop sound. Like Marty Robbins would have done, or you know, somebody that wasn’t real country. That’s how it all turned out to be. But I stayed true to my roots ’cause I think if somebody don’t, where will country music go?’’
C-T: That’s true.
Lynn: You know, you’d lose how many generations of country music? It’s all I’ve ever known all my life … I know about five decades of music that was country, then, all of a sudden, kind of turned pop — and where did country music go?
C-T: “How was it working with (rock star) Jack White (of the White Stripes, who produced and performed on Lynn’s album)?”
Lynn: “Wasn’t that something? (laughs) I worked in Manhattan, New York with (Jack) … and when the show was over I looked at him and said ‘Well … I’m tired — I’m goin’ home.’ I said ‘I’ve got to get ready for an album, I’m gonna have to record an album.” And he looked at me and he said ‘Who’s producing it?’ And I said ‘I am.’ He said ‘How about me producing it,’ and I said ‘Well, why not?’
“I thought well, if it works, it works; if it don’t I’ll turn around and cut another album. … All he let me sing them songs (on “Van Lear Rose”) was one time. I looked at him and said ‘Hey! Owen Bradley (legendary “Coal Miner’s Daughter” producer) let me sing ’em three times to pick the best one!’ But
(White) said ‘Just sing ’em one time …’ So all them songs were done on that album in just one take. …
I could not believe this kid!
C-T: “It was a beautiful record.”
Lynn: “Well, (“Van Lear Rose”) was the most country-est thing I think I ever did … it really was. (Jack) had four musicians from Detroit that I had never met (The Do-Whaters — called this because, according to Lynn’s liner notes, “They got in there and did whatever we needed them to!”)
“Then, Jack put his four cents’ worth onto “Have Mercy” and “Portland, Oregon.” I cut “Portland, Oregon” and went back and the next morning they were playing “Portland, Oregon,” and a guy was singing on it. I looked down at Jack and said ‘Jack, who the heck’s that?’ He said ‘That’s me!’ So …
(laughs) he had made it a duet!
C-T: “So what did you think about that?”
Lynn: “I thought it was good. … I didn’t holler about it because I thought it was … different.”
C-T: “You’ve been performing that song recently, “Dear Uncle Sam,” that you wrote back in the ’60s.”
Lynn: “They’ve been screaming for it. It makes me sad to even sing it because you know at the end the boy dies. And I wrote the thing during the Vietnam War. … I had just started singing then, and Doolittle, my husband, was driving me around to radio stations in the car. … I looked at him and said ‘I am so tired of war.’ … I said ‘I woulda liked to never hear of war.’
“I was talking to my husband, you know … I said, ‘It’s awful … it’s killing our boys’ and Doo looked over at me and said ‘Why don’t you write about it?’ and that’s why I started out with ‘Dear Uncle Sam…’ I was writing him a letter.”
C-T: “And ‘Dear Uncle Sam’ went No. 1?
Lynn: “It went No. 1 during the Vietnam War (1966). Just at the end, I went on a USO tour for the boys.
That’s the one they was screaming for. … Even today that’s the one they’ve been screaming for. And I thought ‘Why do they like it? The boy dies at the end?’ And if I’d a had any brains I wouldn’t of had it that way. Maybe I should write another one, where the boy doesn’t die. But I can’t believe it — they all wanna hear it.”
C-T: “If you could go back and do everything all over again, would you do anything different?”
Lynn: “I doubt I’d do anything different. You know, me and my husband would fight and then we wouldn’t (laughs). But my whole life, no I don’t think I’d do anything different because I’ve learned an awful lot from life. Some of it wasn’t too pretty … and some of it was good. But I wouldn’t trade it because if it was all so pretty then it wouldn’t be nothing to it, as far as I’m concerned. Or if it was all bad, then you wouldn’t want to hear of it again, and it would still be hard to live. I think life works out good — there’s bad times and there’s good times.’
C-T: “What is your favorite memory?”
Lynn: ‘It would be my husband — the night he asked me to marry him. That was probably one of my favorite memories, ’cause I didn’t know what he meant, when he told me he wanted me to be Mrs.
Lynn and I was too young to know what being Mrs. Lynn was (laughs). I said ‘Well, I can’t do that, I’m a Webb.’ Here I am arguing that I’m a Webb, not a Lynn. So he said ‘Well, what I’m trying to say is, I would change your name. … Well, I didn’t think that was right … for anybody to change my name, so we’re sitting there, arguing, over him asking me to marry. … I think that was a pretty good memory.’
C-T: “Do you have any advice for upcoming singers/songwriters/musicians out there, trying to make it?”
Lynn: “Hang in there. It’s the ones that quit that don’t make it. It’s not no easy road; it’s a hard one. But if you don’t travel it, then you’re not gonna make it easy.”