BY TOM NETHERLAND -SPECIAL CORRESPONDENTRoads like snakes slice and curve up, up and up into the Eastern Kentucky hills to Butcher Holler. Past tiny houses and a crackling creek, old folks who wave from sagging porches and lazing hound dogs dreaming under willow trees.
“That’s our mansion that’s there now. When we got that house, I thought it was a mansion. My daddy paid $600 for it.”
Up on the right, where a log cabin once sat, rests a simple and small white “mansion.” Its screen door screeches when opened and thwacks when closed. Inside, homemade patchwork quilts warm beds no longer in use. Rocking chairs no longer rock; a wood cooking stove no longer cooks. Boards groan underfoot when you walk from room to room.
Butcher Holler gave the world a queen on April 14, 1935, when Loretta Webb was born. We know her as Loretta Lynn, country music legend.
Virginians have a rare chance to catch her in concert tomorrow night, to benefit Live Arts, at the grand opening of the Charlottesville Pavilion.
Lynn’s hot these days. The Country Music Hall of Fame member won two Grammy Awards earlier this year and widespread critical praise for last year’s Jack White-produced album “Van Lear Rose.”
Concerts sell out regularly.
But she’s still very much a mountain girl.
“I grew up in a one-room log cabin. I would lay down on the floor in front of our battery radio. All we’d listen to was the war news and the Grand Ole Opry. I’d listen to the Grand Ole Opry every Saturday night until I fell asleep on that floor,” Lynn said by phone last week from her home in Nashville, Tenn.
Folks in the hills in those days grew up fast, and Lynn was no exception. She married Oliver “Moonshine” Lynn three months shy of her 14th birthday. Until 1960’s “I’m a Honky Tonk Girl,” she was just another housewife trying to raise four kids while handling a husband wild in his ways.
“When you’re having four little babies by 17, it’s tough,” Lynn said. “But that’s all I knew. [My husband] Doo pushed me hard. I would have never hit that stage without him. I was so shy, I didn’t want to get on any stage and sing. God had me by the hand. I worked hard at it.”
Lynn learned quickly. She found a foothold to stardom in 1966 with “You Ain’t Woman Enough.” She followed with her first No. 1, the fists-on-hips “Don’t Come Home A’ Drinkin’ (With Lovin’ on Your
Those songs and others such as 1968’s “Fist City” provided a soundtrack for the lives of country women of the era. Lynn was no women’s libber per se, but she most certainly gave voice to and helped empower rural women.
What’s often overlooked about Lynn nowadays is her series of duets, first with her idol Ernest Tubb and then most famously with Conway Twitty. With Tubb she scored hits that included Nat Stuckey’s “Sweet Thang.”
“Whenever I stood beside Ernest, he just seemed like a monument to me,” Lynn said, which prompted her to break into “Sweet Thang” over the phone.
Lynn found her musical soul mate in Twitty. They seemed joined at the vocal cords on such hits as 1973’s infectious “Louisiana Woman, Mississippi Man.”
“We were like sister and brother,” Lynn said. “I loved him just like he was my brother, and Doo loved him. It tore me all to pieces when he died all of a sudden [at age 59, in 1993].”
To fully know Lynn, know that she’s still rooted in rural Eastern Kentucky. Times were hard for her growing up, but “They were the happiest days of my life.
“You didn’t hear about any bad stuff. You didn’t know hurt. I think about those days a lot,” she said.
“I’m just a plain ol’ person, and that was my roots. I’m just like a next-door neighbor. You don’t ever forget your roots.”