The country music legend who started her life as the Coal Miner’s Daughter now has 21 of her own grandchildren, and more than four decades worth of hit music that she created while raising her large family.
At age 74, Loretta Lynn — an iconic figure known as much for her feisty songwriting as her singing — still spends half of her year touring across the country. She’ll make a stop Friday at the Pepsi-Cola Roadhouse.
Every two weeks, Lynn switches from the road to her Hurricane Mills, Tenn., ranch, which has become a tourist attraction with its Coal Miner’s Daughter Museum.
What drives Lynn year after year and gives her such longevity and passion for her music? In her humorous, self-deprecating Southern style, Lynn can only chuckle and shrug.
“Nothing,” drawls the Butcher Holler, Ky., native. “I just keep going. Why stop?
“Every time I go back to a place, it’s full. I sell out everywhere I go,” says Lynn, who has performed several times at the Burgettstown Roadhouse. “Before I get home, they’ve already called my office and asked me to come (back) next year. I think, ‘Heck, I’ll go back.’
“Usually, the people who come to see me have seen me over and over and over,” Lynn says. “I recognize a lot of them — they just keep coming back. I really appreciate it. They’ve fed my kids. … If it hadn’t have been for my fans, they’d all have starved.”
People who attend Lynn’s concerts, where she wears glittering, elegant gowns designed for her, often say she is as much a comedian as she is a musician. In a conversational style, Lynn engages with the audience while she tells stories and makes witty cracks between songs. But again, Lynn laughs at the thought that she’s amusing.
“They’ll call me up and say, ‘Hey, you sure were funny,'” Lynn says. “I say, ‘When?’ I don’t try to be funny; it just happens that way.”
Lynn’s concerts are family affairs that include twin daughters Peggy and Patsy, son Ernie and granddaughter Tayla, who calls her grandmother “Me-Ma” and sings the tribute song “Coal Dust.”
“I take them with me,” Lynn says. “I want them to know how hard it is.”
Lynn says she loves having her family along as part of the concerts.
“I like it that way, because I … didn’t have them when I first started,” she says. “I was so homesick and lonesome to get home. When I started taking some of the kids with me, it was a lot better.”
Tayla Lynn, Ernie’s daughter, started touring with the elder Lynn after her grandfather — Mooney, or “Doo,” who shared a tumultuous but devoted marriage with Loretta Lynn for 48 years — died in 1996.
“I’m really proud of her,” Lynn says. “I love that little girl.”
Ernie Lynn has taken after Doo with drinking problems — but Loretta Lynn says he has been staying out of trouble. Ernie Lynn is known for his class-clown antics onstage and his sometimes shocking, off-the-cuff comments.
“He kind of takes over the stage, too. I have to calm him down every few minutes,” Loretta Lynn says, laughing. She says she often thinks, “‘Oh, no, here comes another!'” when her son opens his mouth onstage.
Lynn — who has had surgery on her shoulder and twice on her back, and expects to have another back surgery — often sits on a chair onstage. Yet her sitting stance might enhance the intimate, conversational tone she has with her audience, she says. People often say a Loretta Lynn concert feels like sitting in the superstar’s living room, engaging in dialogue between songs she sings just for you.
She says she couldn’t do a show without that audience connection, and that she likes to talk to her fans, not at them.
“I’ve talked to artists who wouldn’t think about making the audience one of them. I say, ‘Well, friend, that ain’t me,'” Lynn says.
“I just go in and say hello,” she says, describing her interaction with the audience. “I feel like I’m one of them. … I feel that I’m not playing.”
Indeed, Lynn — portrayed by Sissy Spacek in an Academy Award-winning performance from the 1980 movie “Coal Miner’s Daughter” — has no set itinerary for her shows. She simply says, “What do you want to hear?” and people shout out their requests. Lynn obeys, if she can — after all, the fans are paying money for the show, she says.
“If I don’t know it, they can get up and sing it,” she says, laughing. “When I find out what they’re charging for a ticket, I almost pass out myself.”
The Coal Miner’s Daughter isn’t just touring; new music is under way. She has been recording for the past several months in Johnny Cash’s studio, where she is creating an album that will feature many of her No. 1 hits and Top 5 hits, along with some brand-new songs. The album might be released by April. Although Lynn does not yet have a title for the CD, she says she thinks a play on “Here I Am Again” — a 1972 album — would be cute.
Modern country albums, Lynn says, sure are different from the country music she knew. She likes the modern music, but “it’s really not that country anymore. … It’s more like pop music than country.”
Lynn reminisces fondly about Patsy Cline, the revered country and pop singer who died in a plane crash in 1963 at age 30. Cline was one of Lynn’s best friends and a major inspiration, she says. Cline, she says, might be looking down from heaven, kicking her foot and saying what she used to tell her friend: “You’ve got a damn hit!”
“God will make it up to her, I’m sure,” Lynn says. “She was doing such big things.”