Country strong: Loretta Lynn still mining music talent for records

Posted December 2, 2011 at 4 a.m.

Loretta Lynn is just hours from leaving on another tour this mid-November day, yet she’s still stuck in the past. Three times the 76-year-old country legend was hospitalized in 2011, including a recent bout with pneumonia in Bowling Green, Ky.

“I said, ‘That’s ridiculous, me pulling a trick like that,’ ” Lynn said in a telephone interview from her Tennessee home in Hurricane Mills, about 70 miles from Nashville.

“I was feeling good. I can’t figure it out.”

She was heading south to begin her latest tour in Louisiana, then on to South Carolina before heading to Florida. Lynn rolls into Naples for an 8 p.m. Thursday show at the Naples Philharmonic Center for the Arts.

She has three albums in the works, including one with legendary record producer T-Bone Burnett. The others are gospel and Christmas. The third one with Burnett will feature “real hill songs, bluegrass, but we haven’t had it cut yet,” Lynn said.

It would be Lynn’s first album since her 2004 acclaimed “Van Lear Rose,” her collaboration with rocker Jack White, formerly of White Stripes’ fame. (Lynn’s father worked the Van Lear coal mines in her native Kentucky).

“He said, ‘It’s about time I record a record with you,’” she said Burnett told her.

“I was talking to Jack White, and he said, ‘I want to be there.’ I told him, ‘You can watch.’”

What White did with Lynn was special. White, 36, a Detroit native, produced “Van Lear Rose” and plays guitar on many of the songs, bringing a hard edge to the sweet sound of Lynn for something magical. It has to be the most refreshingly honest country album to come along in years.

“Me and Jack worked a show in Manhattan. I just thought he was a good kid. I told him, ‘Jack, I’m going in to record.’ He said, ‘Lord, how about me doing that?’” Lynn said.

“And I said, sure ‘If you want to do it, then do it, honey.’”

Lynn said she invited White to her home, where the two began the project.

“He picked the songs and I cooked that day, chicken and dumplings and homemade bread,” she said.

“I trusted him. Nobody would’ve trusted him. I did. I said he was a young kid and he needed help.”

Looking back on it, Lynn said she never doubted White and has always tried to push the envelope.

“I take risks,” she explained. “No one else really does that. I don’t know why. It’s good to take risks. You never know if it’s going to be a good thing.”

Too many of today’s country artists don’t try to work outside their comfort zone. Most don’t even write their own songs, Lynn said, unlike her. Lynn said she’s been writing songs on paper since she was a child in her hometown of Butcher Hollow, Ky.

“I’ve been listening to the Grand Ole Opry since I was a little girl,” she explained.

“I remember the one day the teacher said, ‘Where did you get that song?’ I said, ‘I thought everybody wrote songs.’ She said, ‘No, honey, everybody don’t write.’ ”

Lynn said her parents had a radio and used it twice a week: “We kept the batteries for Saturday night, Grand Ole Opry, and Gabriel Heatter, for the news. He was the news guy during World War II.”

Her musical role models included Ernest Tubb, and Lynn starts singing “It’s Been So Long Darling” as she discusses him. She also loved listening to Roy Acuff and, of course, Patsy Cline, her mentor and friend before Cline’s death in a plane crash in 1963.

“It wasn’t God who made honky-tonk angels,” Lynn sang, recalling the song Cline made famous.

At the time, Lynn was with Teddy Wilburn of the Wilburn Brothers, who performed for years at the Grand Ole Opry and helped Lynn early with her career.

“That was the hardest thing,” she said of Cline’s death.

“Teddy looked at me and said, ‘Lord, you just lost your best friend.’ She had been taking care of me. She gave me clothes to wear. She always made sure we had groceries. I thought what in the world am I going to do now?”

Lynn’s life was documented in the 1980 film “Coal Miner’s Daughter,” which won Sissy Spacek — who played Lynn — an Academy Award for best actress.

Lynn said the movie was accurate.

“I made sure of that,” said Lynn, who was on the set for filming. “I didn’t want that movie to be phony. And I stuck around to make sure.”

Lynn recalled the musical legends she got to know, especially Johnny Cash and his wife, June Carter Cash.

“When I first come to Nashville, I did a lot of traveling with them,” she said. “Never a dull moment. I was with him the night he turned the chickens loose in the hotel in Canada. Whatever he could think of first, that’s what he did.”

Lynn said she had never met Elvis Presley but had talked to him about collaborating on a music project. They had planned to start working together in early September 1977.

Presley died three weeks earlier, on Aug. 16.

“We were ready to do it. I was on the road when he passed away,” she said.

Lynn recalled her last telephone conversation with Presley.

“He was just a plain old country boy, as country as I am, and that’s pretty bad,” she said, laughing.