Today’s country music worships the same youth god as rock and pop, but its audience holds reverence for Loretta Lynn, who celebrates her 50th anniversary as a recording artist this year. She first recorded I’m a Honky Tonk Girl for tiny Zero Records in 1960.”Do you believe that I have been in the business that long?” she says by phone from her home in Hurricane Mills, Tenn. “I was a scared little girl, real bashful. I look back and it seems so long ago, and then sometimes it’s like it’s a month ago.”
Lynn, who is in her late 70s (she declines to share her age), has a big week ahead: Tuesday sees the release of the album Coal Miner’s Daughter: A Tribute to Loretta Lynn, on which Carrie Underwood, Alan Jackson, Martina McBride, Reba McEntire, the White Stripes, Lucinda Williams and Kid Rock dust off her time-honored catalog.
And Wednesday, she’ll be honored with a tribute at the Country Music Association Awards (ABC, 8 p.m. ET/tape delay PT) in a segment that features top nominee Miranda Lambert (up for nine awards) and Sheryl Crow.
Lynn isn’t billed as performing on the show, but “I’ll be there with bells on.” On the album, she joins Lambert and Crow in a radio-friendly rendition of the autobiographical title tune.
The Kentucky native, who dominated country charts in the ’60s and ’70s — scoring more than 70 hits with songs such as The Pill and You Ain’t Woman Enough (to Take My Man), many of which inadvertently championed women’s rights — is full of praise for Lambert. “Miranda is just about as country as I am. She’s country as corn bread.”
She also lauds the show’s co-host Underwood, who covers You’re Lookin’ at Country on the new CD, as “one of the best country singers who’s come along in a long time.” (Lynn dismisses the notion that the American Idol winner came to Nashville through the back door: “Well, big deal! She got here!”)
But of all the album’s performances, it’s Faith Hill’s rendition of Love Is the Foundation that demolishes her. “I ain’t going to sing it no more — it’s fantastic,” Lynn says. “She made me ashamed I ever sung it.”
The idea for the project grew from a gab session with daughter Patsy Lynn, one of the album’s executive producers. “We got in the (tour) bus one day and I said, ‘You know, this would be a great thing.’ “
Lynn’s biggest disappointment: Pink, who had hoped to record Fist City, couldn’t get the OK from her record company and had to back out.
In preparing future projects, Lynn has turned to younger collaborators such as Shawn Camp, who co-wrote a pocketful of new songs, and John Carter Cash (Johnny and June’s son), who’s producing as she re-records her top five hits. She has a Christmas album in the making, hopes to go into the studio with younger sister Crystal Gayle, and still tours: “I just keep truckin’.”
And she wonders: If she came to Nashville now with the classic country that made her famous, would she be too down-home for the major labels?
“I like the polished sound, so I might make a little slicker record. Who knows?” she says, laughing. “But I would make it. There’s no doubt in my mind.”