No dancing for Loretta Lynn, but she can still sing

Country icon performs her hits Thursday at Philharmonic Center

Written by Charles Runnells on

Loretta Lynn won’t be dancing a “hillbilly hoedown” next week in Naples. But other than that, she says, she’s feeling just fine.

“I’m in good shape,” Lynn says in her famous Kentucky twang. “I’m probably in better shape than most singers age 20. I really am!”

Lynn, 76, canceled several shows last month after a knee operation brought on a case of pneumonia. Now she says she’s back to her usual, feisty self. She performs Thursday at the Philharmonic Center for the Arts.

The country-music icon can’t move around much onstage, thanks to her new titanium knee. That means she can’t do her usual dancing at the end of the concert.

“I had to quit doin’ my little hillbilly hoedown,” she says and laughs. “But my knee’s healin’. I’ll get back to doin’ it.”

Besides, nobody goes to a Loretta Lynn show to watch her dance. They go to hear her sing classics such as “Fist City,” “Coal Miner’s Daughter,” “Rated ‘X’” and “You Ain’t Woman Enough (to Take My Man).”

“I do Loretta Lynn songs,” she says. “That’s what they come to hear. They holler out different stuff, you know? And I try to do ’em.

“If I can’t do ’em, I tell ’em they can get up and sing ’em.”

Decades after writing them, Lynn says she still identifies with defiant anthems such as “Fist City” and “You Ain’t Woman Enough” — songs that often feature philandering husbands and man-stealing hussies.

Women in her audience certainly identify with those lyrics, too.

“I can just say (from the stage), ‘How many women out there have had this thing happen to them?’ ” Lynn says. “And they all start hollerin’. So they’ve had it happen to them, too.”

She laughs.

“There’s always been some woman tryin’ to take everybody’s man,” she says. “Don’t you know that?”

Women didn’t sing about such things when Lynn hit the country-music scene in 1960. She also sang about family life and — controversially — birth control in the song “The Pill.”

“That got more publicity than just about anything, I reckon,” she says. “And I couldn’t figure that out — why that was such a big deal. ’Cause everybody was takin’ the pill except me. I didn’t have the money to buy it, and I had the kids to prove I didn’t!”

Lynn had six children with late husband Oliver “Doolittle” Lynn — and a whopping 21 grandchildren. She has so many grandchildren, she admits, it’s hard to remember everybody’s name.

“At Christmas time, it’s even worse,” she says from her home in Hurricane Mills, Tenn., where she was preparing Thanksgiving dinner for the family last week. “Tryin’ to buy something for each one. It’s really hard.”

Lynn says she’s been far from idle while recuperating from knee surgery and pneumonia. She’s written and recorded songs for several new projects, including a Christmas album, a gospel album and a hits compilation. She’s also working on a bluegrass album with producer T-Bone Burnett.

“I worked my butt off when I wasn’t on the road,” she says. “I stayed busy.”

Lynn loves to perform, but she says she’s always preferred songwriting.

“I’d rather write than sing,” she says. “That’s my life. You lay your life out there, and that’s where ‘Coal Miner’s Daughter’ came from.”

She still loves that song about growing up poor in Kentucky. She’ll even sing it over the phone for a reporter — if he asks nicely.

“In a cabin on a hill in Butcher Holler,” she sings softly in her clear, unmistakable voice. “We were poor, but we had love/ that’s the one thing daddy made sure of …”

Those lyrics — and many more — have inspired women both in and out of the music industry, Lynn says. She rarely performs without women approaching her afterward and telling her how much her songs mean to them.

That includes young country stars such as Miranda Lambert. “She told me, ‘If I could just do half of what you’ve done, I’d be happy,’ ” Lynn says.

That’s what it’s all about, she says: Connecting with her audience and perhaps changing how they see the world — and themselves.

“That’s the neat part of it,” Lynn says. “That makes it all worthwhile.”