The Loretta Lynn story has fascinated people for generations. Now it's back -- with a few revisions and lots of new steps. On Friday (March 4), she has a new album and a terrific PBS special; here's the story I sent to papers:
By Mike Hughes
Loretta Lynn carries
large chunks of human history.
She's been a
grandmother for almost 50 years, widowed for almost 20; she's been
cutting records for 55. You might expect her to slow down; on Friday,
however, she has a new PBS film and a new album.
“I work all the
time,” said Lynn, 83. “I couldn't sit down and quit working ....
If I go home and I sit down, I say, 'I can't wait until I get back on
the road.'” So she has:
-- Her first studio
album in a dozen years, with a mixture of traditional songs and Lynn
classics, plus duets with Elton John and – via separate track --
Willie Nelson. “I didn't even know he was on there,” she said. “I
was listening to it and here was Willie.”
-- An “American
Masters” profile, stuffed with old clips and new comments.
“Everybody wanted to participate,” said producer Elizabeth
Trojan. The result lets people see what's happened in the 36 years
since the movie “Coal Miner's Daughter” ... and adds some
Fans had memorized
the basics: Lynn was married at 13, a mother of four at 18, a
grandmother at 32. Except in recent years, her birth-certificate was
located; the real numbers are 15, 20 and 34.
At either age, it
was a sudden swirl for a kid from Butcher Hollow, Kentucky ...
especially when her husband landed work in the state of Washington.
“When we got out there,” Lynn said, “I really didn't like
Washington that well, because it rained so much.”
Then her husband
bought her a $17 guitar. In the PBS film, country historian Robert
Oermann says Washington was a blessing; homesick for her roots, Lynn
threw herself into the music of her childhood.
Soon, she said, “my
husband pushed me out onstage and made me sing.” She made $12 every
Saturday at his favorite bar. When she cut a single (“I'm a Honky
Tonk Girl”) in 1960, they drove all over the South, where the shy
country girl would show up at radio stations unannounced.
“I think some of
the disc jockeys thought I was crazy,” Lynn said. “They would say
they had played my record and I would ... say, 'No you didn't playit,
because it's down here in the garbage can.'”
Often enough, she
prevailed. “Me and my husband would be driving the car (and) hear
the record. And then we'd just pull over and stop unti it got through
playing. It was something; it was great.”
reached No. 14 on Billboard's country chart. Soon, Lynn had some key
When Patsy Cline was
hospitalized from a car accident, Lynn did a Cline song on a
Nashville radio show. “I sang 'I Fall to Pieces' for Patsy,” she
said, “Now, if I had any sense, I wouldn't have sung that song,
because ... it looks like she fell all to pieces, you know .... I
didn't have much sense at the time.”
Cline heard it and
sent her husband to fetch Lynn. Soon, she was Lynn's friend and
Another was producer
Owen Bradley, who walked out when she wanted to do a “Blueberry
Hill” cover. “He said I needed to be cutting something country
and something I wrote .... He said, 'Don't you come back in here
without your songs.'”
Fortunately, she was
a skillful writer whose husband kept inspiring her
drinking-and-cheating soings. “Every time I'd write a song and it
would be about him, he would look at me and grin, you know. He knew I
was writing it about him.”
It was a merger of
strong souls, their son says in the film. Once, she knocked out two
of her husband's teeth; another time, he passed out at the table ...
waking to find she'd dumped a pot of beans on him.
But when his health
crumbled (due to drinking, diabetes and heart problems), she slowed
her career for more than a decade. Since his death (1996, just shy of
70), she's resumed her career.
“I ain't going
nowhere for a long time,” Lynn said. “I feel good; I feel great
.... I've never drank or smoked, you known, never mistreated my body
in any way. So I'm in great shape.”
A 2004 album
produced by Jack White reached No. 2 on the country chart and won two
Grammies. This new one is produced by Johnny Cash's son (John) and
Lynn's daughter (Patsy). “(What) I found so amazing is the real
tight relationship she has with her children, ... especially Patsh,”
wasn't always available. In the film, Patsy and her twin (Peggy) talk
about months of being raised only by their dad, with their mom
Now the family
focuses on the town (Hurricane Mills, Tenn.) that it bought. It's a
tourist attraction – museum, former family home and more -- and the
site of an offbeat moment in the film:
The plan was to
schedule no visitors while interivews were being done in the house,
Trojan said, but there was a mix-up and a “bus full of tourists
burst in as we were filming. And what happened next was so
unpredictable: They sang 'Coal Miner's Daughter' to Loretta.”
Masters: Loretta Lynn: Still a Mountain Girl,” 9-11 p.m. Friday
(March 4), PBS (check local listings)
-- Also, “Full
Circle” album will be released Friday, Legacy Recordings