Loretta Lynn, at 78, looking back - and ahead

Posted: March 13, 2011

Loretta Lynn is on the line, calling from her home in Hurricane Mills, Tenn. The legendary country singer is getting ready to head out on a tour that will bring her to the Temple Performing Arts Center - that's the newly renovated, 120-year-old venue on North Broad Street formerly known as the Baptist Temple - for a rare Philadelphia show on Friday.

The 78-year-old songwriting savant was spending a March morning sitting in front of an easel painting a flower as a way of remembering her husband, Oliver "Doolittle" Lynn, and the time they spent in a house she owns in Hawaii. She hasn't visited it since his death in 1996.

But on this day, Lynn doesn't feel like painting. "In fact, I don't feel like doing nothing today," she says.

Except talking, about a remarkable life that began in Butcher Holler, Ky., and a career that yielded such feisty hits as "Don't Come Home A-Drinkin' (With Lovin' On Your Mind)," "Fist City," and "Coal Miner's Daughter."

Her career received a boost with the 2004 comeback album Van Lear Rose, produced by the White Stripes' Jack White. Last year, Lynn celebrated her 50th anniversary in music with a tribute album featuring Miranda Lambert, the White Stripes, and Lucinda Williams, and a new edition of her 1976 autobiography Coal Miner's Daughter, which was made into a movie starring Sissy Spacek.

Question: You didn't start performing until you were 24, after your husband brought you a guitar home for your anniversary. By then, you already had four children. Before that, did you ever dream of becoming a country singer?

Answer: Never. I would sing and rock the babies to sleep when I was a girl, and Daddy would come out and say, 'Loretty, would you hush that big mouth? Everybody in the holler can hear you.' I'd say, 'Daddy, it don't matter, because they're all my cousins.' It was the truth, you know.

Q: You got married when you were 13 and moved to Washington State and started having children of your own.

A: That was a bad thing. Still, we never got divorced. We stayed married all our lives. And I lost my husband, to sugar diabetes. But we loved each other, and that's the way it was. That don't happen to everybody, you know . . . . But I was too young. I was a grandmother at 29. Now women are having babies in their 40s. They have a grandchild when they're 90!

Q: To a lot of people, you embody the idea of what country music is.

A: If you're looking at me, you're looking at country.

Q: In the new preface you wrote to Coal Miner's Daughter, you said: "Some of these new country singers aren't really country. I think some of them should be singing pop music and leave country music alone." Care to name names?

A: Country music has changed a lot. Let's just say it that way. It's really not the country I knew when I started singing. But it's the country today. Either accept it or forget it.

Q: Who do you like?

A: I like Miranda Lambert and her boyfriend Blake Shelton. I kissed him on the cheek and she said, "You're trying to take him away from me." I said, "He's my boyfriend now." And I love that black guy, what's his name?

Q: Darius Rucker?

A: That's him! Now that's country. Also, Garth Brooks is coming back. That little booger is one of the greatest entertainers you'll ever see.

Q: Did your husband also push you to write songs?

A: I got to thinking about it on my own. I never even talked to him about it. He did say to me, "You better learn some new songs, cause you're going to work, girl." So I got a little songbook, and I thought, "Well, shoot, anybody can write a song." Seeing it on paper, it was like a little poem. A verse and a chorus. It was nothing. Couldn't be that hard.

Q: Was it?

A: It wasn't. I had 28 wrote in about a week.

Q: A lot of your tough-talking songs were ahead of their time: "The Pill." "You Ain't Woman Enough To Take My Man." "Fist City."

A: I think so, too. But at the time, I didn't know that. I was writing about things that was just starting to happen. Like "The Pill." I never had the money to buy the pill. If I had it, I wouldn't have had a bunch of kids. [Laughs.] But I'm glad I had a bunch of kids. I wouldn't take nothing for my family.

Q: I love that line: "You're gonna get a meal that's called Fist City." You once said that for every time your husband hit you, you hit him twice. But that one's directed at a woman.

A: That's about a gal trying to take Doo away from me. I was mad when I wrote that one. I always thought, Get the first lick in. Get a good one in, cause she ain't going to be able to hurt you then.

Q: In Coal Miner's Daughter, you wrote: "I went from Daddy to Doo, and there's always been a man telling me what to do." Did you ever rebel?

A: Maybe I did at one point in time. But I think, really, I didn't. Because I wish I had him back here to tell me what to do now. He's been gone a long time, and I miss him.

Q: Is that what "Miss Being Mrs." is about on Van Lear Rose?

A: It is.

Q: You have several albums you're working on. Do you think you'll work with Jack White again?

A: We will. Jack's a good boy. He's not country music, you know. But I think he's a little more country now than he ever thought he would be, since he worked with me.

Q: Do you step back and think about what you've accomplished?

A: I never stop to think about anything like that. I just think about things ahead.

Q: What are you most proud of?

A: That I've stayed the way I started out. I'm proud that I didn't change . . . . When I go into a town that people first started loving me, and first started talking about me, I still got those people. Some passed away. But most are still there. And they come to see me every time I go. And that's good.


Dan DeLuca at South by Southwest

Inquirer music critic Dan DeLuca reports from the SXSW music festival in Austin, Texas, beginning Wednesday. See his dispatches, including photographs and videos, at his blog, "In the Mix," at www.philly.com/philly/ blogs/inthemix.


Contact music critic Dan DeLuca at 215-854-5628 or ddeluca@phillynews.com. Read his blog, "In the Mix," at http://www.philly.com/philly/blogs/inthemix/.

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