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Legends of Country Music: Loretta Lynn

Loretta Lynn

Loretta Lynn

Loretta Lynn

Loretta Lynn

Loretta Lynn

Loretta Lynn

Loretta Lynn

Loretta Lynn

Loretta Lynn

Loretta Lynn

Loretta Lynn

Loretta Lynn>

Loretta Lynn

Loretta Lynn

Loretta Lynn

Loretta Lynn

  Loretta Lynn

As a child, Loretta Webb grew up much as the legendary movie Coal Miner's Daughter depicted her early life. Living in Butcher Hollow (she calls it Butcher Holler) Kentucky, her father worked in the Van Leer coal mines. Their poverty was assuaged somewhat by listening to the Grand Ole Opry. Loretta particularly admired the singing of Molly O'Day and the music of Bill Monroe. She took care of her younger brothers and sisters until she met Oliver Vanetta Lynn, nicknamed both "Doolittle" and "Mooney." She married him at age 14, in 1949. Mooney took her to Custer, Washington, where she raised their children, and in her spare time, sang and wrote songs.

Mooney, unlike many husbands of that era, actively encouraged his wife in her musical ambitions. She soon had a guitar, and by the late 1950s began singing at local clubs and on a local TV show in Tacoma, hosted by Buck Owens, who lived there at the time. By 1959 a local admirer, businessman Norm Burley, had befriended the Lynns and started Zero Records specifically to record Loretta. The Lynns traveled to Los Angeles so she could make her first record. There she met steel guitarist Speedy West, who produced her first single, "Honky Tonk Girl," with some of LA's top musician's backing her. It paid off when it broke into the Top 15. In the fall of 1960 she accepted an invitation to sing on the Grand Ole Opry.

Feeling confident, the Lynns moved to Nashville where her songwriting impressed the Wilburn Brothers, who signed her to their Sure-Fire music publishing company. Their influence helped her land a Decca recording contract in 1962. She also became a regular cast member of the Wilburns' syndicated TV show. Patsy Cline also took Loretta under her wing and not only helped in her early career, but became one of her best friends. By 1962 "Success" broke into the Top Ten and that year she was made an actual member of the Grand Ole Opry. In 1963 she began a steady occupancy of the Top Ten with songs like "Before I'm Over You," "Wine, Women, and Song," and "Blue Kentucky Girl." Her songs took on a tougher, harder edge by the mid-1960s, with an in-your-face attitude epitomized by "Don't Come Home A-Drinkin' With Lovin' on Your Mind," "You Ain't Woman Enough" and "Fist City." She also enjoyed success recording with Ernest Tubb, particularly on songs like "Mr. and Mrs. Used to Be" and "Sweet Thang."

Loretta was a country superstar by the early 70s, her tours and recordings consistently successful. No one expected she would falter--or break through to the mainstream. But that's exactly what she began to do with songs like "Coal Miner's Daughter" and "You're Looking at Country." Her gut bucket country style reflected her lack of interest in attracting pop listeners, even though her longtime producer, Owen Bradley, was an architect of the Nashville Sound. She also stood up for women's rights with Shel Silverstein's "One's On the Way," a blunt chronicle of glamour versus working class life. At the same time, she had an equally successful duet career with Conway Twitty. From 1971 to 1975 they racked up five Number One records, including "After the Fire is Gone," "Lead Me On," "Louisiana Woman--Mississippi Man," "As Soon as I Hang Up the Phone," and "Feelins'."

During the 1970s the media caught on to her blunt yet thoroughly lovable personality, with not a hint of polish or packaging. She began to be featured on TV talk and variety shows. She also appeared in TV commercials. Her 1975 record, "The Pill," a candid celebration of liberation brought on by birth control, proved that country music had traveled far from its more sedate days. In 1976 she published her autobiography, Coal Miner's Daughter, which quickly became a best-seller, because co-author George Vecsey made sure that her straight-talking personality came through on every page. The book became a popular film biography in 1980, starring Sissy Spacek, who managed to capture not only Loretta's personality, but also sang Loretta's songs authentically. As Lynn's riches grew, she bought much of Butcher Holler and also the entire town of Hurricane Mills, Tennessee.

In the early 1980s, while her younger sister Crystal Gayle's pop-country career began to take off, Loretta's records began to falter, as she lost her direction. Part of this came from a personal and business break with the Wilburn Brothers, who till this point still had a stake in her career. She quit writing her own material while they battled in court. The loss of her own voice in her music was a blow from which she never quite recovered. She also tried recording more pop-oriented country material. By 1988 her records were far less successful, and that year she recorded her final MCA album. Also that year, she was elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame. She continued to tour, but began appearing in Branson in the early 1990s. In 1993, she, Tammy Wynette and Dolly Parton recorded together on the Gold-selling album, Honky Tonk Angels.

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