One year ago today, the world lost one of greatest country singers to ever do it in Loretta Lynn.
She sadly passed away at the age of 90 at her home in Hurricane Mills, Tennessee on October 4th, 2022, and left an inedible mark on country music, and music as a whole, and I’m quite certain the world will never see another one like her.
They simply don’t make ’em like Loretta anymore…
She was a pioneer in every sense of the term, and in her 1976 autobiography Coal Miner’s Daughter, she famously noted that, to ever really reach the kind of success levels she saw in her life:
“You either have to be first, best or different.”
She was one of very few people who was all three and so much more; she was a true original and a trailblazer in every sense.
Many of her song topics were considered very edgy at the time, and her 1975 hit “The Pill” often comes up as an example. It was banned by radio stations across the country for its topic surrounding birth control and access for women.
Actually, Loretta famously had 14 songs banned from country radio throughout her career, which I always found so fascinating, because every single last one them was really just the God’s honest truth.
Loretta was married at age 15 to her husband of almost 50 years, Oliver “Doolittle” Lynn, and she had four kids by the age of 20, and became a grandma by the age of 29.
Her life story is incredible, as she grew up dirt poor in the hills of Appalachia in Butcher Holler, Kentucky, and she pulled from those experiences in her music, which is why her songs resonated so deeply.
Eventually, the husband and wife began driving to radio stations across the country promoting her song “Honky Tonk Girl” for three months, which ultimately became her first radio hit, as it peaked at #14 on the U.S. Hot Country Songs… not too shabby for a mountain girl with no record label and no real name recognition whatsoever.
And in honor of this sad, yet important, date on the calendar, I want to take a look back at some of Loretta’s best stories, funniest memories and most important career moments.
She was nothing if not a brilliant storyteller, and it just feels right to look back on these today.
RIP Loretta Lynn.
“You Ain’t Woman Enough” Was About An “Old Bag” Cheating With Her Husband… And Loretta Never Forgot Her Name
“You Ain’t Woman Enough” was the title track to her 1966 album of the same name, and peaked at #2 on the U.S. Billboard Hot Country Singles chart, ultimately becoming one of her signature songs.
In a feature with 60 Minutes Uncut back in 2005 with Mike Wallace, around the release of her 2004 Grammy-winning album with Jack White called Van Lear Rose, she told the story behind it:
“I wrote ‘You Ain’t Woman Enough’ because there was an old gal that didn’t live too far from us. Her name was (censored), and I hope you’re listening, you old bag.
She was going with Doolittle. My little girl walked off the bus.”
First of all, I love the fact that Loretta will still name drop her and then look directly into the camera and call her an “old bag.” She’s simply iconic.
And some of her team starting laughing in the background when she said that, and in true Loretta fashion, responds with this:
“What’re y’all laughing about? This is the truth. You can’t do nothing about it, can you?”
A true queen…
Jack White, who produced the aforementioned Van Lear Rose album, said Loretta never forget any of the girls’ names that she found out were sleeping with her husband.
During the recording process of that album, he said Loretta would always tell him exactly who each song was about and she never, ever forgot any of them. To be a fly on the wall for that…
But Loretta said the real final straw understandably in this particular case came when one of her daughters got off the bus crying one afternoon, saying the driver told her that her daddy was in love with someone else and they were going to get married:
“But my little girl come off the school bus and says, ‘Mama,’ she was crying. I said what honey?
She said, ‘This old girl that’s driving the school bus says her and daddy’s in love, and they’re gonna get married.’”
And Mrs. Loretta did not appreciate that one bit:
“I said, ‘Oh.’ I found out who it was.
Doolittle was stepping high. He had (censored) over at my house, telling me that that’s all a lie, and I could see that she was lying, and Doolittle too.
I just thought, well, they deserve each other. But that was the end of that.”
I have no doubt in my mind Loretta took care of business and made sure that woman never stepped foot in her house again.
But when it came to actually writing the song, she put it together in 10 minutes after a fan snuck backstage and told her about her cheating husband was sitting in the audience with his side-chick at Loretta’s show.
“One night, at one of my live shows, me and a girlfriend were talking. She told me her husband, who was there with her, was running around on her.
She was crying because when she came through the door to get in to the show, she saw the other woman was also there. I said, ‘We will fix that old gal.’
That night I sang ‘You Ain’t Woman Enough’ and dedicated it to her. Girlfriends gotta stick together.”
Loretta Lynn First Met Waylon Jennings As A Radio DJ Who Had “Pimples On His Face” And “Greasy Hair”
One story in particular about meeting a certain disc jockey in an old 1977 feature with Rolling Stone, while she was out road in the summer of 1960 with her husband Oliver “Doolittle” Lynn, is one of my all-time favorites.
She and Doo, as she often referred to her husband of almost 50 years, were on a three-month, self-funded tour promoting her very first single “Honky Tonk Girl,” just trying to get anyone to play the song.
“We were pitiful… Because we were too poor to stay in hotels, we slept in the car and ate baloney and cheese sandwiches in the parks…
Then we’d go into the radio station and pester the DJ to play my record. We didn’t care if it was a 500-watt local station or a 50,000-watt clear-channel station. We’d hit them all. We were on the road three months.”
All that hard work paid off, because the single ultimately became her first radio hit, as it peaked at #14 on the U.S. Hot Country Songs chart… not too shabby for a mountain girl with no record label and no real name recognition whatsoever.
She met many different station managers and disc jockeys that summer, but one in particular really stood out to her, and they became fast friends, writing letters back and forth and forming a strong bond.
His name was Waylon Jennings:
“I met a disc jockey who was a little boy, same age as me, pimples on his face, greasy hair. He was so nice to me that we used to write letters back and forth until he got into singing too.”
Legends recognize legends, or something like that, right?
CMA Awards 1972: Loretta Lynn Becomes The First Female Artist To Win Entertainer Of The Year
Loretta became the very first female artist to win the coveted Entertainer of the Year award at the 1972 CMA Awards, beating out other nominees that year in Merle Haggard, Freddie Hart, Charley Pride and Jerry Reed.
The huge win came on the heels of her 18th studio album, Here I Am Again, and she already had a whopping 25 Top 10 singles on the country charts at the time, including her signature song, “Coal Miner’s Daughter”.
She would go on to release an album titled Entertainer of the Year in honor of her win the very next year in 1973, with the aforementioned song “Rated X” on the tracklist.
And, her speech is pretty funny, too, where she acknowledges how happy she is to have won the award, but also mentions the fact that she was sad her husband, Doolittle, couldn’t be there because he was… hunting:
“I’d like to say that I’ve won a lot of awards and this is one that I have been nominated for, but I never did get. This, I think, is the only one that I haven’t gotten.
I’m real happy, but the only thing I’m kind of sad about is my husband is going hunting. He couldn’t make it back in to share my happiness with me. Thank you.”
Though she never won the award again, she was nominated in the category every year from 1971 to 1975. It was a huge moment for women in country music, and I can’t think of a better or more deserving person than Loretta to accomplish such a monumental goal.
This video says the speech is from 1974, but is, in fact, her acceptance speech from 1972 when she won Entertainer of the Year for the very first time:
Loretta Lynn Talks About The First Time She Met Willie Nelson: “He Was One Of The Most Handsomest Men I’d Ever Seen”
She describes Willie as “one of the most handsomest men I’d ever seen,” adding that this was before he had all the long hair and braids and was still sporting the short hair and full suit:
“When I first come to Nashville, I met Willie. We did some shows together when I first come to Nashville.
I thought he was one of the most handsomest men I’d ever seen. He had this suit on, you know, business suit. And his hair was brass, the color of brass. And his eyes were the same color.
And of course it was short hair, I mean, he was a handsome guy.”
And she still felt that way after all so much time, joking at the time of this interview six years ago:
“Well he’s still handsome! What am I saying? But I love Willie, I don’t care if he’s got hair down to the floor.”
Talk about precious… I can only imagine what it was like seeing those two in concert together and some of the great memories they shared over the decades.
You can watch her tell the story here:
The two legends teamed up for a song called “Lay Me Down” back in 2016, which was written by Mark Marchetti and included on Loretta’s 43rd studio album Full Circle.
Loretta Lynn Penned Her Relatable Classic Country Song “Don’t Come Home A-Drinkin’ (With Lovin’ on Your Mind)” On Behalf Of Women Everywhere
One of my all-time favorite Loretta Lynn songs is her sassy tune “Don’t Come Home A-Drinkin’ (With Lovin’ on Your Mind),” which was her very first #1 hit on the country charts.
The song was released in late 1966, and peaked at the top spot the following year in 1967. It ultimately became the title track to her album of the same name, which was eventually certified Gold by the RIAA in 1970, and Loretta was the first woman in country music to receive such an honor.
In a 1977 feature with Rolling Stone, Loretta explained a little bit about the inspiration behind the song, which partially came from her husband Doo, who was notoriously unfaithful and a heavy drinker for much of his life.
She said there’s no hidden message or anything behind it, and that it’s about exactly what it sounds like; an angry wife who’s tired of her husband going out and getting drunk with his friends, and then coming home with lovin’ on his mind, so to speak.
The funny thing is, though, most of her songs were written, both physically and in theory, before she was even 21, when she was still staying at home as a housewife and mom to four young children:
“Most people don’t know this, but 99% of this happened before I became an adult. Before I became the age of 21, most of my life was written.
After I became 21, there’s nothin’ been wrote except ‘The Pill,’ really. And I think I did that to kinda update the thing.”
She added that she hadn’t really lived her life yet, even though she was about 45 years old when this piece was written.
She spent much of her adult life out on the road on a tour bus, and in her 1976 autobiography Coal Miner’s Daughter, she wrote:
“It’s a strange deal. I’m supposed to be a country singer, writing songs about marriage and family and the way normal folks live.
But mostly I’m living in motel rooms and traveling on my special bus… I don’t even open the shades in my bus anymore.
I’ve seen every highway in the United States and they all look alike to me.”
A bit of a different perspective of a woman who, from the time she grew up, worked extremely hard for everything she ever had, whether that was picking berries in the hollers and hills of her native Kentucky, or standing on stage at the Grand Ole Opry.
I don’t think we got to see the sadder, more somber side of Loretta too often, so it’s neat to get a peak into her feelings on being gone so much and how her life was when she was constantly touring.
And I mean, I think every woman on the planet can relate to this song to a certain extent in some way, and Loretta is a legend for penning it on behalf of all of us.