American Routes Shortcuts: Loretta Lynn
At American Routes, we like to think that we never phone it in; each show is an original. And this one is no exception, but we did make a phone call, back when, to the late country pioneer, Loretta Lynn, to talk about songs and women’s lives, including her own.
Loretta Lynn: Daddy started working in the mines, and we thought we were going to be rich. We got a little Philco radio, and we could hear the Grand Ole Opry on Saturday nights.
Nick Spitzer: So you heard the Opry but I also understand that your mom sang some of the old ballads–
LL: Oh she did, she sung “The Great Titanic,” she sung all the old songs that the hill people write, you know, when something happens. If a girl got killed, they wrote a song about it.
LL: So I was–you know she’d teach me all them songs. So Mommy sang and played, and Daddy sang and played; he played the guitar. Everybody in the house did. I didn’t think nobody couldn’t do it. When I got married, when I left Kentucky and went out to the state of Washington, they didn’t have any country in ‘em, didn’t seem like. So I was a long way from home, I’ll tell you.
NS: It sounds like though there was so much hard work, I mean when did the music making happen?
LL: Doo would come in at night, and he’d hear me singing and rocking the baby to sleep, and he said one day, “I’m gonna see if I can’t do something about that because you’re a good singer.”
LL: So he got me a little job playing the rhythm guitar and singing at a tavern up there in Blaine, Washington. So I couldn’t go in the tavern, they didn’t think I was twenty-one, and I didn’t have a birth certificate, so they sneaked me in the back, and they were waiting for somebody to come up and ask me how old I was. I said, “I have four kids.” They said, “That don’t make any difference.” Of course I had six after I started singing.
NS: If you start into the world with early songs like “Honky Tonk Girl”–
LL: That’s my first song I ever wrote.
NS: Right, and so what does it mean when a young lady who is married and a wife and a mother–
LL: I had four kids by the time I was nineteen.
NS: Oh my God, so why are you singing about honky tonks?
LL: That’s how it all started; I was in this honky tonk playing, and I’d see a man come in with a different woman at night. I’d see a woman come in with a different man at night, and I couldn’t believe my eyes. And I went home and told Doo, “I’m gonna have to go some place else and work because that place is serving people that’s cheating on their spouse!” Doo said, “Well, Loretta, everybody does that, just get over it.” Well I never could get over that. It really bothered me.
NS: You know, I wanted to just go back if we could for a moment to your writing songs that women have really appreciated. What is it that led you to do that in that world of Nashville that was so male-dominant at the time?
LL: You know, I never even thought about it, I just did it because I was going through it, and I figured everybody else was, and I found out they were. You know, there was more women that bought my records than anybody else.
LL: This one girl, she was telling me that some woman was taking her man away from her. I don’t know how she got backstage, went to the curtain, said, “I want you to look at her, she’s here tonight with my husband.” Man, she was made up like you wouldn’t believe, and I looked around, and I said, “Honey, she can’t take your man.” And I wrote a song, “Fist City.”
To hear the full program, tune in Saturdays at 5 and Sundays at 6 on WWNO, or listen at americanroutes.org.