Loretta Lynn: An Original Outlaw's Advice

Loretta Lynn, Photo by David McClister
Loretta Lynn, Photo by David McClister

In the sixth decade of her career and the ninth of her life, her status as a country legend is assured—yet she’s still writing and releasing music.

Loretta Lynn is a true country music original, in every sense of the word. The story of the coal miner’s daughter from rural Kentucky who sang her way out of a life of poverty and straight into the highest echelons of country music fame sounds like more of a honky-tonk fairy tale than real life, and yet that’s exactly what Lynn did. Born into poverty in 1932, Loretta Webb got married at age 15, moved to Washington with her new husband, and taught herself to play a $17 guitar he’d bought her to help quell her homesickness. She began writing songs and singing about her own experiences, a hobby that turned into a phenomenon once she got to Nashville and notched the first of her eventual 16 Number 1 hits with “Don’t Come Home A’-Drinkin’ (With Lovin’ On Your Mind)” in 1967. Since then, Lynn has sold over 48 million albums worldwide, been inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame, the Country Music Hall of Fame, and the Songwriters Hall of Fame, and was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Obama in 2013. Not too shabby for a girl from Butcher Hollow.

Lynn’s songs—delivered in her trademark reedy, resonant twang—have always been raw and honest, painting compelling pictures of working-class and rural life that resonate deeply with American listeners, particularly women. As a mother of six whose late husband was an alcoholic throughout their nearly 50 years together, Lynn is no stranger to the trials and tribulations that face blue-collar women, and she has poured herself into her songwriting. Heartfelt, boundary-pushing songs like “Rated ‘X’” (which tackled divorce) and “The Pill” (which discussed birth control) and “One's On The Way" (a paean to overworked mothers with too many children) created shockwaves. Elsewhere rowdy hits like "You Ain't Woman Enough," "Fist City," and her autobiographical classic,"Coal Miner's Daughter," lit up the honky-tonk nights. Though she’s apparently reluctant to describe herself as such, Loretta Lynn is a bona fide outlaw and has been fighting for respect and representation since she first stepped out on stage.

Lynn has just released a brand-new album, Wouldn't It Be Great, that combines new material that sounds ripped from the pages of her vintage songbook. The old-time revenge ditty "Ruby's Stool," the lonesome ballad "I'm Dying for Someone to Live For," and the fiddle-heavy, heart-tugging contemplation on love and loss "Ain't No Time to Go," pair seamlessly with reimagined versions of both recent compositions like 2004’s "God Makes No Mistakes” and iconic tracks like "Coal Miner's Daughter" and "Don't Come Home a Drinkin'.” She was gracious enough to answer a few questions and impart a little of the wisdom she’s gathered in her incomparable career.

Spotify for Artists: On your new album, we're treated to both new songs and reworkings of some of your beloved classics. How have those older songs' meanings changed for you over the years? How does it feel to sing them now, compared to how it felt when you'd just written them? Loretta Lynn: I wrote these songs, and I will record them as many times as I can. It’s like my old clothes from the ‘70s are back in style—just put a new scarf on and I am good to go!

You've always been an outlaw in one way or another, whether it was in tackling difficult topics in your songs or in carving out your own way in a male-dominated industry. What does that word "outlaw" mean to you? Do you think there are any other outlaws left in country music? When I think about outlaws I think about Clint Eastwood, but as far as music goes, Willie, Waylon, and Cash. But Loretta? I never saw myself as an outlaw. I was writing and singing about topics that meant something to me and my life. Thank goodness that millions of other women felt the same way. Anybody who sings their truth is an outlaw.

You've dealt with controversies over the years for your lyrics on songs like "Rated ‘X’" and "The Pill," but you didn't back down, and you’ve never wavered in standing up for what you believe in. To what do you credit that resolve? Is it stubbornness, or conviction, or a little bit of both? It’s all of that and maybe a little bit of innocence. I was singing and writing what I was going through, and leave it to Loretta to open the darn door.

There's been a lot of necessary discussion over sexism in country music recently. How have you seen conditions change for female country artists over the years? Do you think it's gotten easier, or is Nashville still dealing with the same old problems? I think it’s gotten a bit easier because women have learned they have a powerful voice, and I am so proud of that.

What advice do you have for country artists who are new to this industry? What is the most important lesson that the next generation of country stars can learn from your generation? I’ve always said you have to work hard for what you want. Ain’t nobody going to give it to you. You have to be first, great, or different.

Ultimately, what do you think you got right in your career? And what—if anything—have you gotten wrong? Songs I’ve written were relatable to so many people, and I am so proud of that. But it took me a long time to learn how to say “no” and put myself first.

You've already achieved so much, but you never slow down. What keeps you inspired to write new music? No. 1, the fans. No. 2, I am a songwriter and singer—that’s what keeps me going and creative.

Decades of success and fame later, when you go to sleep at night or wake up in the morning, do you still feel like that same coal miner's daughter? Yes, every daggum morning, I’ll always be a coal miner’s daughter!

—Kim Kelly

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