Loretta Lynn Biography

Loretta Webb, 14 April 1935, Butcher Hollow, Kentucky, USA. Lynn is a coalminer’s daughter, being the second of the eight children of Ted and Clara Webb. She is one-quarter Cherokee and her name came from her mother’s fondness for movie star Loretta Young. She was raised in a small shack during the Depression and was attracted to country music as an 11-year-old, when the family acquired a radio and she heard the singing of Molly O’Day. Her autobiography tells of her makeshift wardrobe and how, at the age of 13, she married a serviceman, Oliver Vanetta Lynn (b. 27 August 1926, d. 22 August 1996), known to his friends as Doolittle or Mooney (short for Moonshine). He took her to Custer, Washington, and she had four children and several miscarriages by the time she was 18. They had six children in all and Lynn was a grandmother at the age of 29. Mooney, recognizing her talent, encouraged her to sing in local clubs and her band, the Trailblazers, included her brother, Jay Lee Webb (b. Willie Lee Webb, 12 February 1937, Van Lear, Kentucky, USA, d. 1 July 1996), on guitar.

Lynn’s talent was recognized by Don Grashey of Zero Records, who took her to Los Angeles in February 1960 where she recorded four of her own songs. Zero had no money for promotion so she and Mooney promoted ‘I’m A Honky Tonk Girl’ themselves, the song taking its style from Kitty Wells’ ‘It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels’. Mooney said that ‘they drove 80, 000 miles to sell 50, 000 copies’, but it reached number 14 in the US country charts and enabled her to appear regularly on the Grand Ole Opry. Many female singers were jealous of her success, but Patsy Cline sprang to her defence and they became close friends (Lynn released a tribute album to her in 1977). When they moved to Nashville, she became a regular on a weekly television show with the Wilburn Brothers, who also managed her. Wells and Cline were two of her major influences and she was pleased to be assigned to their producer, Owen Bradley, by USA Decca Records. ‘Success’, her second country hit, peaked at number 6 in 1962, and she had further hits with ‘Before I’m Over You’ and ‘Blue Kentucky Girl’. She then developed a hard-hitting persona as the wife who stood no nonsense from her rivals (‘You Ain’t Woman Enough’, ‘Fist City’) or her husband (her first country number 1, ‘Don’t Come Home A-Drinkin’ (With Lovin’ On Your Mind)’ from 1966, ‘Your Squaw Is On The Warpath’). Her best-known record, the autobiographical ‘Coal Miner’s Daughter’, was a US country number 1 in 1970. Shel Silverstein, ironically a Playboy cartoonist, wrote ‘One’s On The Way’ in which she was harassed by her children and an insensitive husband. She answered Tammy Wynette’s ‘Stand By Your Man’ in 1975 with the double standards of ‘The Pill’, which was banned by several US radio stations. By way of contrast, she subsequently had a country hit with ‘Pregnant Again’.

Although her first duets were with Ernest Tubb, Lynn formed a regular team with Conway Twitty and the combination of the two distinctive voices worked well, especially in ‘After The Fire Is Gone’, ‘As Soon As I Hang Up The Phone’, ‘The Letter’ and the amusingly-titled ‘You’re The Reason Our Kids Are Ugly’. When she fell out with the Wilburn Brothers, she formed United Talent Inc. with Twitty. As the brothers still owned her publishing, she was reluctant to record her own material, although subsequently she was elected to the Nashville Songwriters International Hall of Fame. In 1972, Lynn was the first woman to become the Country Music Association’s Entertainer Of The Year and she also shared the Vocal Duo Of The Year award with Twitty. In 1973, she made the cover of Newsweek and was the first woman in country music to become a millionaire. However, she met with little UK success and some of her UK releases sold less than 200 copies. Her bestselling autobiography, Coal Miner’s Daughter, showed how the human spirit could combat poverty and sickness, but also illustrated that the problems of endless touring could be as traumatic. Lynn’s musicians call her ‘Mom’ and share their problems with her.

Sissy Spacek won an Oscar for her portrayal of Lynn, which included reproducing her singing, in the 1980 movie Coal Miner’s Daughter; which also featured Tommy Lee Jones as her husband and Levon Helm of the Band as her father. Her country music success includes 16 number 1 singles, 60 other hits, 15 number 1 albums and numerous awards, but she has never sought pop success. Her last Top 10 single was ‘I Lie’ in 1982. She owns a huge ranch 70 miles outside of Nashville, which has the whole town of Hurricane Mills in its grounds. Another part of the property, the Loretta Lynn Dude Ranch, is a tourist attraction with camping facilities.

Despite her prolific output from the 60s through to the late 80s, little was heard of Lynn in the 90s, although she teamed up with Tammy Wynette and Dolly Parton for 1993’s Honky Tonk Angels album. To quote Roy Acuff, ‘A song delivered from Loretta is from the deepest part of her heart.’ She received the Legend Award at 1996’s 3rd Annual Country Music Awards, the same year that Mooney passed away. Lynn returned to songwriting to quell her grief, and recorded her first new album in over 12 years, Still Country, with long-time friend Randy Scruggs. She teamed up with Jack White of the White Stripes to record the excellent 2004 follow-up, Van Lear Rose, Lynn’s first entirely self-written album.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.

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