A teenager of 14, Patty Loveless first came to Nashville with her brother Roger in 1971. Roger had a job on one of the most popular shows of the day, the nationally syndicated Porter Wagoner Show. Brother Roger arranged a meeting with Wagoner one day, and after hearing her sing ‘Sounds of Loneliness’, Porter offered his help to the teen and invited her to tour with his road show, which included Dolly Parton, on weekends and during the Summer, encouraging her to finish school while she pursued her dream of a singing career.
Then, one fateful night at the Grand Ole Opry in 1973, Jean Shepard was caught in a flood and couldn’t make it to the Ryman, so promoter Danny King called the Rameys, Patty and Roger, who appeared on the Opry that night and caught the attention of Doyle Wilburn. This meeting would lead to her first publishing deal with Sure-Fire Music, and she went on tour with The Wilburn Brothers from 1973 to 1975, while Doyle was grooming her to replace their former leading female singer, Patty’s distant cousin Loretta Lynn. When she graduated in 1975, she did just that, becoming a full-time member of the show. In the meantime, she met and fell in with the group’s drummer, Terry Lovelace. Doyle Wilburn told them to end the relationship, not wanting the band members to date one another, but instead, Terry and Patty quit the band, got married, and moved back to his hometown in North Carolina, where she played the rock club circuit for a while. It was from the name Patty Lovelace that she adapted her stage name of Patty Loveless.
Patty Loveless came back to Nashville for the second time in 1985 to try her hand at country music. This time again with brother Roger in tow to help his little sister work her way into the music business. As the story goes, Roger Ramey pretended to be someone else who was late for an appointment with MCA executive Tony Brown in order to get in the office to meet the A&R head. Once he got in there, Brown gave him 30 seconds to sell him on what Roger called “best girl singer to ever come to Nashville”. Ramey played him Patty’s recording of ‘I Did’, and Brown was impressed, but told Roger he’d get back to him. Still bluffing – the man must have a great poker face – Roger told Tony Brown he needed an answer that day because they had another label wanting to sign Patty. Tony had a quick meeting with label head Jimmy Bowen while Roger waited in his office. When Brown came back it was with a short-term, singles deal.
This is where the story of Patty Loveless gets a little confusing for me. MCA began releasing singles to radio for Patty in late 1985, but her first single, ‘Lonely Days, Lonely Nights’ stalled at #46. A second single didn’t fare any better. But then a third single, ‘I Did’ was released in the Spring of 1986 and it began to take off at radio. Since MCA had just released singles from 4 other artists – all who had album contracts – the label wanted to pull the song from the airwaves, presumably to throw their promotional dollars behind the other singles. But I don’t fully understand why the label couldn’t just as well have 5 charting hits as 4. At any rate, Jimmy Bowen offered Patty an album deal if she agreed to pull the second single from the radio, which she did.
The self-titled debut album from Patty Loveless was released in February of 1987, even though none of the singles had become hits, producer Tony Brown still had faith in the singer and her marketability that he signed her to a long-term contract, which has proved to be one of the smartest moves a country record label executive ever made. I should also point that it wasn’t that uncommon for an artist to take several singles, and maybe even a few albums, to really hit their stride artistically and commercially. Labels just don’t seem to have the kind of faith in their own discoveries as they used to.
The first single was the up-tempo ‘Lonely Days, Lonely Nights’, which finds the narrator mourning a lost love. Jazzy keyboard work compliment the fiddle in this one, and it sounds to me like a country hit from the early 1980s, so I don’t understand radio’s resistance towards it. The same can be said for ‘Wicked Ways’, the label’s second attempt at radio success. Patty spits the rapid-fire lyrics of the song’s verses, backed by some nice fiddling by Glen Duncan, on this done-me-wrong number about a man who won’t change his wicked ways. But like its predecessor, it didn’t get much love from radio, and rested at #49 on the charts.
‘I Did’, which Patty wrote herself when she was a teenager, and was also the song her brother Roger first played for Tony Brown, and eventually secured her recording contract, was the third single MCA sent to radio. After the initial release, the label pulled the single, and re-released it nearly a year lateer as the ‘lead single’ for the album. Patty’s plaintive Kentucky drawl fills up the song, which is the kind of honky tonk sound straight from the songbooks of Loretta Lynn and Tammy Wynette.
My favorite song on the album was also the fourth single. ‘After All’ makes use of the double entendre of the song’s title, as the narrator is feeling a bit of regret and angst about her decision to sacrifice for the man she’s chasing,
After all the hours spent, waitin by the phone wonderin’ when you could get away
And now that you can, you don’t call
I’m afraid what you did to her, you’re doin’ to me and you just want to be free
The second verse is a bit vague, but leads you to believe the man is either married or in a relationship that he’s allegedly ending. It’s drenched with steel guitar, and the production doesn’t sound dated even today, which is rare of 1980s music. Patty hits some glass-shattering notes in the chorus too. It was the most successful of the singles, but still didn’t break the Top 40, coming in at a #43 peak.
And while this isn’t the most profound album she’s recorded, and does lack the cohesion of her later albums, this debut showed flashes of the brilliance to come. Aside from the four excellent singles, Patty’s take on Guy Clark and Keith Syke’s clever ‘You Are Everything’ is a fun swinging number in the style of George Strait. Meanwhile, Jim Rushing’s ‘Slow Healing Heart’ never sounded better than when Patty Loveless gets ahold of it. Dolly Parton also recorded it for her White Limozeen album in 1989. This is one of the first instances of Patty’s ability to interpret a lyric and draw the listener in with her. At least she does me anyway.
‘Some Blue Moons Ago’, written by Steve Earle and Richard Bennett, is an excellent lyric and has a cool guitar intro. It’s another personal favorite from the set, with its catchy chorus, and that unforgettable guitar riff. This sounds to me like a production trick from the hand of Tony Brown, who also brought in Emory Gordy Jr. as co-producer. Gordy and Loveless would start a professional relationship that turned to romance, and the pair married in 1989. And with the exception of her first few albums for MCA, Gordy would be the producer of all of Loveless’s subsequent recordings, and still produces them today.
The album’s closer, ‘Sounds of Loneliness’ is another Loveless composition. The song starts off a cappella, before the bass finally kicks in and the a soft violin frames the first verse. The instruments finally kick in, and the song gets a lot more melodic in the process. Patty wrote this song for her father sometime around 1971, and played it for Porter Wagoner at that first fateful meeting with him. It was from that initial meeting that she got to tour on weekends and summers with Porter and Dolly Parton’s road show, and initially lead to her Opry performance, and contract with the Wilburn Brothers. I guess you could say this song started it all.
Patty Loveless was a fine start from the singer . Although it didn’t show her full potential, and didn’t yield any commercial success, it introduced the industry, and the public, to one of the genre’s finest vocalists. Her full artistic potential would come with later albums, and commercial success was only one more album away, but this first album is still full of enough high points to be a worthy addition to any Patty Loveless fan’s catalog. Unfortunately the album is out of print and copies are pretty expensive at Amazon. You can find the all album’s singles on The Definitive Collection, which contains her hits for the MCA label, very reasonably priced.