Back in 2008, when Kevin Coyne was still running Country Universe essentially on his own, he undertook a number of exhausting projects, including his capstone series 100 Greatest Women. Kevin did an incredible amount of research, unearthed a number of otherwise forgotten performers and provided nice capsules of the artists on his list. I would strongly recommend checking out his series.
That said, the one thing Kevin got wrong in his series is that he did not place Loretta Lynn at the top of his hit parade (he had her at #2). To one who has been following country music since the early 1960s, Loretta Lynn is clearly the most important female artist of all-time. Although her most important decade in changing the direction of the genre was the 1970s, the 1960s are where her career got started and where the first signs of her eventual significance began to manifest themselves.
Loretta was born in 1932 into a family of very modest means, the daughter of a Kentucky coal miner. Loretta’s family contained considerable musical talent, with three siblings (Peggy Sue Wright, Jay Lee Webb and Crystal Gayle) ultimately having some success in country music.
Like many people in show business, Loretta shaved a few years off her age upon becoming famous. She actually was fifteen years old when she married Oliver (known as “Doolittle” or “Doo”) Lynn in 1948. The couple got busy in producing a family and before Loretta turned twenty-one, she had become a mother of four. Ultimately, she would have six children, the last two (twins Peggy and Patsy) arriving over a dozen years after the first four.
Loretta and Doolittle moved to the Pacific Northwest in pursuit of better economic opportunities and while living there Loretta began singing in local clubs in the Tacoma, Washington area. Among her live performances, she won a televised talent contest hosted by the soon to be famous Alvis Edgar “Buck” Owens. Canadian Norman Burley saw her and formed Zero Records to record her performances. Her first four recordings were “I’m A Honky Tonk Girl”, “Whispering Sea”, “Heartache Meet Mister Blues”, and “New Rainbow”. Her first release featured “Whispering Sea” and “I’m A Honky Tonk Girl”, with the latter song becoming a Billboard hit reaching #14. A move to Nashville brought her to the attention of the Wilburn Brothers who helped her land a contract with Decca Records. With this break she was on her way, as a performer and a songwriter. In 1962 she joined the Grand Ole Opry. She also made appearances on the Ernest Tubb Midnight Jamboree and became a regular on the Wilburn Brothers’ television show.
Success came rapidly for Loretta and as was common for the leading country artists of the 1960s, Decca recorded Loretta relentlessly. Loretta’s 1960s albums are as follows:
Loretta Lynn Sings (December 1963)
Before I’m Over You (June 1964)
Songs From My Heart (February 1965)
Blue Kentucky Girl (June 1965)
Mr. & Mrs. Used To Be (August 1965) – with Ernest Tubb
Hymns (August 1965)
I Like ‘Em Country (March 1966)
You Ain’t Woman Enough (September 1966)
Country Christmas (October 1966)
Don’t Come Home A-Drinkin’ (February 1967)
Ernest Tubb & Loretta Lynn Singin’ Again (June 1967)
Singin’ With Feelin’ (October 1967)
Who Says God Is Dead (February 1968)
Fist City (April 1968)
Greatest Hits (June 1968)
Your Squaw Is On The Warpath (February 1969)
If We Put Our Heads Together (June 1969) – with Ernest Tubb
Woman of The World/ To Make A Man (June 1969)
That’s seventeen albums of new material plus a hits collection (I think the Zero recordings showed up on a budget label release not listed above). Although we would like to, we obviously we cannot review all of these albums. We hope you enjoy the albums we have chosen to present this month, the opening salvos in the career of one of the truly legendary figures in country music.