My Kind of Country

Country music from a fan's point of view since 2008

Tag Archives: Doolittle Lynn

Album Review: Loretta Lynn – ‘Fist City’

fist cityThe lead single of Loretta’s 1968 album Fist City, ‘What Kind Of Girl (Do You Think I Am)?’, a plaintive tune written by Loretta with Teddy Wilburn, was a top 5 single in 1967. It’s a nice song, but not one which is remembered today – perhaps because its subject matter now seems old fashioned, with the demure protagonist reproving her sweetheart for wanting to anticipate their wedding vows:

You want me to prove my love for you
I’m surprised that’s the way you’re askin’ me to
You’ve known me so long I can’t understand
What kind of a girl do you think I am?

What kind of a girl do you want for a wife?
Do you want a girl who knows that much about life?
Well, if that’s what you want
Take me out of your plan
What kind of a girl do you think I am?

What kind of a girl would do the things
You’re askin’ me to, without wedding rings
Is it what you must do to prove you’re a man?
What kind of a girl do you think I am?

It was also soon overshadowed by the title track, which became the record’s second single, and is one of Loretta’s classic self-penned hits. Positively aggressive in its takedown of a real life romantic rival who apparently had eyes for Loretta’s husband Doolittle, it typifies the sassy attitude and self-confidence which Loretta had previously exhibited on ‘You Ain’t Woman Enough (To Take My Man)’:

You’ve been makin’ your brags around town that you’ve been a lovin’ my man
But the man I love when he picks up trash, he puts it in a garbage can
And that’s what you look like to me and what I see’s a pity
You’d better close your face and stay out of my way
If you don’t wanta go to Fist City

If you don’t wanna go to Fist City you’d better detour round my town
Cause I’ll grab you by the hair of the head and I’ll lift you off of the ground
I’m not a sayin’ my baby’s a saint cause he ain’t
And that he won’t cat around with a kitty
I’m here to tell you gal to lay off of my man if you don’t wanna go to Fist City

Come on and tell me what you told my friends if you think you’re brave enough
And I’ll show you what a real woman is since you think you’re hot stuff
You’ll bite off more than you can chew if you get too cute or witty
You better move your feet if you don’t wanna eat a meal that’s called Fist City

Loretta’s vocal has an almost playful quality to it which belies the violence, and makes the song highly enjoyable.

‘I’m Shootin’ For Tomorrow’, another Lynn composition, is a vivacious mid-tempo number about writing off an old relationship:

Well I used to think you was the only man
But I’ve found out you’re not
So I’m a shootin’ for tomorrow
‘Cause today’s already shot
I used to keep the home fires burnin’
But I let ’em all go out

No song on this album is longer than three minutes; this one is under two minutes, as is ‘You Didn’t Like My Lovin’, written by Loretta with Teddy Wilburn and Joe “Red” Hayes. This one’s protagonist has happily moved on to someone new and sends her ex away with a flea in his ear. Loretta also covers Hayes’ country gospel classic a Satisfied Mind.

‘Somebody’s Back In Town’ was a hit for the Wilburn Brothers in 1959, although for some reason iTunes credits Loretta as their co-writer (I believe it was really Don Helms). This is an excellent song I know from Chris Hillman’s 1980s cover, and Loretta does the pained ballad justice with an emotional reading.

The best-known cover, Tammy Wynette’s recent #1 hit ‘I Don’t Wanna Play House’, is also sung very believably; if Loretta had got the song first I am sure she could have ahd a hit with it herself. Tammy and Norma Jean both had contemporary cuts of ‘Jackson Ain’t A Very Big Town’, a ballad about a newly wed in a small town where the dating pool is small and rumours fly.

Loretta’s brother Jay Lee Webb contributed ‘You Never Were Mine’, a nice resigned ballad about a breakup.

‘I’ve Got Texas In My Heart’ is a Western style tune which doesn’t really suit Loretta, and ‘How Long Will It Takes’ is s filler with dated backing vocals.

Overall, though, this is an excellent album from Loretta at her peak.

Grade: A

Advertisements

Spotlight Artist: Loretta Lynn in the 1960s

loretta lynnBack 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.

Album Review: Loretta Lynn – ‘Still Country’

Loretta’s first solo album in a decade was recorded in 1998 and released two years later released on the independent Audium label. Her voice was, sadly, not quite what it had been, but the songs are stronger than they had been on her last MCA album and the production from Randy Scruggs is exemplary throughout.

The heart-wrenching piano-led opening track ‘On My Own Again’ sounds as though it must be autobiographical addressing Loretta’ own experience of widowhood following Doolittle’s death in 1996, but it was actually written by Randy Scruggs, who produced the album. The woman in this song, unlike Loretta, is childless, but in other respects this must have felt very close to home. It is definitely a highlight, filled with intense emotion.

She did write one personal expression of her loss in ‘I Can’t Hear The Music’ credited as a co-write with Cody Jones and Kendal Franceschi, who finished it off when the weight of emotion overwhelmed Loretta herself from doing so. Tears audibly fill her voice as she talks about her feelings for Doolittle, and the effect is genuinely moving:

He showed me there was more to me
When I thought I had nothing else to give
God knows he wasn’t perfect
Ah but then again nobody is
He always told me the truth
No matter how hard it was to hear
When he’d say “I believe in you”
That was music to my ears

Oh each word’s like a note,
Like a beautiful tune
The kind that inspires
And helps you get through
Oh if I said “I can’t” he’d say “you can”
He was my toughest critic
Oh, and my biggest fan
Now he’s gone to a distant shore
And I can’t hear the music any more

By all accounts, including Loretta’s own in her two unflinchingly honest autobiographies, he was a bad husband in many respects – constantly unfaithful and an alcoholic, but her love for him is undeniable.

Her other composition here is the bouncy gospel-cum-tribute to Kentucky (“the closest place to Heaven that I know” of ‘God’s Country’, with hoe-down style fiddle and Earl Scruggs on banjo. The decline in her vocal powers is all too obvious, but her personality comes through engagingly, as it does on ‘Country In My Genes’, written by Larry Cordle, Larry Shell and Betty Key, and the other track featuring Earl Scruggs. This was the single released to support the album, but perhaps unsurprisingly it failed to chart. Here Loretta defies attempts to change her image; it’s a bit shouty at times but still enjoyable:

I got country in my genes
Country in my blood
It goes back generations
It’s something I’m proud of
It’s something I was born with
Whatcha get is what you see
I’m just an old hillbilly with a country song to sing
Lord I’ve got country in my genes

Yeah country’s hit the big time
Me, I’m still the same
I ain’t above my raising
And I ain’t about to change

Max D Barnes and Vince Gill wrote the pretty but mournful look at lost-love, ‘Table For Two’ which has the best vocal and is one of my favorite tracks. I’m surprised that Vince never recorded this beautiful song himself. Another favorite track is the poignant ‘Hold Her’, the third-person tale of a woman planning to leave the husband she wrongly thinks doesn’t love her, and the man who could keep her if he only showed her he did, written by Don Wayne and Irene Kelley:

All he’d have do to hold her is to hold her
Tell her how he feels down deep inside
All he’d have to do to hold her is to hold her
There’s no way she would ever leave his side

I enjoyed the sprightly cover of John Prine’s charmingly optimistic ‘Somewhere Someone’s Falling In Love’, with its almost-Caribbean rhythms, and the closing track, a version of ‘The Blues Ain’t Workin’ On Me’, previously recorded by Rhonda Vincent on her underrated 1996 release Trouble Free. ‘Don’t Open That Door’, written by Jerry Salley, Coley McCabe and Robin Lee Bruce, is a great song about struggling to resist the temptation to get involved again with a bad-news ex, but Loretta’s voice sounds strained on the sustained notes in the chorus.

The least successful track is ‘Working Girl’, a Matraca Berg/Randy Scruggs song with Matraca and Carolyn Dawn Johnson on backing vocals, a disastrous attempt at sounding contemporary. It just doesn’t work, with Loretta sounding very strained vocally, and is actually painful to listen to. It was covered more successfully a few years later by Terri Clark.

Loretta had been out of the limelight for some years, due in part to Doolittle’s illness, and this record was largely ignored. Unfortunately, despite the high quality of the material, it is a little disappointing, revealing Loretta had passed her best vocally.

Grade: B-

Coal Miner’s Daughter: Motion Picture and Soundtrack Review

With the recent explosion and deaths of 29 miners in a West Virginia coal mine just a few weeks ago, we’ve been reminded once again of the dangers and sacrificial hard lives of coal miners and their families. We heat our homes, light our streets and offices, and power our computers at the physical expense of those hard-working laborers. That’s the sturdy stock that Loretta Lynn comes from and the difficult beginnings that shaped her work ethic, family and music for the rest of her life.

Coal Miner’s Daughter, directed by British director, Michael Apted (Amazing Grace, Nell) and released in 1980, received seven Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture. Sissy Spacek won the Best Actress Oscar for her portrayal of Loretta in this film based on her autobiography of the same title.

Loretta hand-picked Spacek to play her based on a photo in a stack of 8×10 glossies and without having seen her films, according to Spacek in an interview on Inside The Actor’s Studio from 2002. Spacek didn’t really want to do the film, partly because Loretta was stating in various television appearances that Sissy Spacek would be playing her and Spacek thought, “I don’t even know you!”

Spacek tells of the time she and her husband drove home to Texas and planned to stop to see Loretta perform on the way in Louisiana somewhere. They missed the performance but arrived in time to watch the theater doors open and Loretta burst out in a red chiffon dress with her band behind her. She was so upset, Spacek says, and going on about, “Bam, bam, bam…Bam, Bam…I couldn’t hear nothin’ but them dad gum drums beatin’ in my ear!”  Spacek says, “I just was struck dumb! I thought, I have to play this woman!”

While working on the film, Loretta encouraged Spacek to sing her songs and helped her. They sang and played together, wrote songs together. Spacek tells of them staying in the Spence Manor in Nashville and pinning sheet music to the lampshades, turning on the lamps and then walking from lamp to lamp to follow the music as they practiced. They even stepped into the shower because the acoustics were so great to practice.

All of her time and practice with Loretta, both in person and with her voice on tape paid off in spades. Loretta says they’re almost like twin sisters. Spacek was the definitive actress to play the part, from her ability to portray Loretta first married at the young age of 15 all the way through her teens, young adult and middle-aged years, to her ability to adopt her spoken accent and do her own vocals so naturally on Loretta’s classic songs.

The film begins with young Loretta riding a mule through the woods of Kentucky, hauling one of her brothers on a wooden sled behind her on their way to town to meet their daddy who is just getting off his shift at the coal mine. While in town, they come across a handsome young soldier just arrived back home, showing off his new red jeep. He’s just sure his jeep can make it up a long, steep bank of dirt and people are betting on whether he’ll make it or not. Loretta can’t take her eyes off of him and he obviously has eyes for her.

Doolittle “Mooney” Lynn, also known as Doo, makes it to the top of the hill to Loretta’s delight and the shaking of her daddy’s head.

It’s a great beginning to a great and amazing story of how these two literally climb what looks like an impossible hill out of the poverty of a mining town, moving to the west coast together and having four children by the time Loretta is 19, and then moving back after her father dies and starting her career from scratch.

Read more of this post