My Kind of Country

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Tag Archives: Mooney Lynn

Single Review: Loretta Lynn – ‘I’m A Honky Tonk Girl’

After paying dues in the West Coast honky tonks of Washington, Oregon, and northern California, Loretta Lynn was offered a spot on Buck Owens’ syndicated television show.  This performance was seen by wealthy Canadian Norm Burley.  He offered to help the Lynns jump-start Loretta’s fledgling career by forming his own record label, Zero Records, and pressing some 3,500 copies of her first record.  Mr. Burley also paid for the recording session, financed a promotional road-trip for the couple, and even offered to let her out of the contract if she was offered a major label deal.  The world could use more men like Norm Burley.

In Hollywood, Loretta recorded four of her own compositions: ‘Heartache Meet Mr. Blues’, ‘New Rainbow’, ‘I’m A Honky Tonk Girl’, and ‘Whispering Sea’.  The latter two would be the A and B-side to her first single record.  Loretta says she was inspired to write the song after seeing a woman in a Washington club, drowning her sorrows in the booze.  The song tells the story of a heartbroken woman, alone now that her man has left her.  Penned by Loretta, ‘I’m A Honky Tonk Girl’ would make it all the way to #14 on the Country Singles chart, propelled by the couples self-promotion.  The two greenhorns didn’t know anything about the music industry and it wasn’t until they made it all the way to Nashville that Mooney picked up a copy of Cashbox magazine and found out Loretta had the #14 song in the nation.

The story of Loretta Lynn and her husband Mooney promoting her very first single is the stuff of country music legend.  Their tireless efforts took them from the California coast all the way to Tennessee with the couple stopping at every radio station that programmed country music along the way. Having already mailed out the single to every country station, complete with a one-page biography on Loretta and the now-famous photo of Loretta taken by Mooney in their living room, they would chat up the disc jockeys and ask them to play Mrs. Lynn’s record.

Driven by the pedal steel playing of Speedy West, the track finds Loretta delivering the lyric with a bit of heartache in her twangy vibrato.  They probably didn’t know it at the time, but the session players were creating what would become the signature sound of one of country music’s most influential figures in history.  And even though Owen Bradley and his Nashville Sound are most commonly associated with Loretta Lynn’s success, it was this track that gave Loretta her first minor-hit and the style that would define her music for the next decade.

Grade: B

‘Honky Tonk Girl’ is available on several Loretta Lynn collections. It served as the title track to her 1994 box-set and is available for purchase as a single mp3 download at all major retailers, including amazon.

Spotlight Artist: Loretta Lynn (Part 2)

The 1970s were Loretta Lynn’s most productive and most successful decade. She opened the decade by releasing her signature hit “Coal Miner’s Daughter” and “After The Fire Is Gone”, the first of a long string of successful duets with Conway Twitty. In 1972, she won her second Female Vocalist of the Year award from the Country Music Association. She’d previously won in 1967; Tammy Wynette took the trophy home for the next three years, and in 1971 it was awarded to Lynn Anderson. Conway and Loretta also took home the Vocal Duo of the Year trophy in 1972, but the icing on the cake that year was when Loretta Lynn became the first female artist to become the CMA’s Entertainer of the Year. To commemorate the occasion, her label released an album in 1973 called Entertainer of the Year, which produced another #1 hit, “Rated X”. It was Loretta’s first release on the MCA label, which had purchased Decca and absorbed its artist roster. In 1973 she also became the first country artist to grace the cover of Newsweek.

The hits kept coming; it was during this period that Loretta released “One’s On The Way”, “I Wanna Be Free”, “You’re Lookin’ At Country”, and “Love Is The Foundation”, among others. In 1975 she released “The Pill”, her most controversial record, completely eclipsing the controversy that had surrounded “Rated X” two years earlier. Believed to be the first song about birth control, “The Pill” was considered very risque and was banned by many radio stations. Nevertheless, it managed to crack the Top 5.

During the early part of the 70s, Loretta severed her ties with the Wilburn Brothers. As her song publishers, they owned the rights to all of her compositions and Loretta saw very little in financial renumeration. While the matter was being fought out in court, Loretta stopped writing songs altogether, rather than to continue lining the Wiburns’ pockets. As a result, the music she released in the latter part of the 70s had a more polished, pop influenced sound in comparison to her earlier work.

In 1976, Loretta published her autobiography, Coal Miner’s Daughter, which became a New York Times bestseller. A film based on the book was released in 1980, earning some high-profile mainstream attention for Loretta, and an Academy Award for Sissy Spacek for her portrayal of the country star. Tommy Lee Jones co-starred as Mooney. As the 70s came to a close, she was named Artist of the Decade by the Academy of Country Music.

The 1980s were marred by the beginnings of a career decline and personal tragedy. It was the age of the Urban Cowboy, and Loretta’s style of country had begun to fall out of favor with country radio. Her records continued to chart, but she was no longer consistently making the Top 10 with her solo efforts. “I Lie” became her final Top 10 solo hit in 1982. She fought with her label, which wanted to push her in a more pop direction. She refused to renew her contract; MCA eventually relented, but by that time it was clear that Loretta’s reign at the top of the charts was over. She racked up her final Top 20 hit, “Heart Don’t Do This To Me” in 1985, and in 1988 she released her final album for MCA. That same year she was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame.

A few years earlier, in 1984, Loretta’s 34-year-old son, Jack Benny Lynn drowned in a river near the family ranch. In her second book, Loretta says that she believes she suffered a nervous breakdown as a result of this tragedy, but she did not receive any medical treatment for it. She became less focused on her career, and although she continued to tour, she recorded less frequently.

Loretta spent most of the 1990s out of the spotlight. She no longer had a record deal and she stopped touring for the most part in order to care for Mooney, whose health had begun to fail. In 1993 she collaborated with Dolly Parton and Tammy Wynette for the Honky Tonk Angels album. Though it received virtually no radio airplay, the album reached #6 on the Billboard Top Country Albums chart and earned gold certification. In 1995 she did a brief series for TNN called Loretta Lynn & Friends. Mooney Lynn died in 1996 from complications from diabetes.

In 2000, Loretta released her first solo album in twelve years, titled Still Country. It was produced by Randy Scruggs and released on the Audium label. The lead single, “Country In My Genes”, on which she was joined by half of Nashville on the chorus, received enough airplay to reach #72 in Billboard. The subsequent singles, which included “I Can’t Hear The Music”, which she’d written as a tribute to Mooney, did not chart. Despite being largely ignored by country radio, the album was generally well received by critics. However, it was her next album, 2004’s Van Lear Rose, that is considered her true comeback. Produced by Jack White of the White Stripes, it was an interesting fusion of country and alternative rock and a radical departure from her previous work. At nearly 70 years of age, Loretta Lynn was suddenly hip again. Van Lear Rose earned her two Grammy Awards in 2005: one for Best Country Album, and one for Best Country Collaboration with Vocals for “Portland, Oregon”, a duet with producer Jack White.

In between Still Country and Van Lear Rose, Loretta found time to publish a second autobiography, Still Woman Enough in 2002. In 2001, CMT ranked her at #3, behind Patsy Cline (#1) and Tammy Wynette (#2) on their 40 Greatest Women of Country Music special. She was a Kennedy Center Honors recipient in 2003, and in 2008 she was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame. She received a Grammy Award for Lifetime Achievement in 2010.

At age 75, Loretta is showing no signs of slowing down. She remains a concert draw and is reportedly working on two new albums which will tentatively be released later this year, though no dates have been announced.

The term legend is used much too freely these days, but Loretta Lynn truly belongs to an elite inner circle of performers, without whom it is difficult to imagine what country music would have been like. We hope that you will enjoy our look back at the life and career of a woman who has become an American icon, and who is arguably the most important female artist in the history of country music.

Spotlight Artist: Loretta Lynn (Part 1)

Our look back at the legends of country music continues as we turn the spotlight on Loretta Lynn.

The story of her hardscrabble origin and subsequent rise to fame is well known. She was born in Van Lear, Kentucky, on April 14 in 1934 or 1935. (There is conflicting information about the year of her birth, but most evidence points to 1934 being the correct year). The second of eight children, she grew up in extreme poverty, “in a cabin on a hill” without electricity or running water. Her father was a coal miner. When she was only 13 years old, she married Oliver “Mooney” Lynn (always referred to as “Doolittle” or “Doo” by Loretta), and gave birth to four of her six children before she was 19.

A year after their marriage, in an effort to break away from poverty-stricken Kentucky, Mooney relocated his young family to Washington State, breaking a promise he’d made to Loretta’s father not to take her too far from home. Mooney’s shortcomings as a husband and father were considerable; however, it was he who recognized Loretta’s potential and practically forced her into the music business. He bought her a $17 guitar for her eighteenth birthday and told her to learn how to play it. She did, and soon was singing in honky-tonks on weekends for $5 a night. Eventually she earned a guest spot on Buck Owens’ television show, which originated from Tacoma, Washington. A wealthy Canadian businessman named Norm Burley saw the show and offered to finance Loretta’s career. He formed a label called Zero Records, and signed Loretta, promising to release her from her contract if she ever managed to secure a deal from a major label.

The Lynns traveled to Los Angeles for Loretta’s first recording session, where she recorded her own compositions “I’m A Honky Tonk Girl” and “Whispering Sea”, which became the A and B sides of her first single. The Lynns themselves mailed out 3,500 copies of the record to radio stations, and traveled by car down the west coast to promote it, visiting radio stations along the way. By July 1960, “I’m A Honky Tonk Girl” had reached #14 in Billboard, and Loretta Lynn was on her way to Nashville.

In October 1960, Loretta made her debut appearance on the Grand Ole Opry and was such a hit with the both the audience and the Opry management, she was invited back for 17 consecutive weekends. She would become an Opry member in 1962. She signed a songwriting and management contract with the Wilburn Brothers, who offered her a spot on their syndicated television show. They also took a demo recording of one her songs to Owen Bradley and secured a six-month contract with Decca Records. Bradley wasn’t initially interested in signing Loretta; he felt she sounded too much like Kitty Wells, who was already on the Decca roster. Bradley was interested in the song on the demo, but the Wilburns would not allow him to have it unless he offered Loretta a contract. Bradley relented and signed Loretta to Decca. The song on the demo, “Fool #1” went on to become a smash pop hit for Brenda Lee.

Loretta’s first release for Decca, “I Walked Away From The Wreck” did not chart, but her next release, Johnny Mullins’ “Success” reached #6. The vast majority of her subsequent releases reached the Top 20, and most of those reached the Top 10. She hit the #1 spot for the first of 16 times in 1966 with “Don’t Come Home A-Drinkin’ (With Lovin’ On Your Mind)”, which she co-wrote with her sister Peggy Sue Wells. The album of the same title became the first by a female country artist to earn gold certification from the RIAA.

In 1970, Loretta released the autobiographical “Coal Miner’s Daughter”, which became her signature hit. Unlike anything she’d previously recorded, it told the story of her humble origins in Kentucky. It became her fourth #1 single and second gold album. Also that year she recorded a duet with Conway Twitty called “After The Fire Is Gone”, which also went to #1 and earned a Grammy Award for Best Country Vocal Performance by a Duo or Group. Her partnership with Twitty was one of the most successful, if not the most successful, duos in country music history.