If Hank Williams was the Hillbilly Shakespeare, Loretta Lynn was surely the Downhome Diva Dickens. I’m saddened by the passing of one of the greatest voices and writers in not just country, but any music, any era. Though she eschewed feminist laurels in frilly-frocked country girl fashion, she was worth ten Gloria Steinhems for voicing through raw experience (“I know what it’s like to be pregnant, nervous and poor”) what most women felt and could never say over 50 years ago. Lyrics like “I’m tearing down your brooder house, ’cause now I got the pill” were revolutionary for country music women in the 60s.
My wife Jude and I made two warm connections with Loretta. The first was maybe a dozen years ago at a country legends show with her, Merle Haggard and headliner George Jones. “No-show Jones” was true to form, and a slew of people were as PO-ed as me to be denied the greatest male voice in country music. Since The Hag was undoubtedly on his bus toward the next gig, Loretta stepped up and performed a second show, pulling her musical kids and grandkids on stage to help fill the gap.
Our second brush with the Coal Miner’s Daughter was a few years ago at her childhood home in Butcher Holler, Kentucky, amid one of the starkest contrasts of natural beauty and human poverty I’ve ever seen. Even our GPS didn’t seem to believe this place existed. Loretta wasn’t there but her aura certainly was as her nephew patiently let us roam through the cabin immortalized in her song and shared family memories as deep as the outside “well where we drew water.” My country girl Jude, whose own farmhouse lacked indoor plumbing until she was almost a teenager, marveled “I feel like I’m back home.”
RIP to a legend.