Loretta Lynn has told her rags-to-riches story countless times — in a classic country song, in a best-selling book and, most famously, in an Academy Award-winning movie. Now, at age 67, Lynn reflects on her life for CMT: Inside Fame, which debuts Saturday (Aug. 31) at 9 p.m. ET/PT. It’s filled with rare footage from her pre-stardom days, including her time in Washington state, where she and husband Mooney “Doolittle” Lynn — as well as the four kids she’d had by age 18 — first discovered her musical talents.
“Doo got us a movie camera and he was wanting us to all get in this movie camera, you know, and of course we did. Doo and I developed them ourselves, so that’s how we got the pictures,” she tells CMT.com. “I loved Washington State. I always called it God’s country.”
Though she remains as lively in conversation as one might expect, Lynn could certainly use a breather. She has toured all summer, promoting her boisterous new book Still Woman Enough, as well as performing at fairs and festivals across America. Her road band — including her twin daughters Patsy and Peggy — travels on one bus, while Lynn travels on another. The quiet time has provided her a chance to compose new material.
“I’m writing songs on the bus before I go to sleep,” Lynn says. “Really, I never thought I could write until Doo brought a Country Song Round-Up to me, and I looked at the songs and I thought, ‘Well, I’ve been rhyming lines forever. This is easy.’ So I just started out writing. There’s nothing to it, really. I betcha you’d make a good songwriter.”
“Sure! Just get one of them songbook magazines. Now I can’t read music, so I just put a melody to the first two or three lines and I just go from there.”
This sort of friendly familiarity — a world-class songwriter telling a complete stranger that he’d make a good songwriter, too — has endeared Lynn to countless country listeners. That connection is evident when fans stop by her new museum near her home in Hurricane Mills, Tenn., to glimpse the makings of a musical pioneer.
“Let me tell you, I have fans from 4 years old to 90 — four generations!” she says enthusiastically. “I’ve seen kids 3 or 4 years old, and girls in their 20s and their 30s and their 40s. You know, all ages. That’s one good thing about it, you don’t just hang with one age. When I came out with Coal Miner’s Daughter, there were so many people who never listened to country music, and that made a big change, you know.”
Before that signature song, Lynn was known in country music circles as a feisty “girl singer” who immediately won over the crowds at the Grand Ole Opry on the strength of her first hit, “Honky Tonk Girl.” Patsy Cline took a shine to her, and Lynn joined the cast in 1962. “I just stood out and said some things that the other girls weren’t talking about,” Lynn recalls modestly. “I didn’t realize I wasn’t supposed to.”
Singing and writing from the perspective of a good woman done wrong, Lynn scored big throughout the 1960s, with hits like “Success,” “Blue Kentucky Girl,” “Don’t Come Home A-Drinkin’ (With Lovin’ on Your Mind)”, “Fist City” and “Woman of the World (Leave My World Alone).” In 1970, she released her beloved autobiographical song, “Coal Miner’s Daughter,” and captured the CMA entertainer of the year trophy in 1972 as the first woman to do so.
Lynn wrote the story of her life, also titled Coal Miner’s Daughter, with journalist George Vecsey, in 1976. Sissy Spacek won an Academy Award for portraying Lynn — at all ages — in the 1980 film version.
Asked about a sequel to the movie, based on Still Woman Enough, Lynn will only say, “They’ve been talking about it, you know, but I get away from that because I’ve been so tired pushing the book and trying to work too. I’ve been getting tired from it. But the book’s doing great. It’s been in and out of the Top 10 forever, on the bestsellers list ever since it’s been out.”
Lynn says she doesn’t know why people are still fascinated with her incredible journey from Butcher Holler, Ky., to the Country Music Hall of Fame. However, her insightful stories — whether about a cheating husband, growing up poor or balancing a career and family — have long reflected the lifestyles of country listeners.
“I think it’s just everyday living, and everybody lives that way,” she says. “It hits a lot of people, you know. If it hits a third of the people in the world, or a fourth of the people, you know it’s going to be a bestseller. So I thought that was good, because everybody has a life and it’s worth telling. Or maybe it ain’t! But whatever I’ve done, I tell. My kids always say, ‘Mama, keep your mouth shut!’ Doolittle used to do that, and tell me, ‘Don’t you lie now, tell the truth.’ But he wouldn’t never let me tell anything.”
But after revealing so much of herself, has she told all the best stories?
“Oh no, I got enough left to write a good one,” she says with a laugh. “One of my daughters the other day, she fooled with me because she was upset, ‘cause I said a few little things about her daddy. I said, ‘You fool with me, and the next one will be a Bible, and that’s how it will be read — in that little tiny fine print to get everything your daddy done to me!’ So I kind of think she’s going to calm down.”