Patty Loveless Keeps The Fire Burning

It was almost ten years ago that the song, “If My Heart Had Windows,” stormed its way into country radio’s Top Ten. Patty Loveless was the token delivery girl of the hit. Having already churned her talent for years, she was at the time still regarded as a new kid on the block. Even making a fashion statement back then, Patty flaunted the popular “big hair,” but most importantly, unfolded a big voice. Today, the word popular is a dramatic understatement for the November CMT Showcase Artist — and her voice is bigger than ever.

An impressive ten albums, string of awards and countless chart-toppers have fallen under Patty’s belt since her first Top Ten with that original 1967 George Jones hit. Today, she still uses that winning combination of pouring her torch-n-twang vocals into a simmering blend of both rock-belted progression and a sweet stir of the past — always carrying a torch for country music’s sole heritage.

Never has the torch burned any brighter than with Patty’s latest work, Long Stretch Of Lonesome, again produced by her husband Emory Gordy Jr. The tear in her voice has never been heavier, and the heart with which she sings has never beat heavier. Undoubtedly, this project is Patty’s best yet.

“It’s all a part of growing and sometimes people are fortunate enough that when they bring that first record out, it just clicks and happens, ” explains Patty of her own success. “But for me, it’s been a very stable and gradual climb. That’s been very good for me and has been very healthy for my career. I feel that it’s given me this longevity in country music. It just didn’t happen so quickly and then be over. For some artists, that’s the case. There’s one hit song and then it’s like ’Where did they go?’ I’ve never wanted to fall into that. I’ve always hoped that I would be able to fall into the kind of music that people could look back at and like in years to come.

“I know ten albums doesn’t seem like such a large number when you consider some other artists out there. But I’ve spent 11 years now out on the road — presenting each new project that I’ve done for the people. With each new project, I feel like I’ve matured and grown even that much more. I also feel like the music has really matured, too.”

Long Stretch Of Lonesome is solid proof of such maturity — unfolding a bent-over backwards effort in vocal nerve and strength. The former Country Music Association Female Vocalist of the Year and back-to-back Academy of Country Music Top Female Vocalist, however, is quick to credit much of her new Epic disc’s muscle to the song material on the album.

“It’s always a major challenge,” Patty admits, “especially when today there are so many more labels that offer so many more artists. I just feel that there are only so many songs that can get around. So it’s always a challenge to try and find those songs. I’m sure that the writers out there can get a litle bit burned out knowing that they have to really keep up, too — knowing that this artist is cutting an album this week and needs material and someone else is cutting next week. During the time that I was cutting my new album, there were a lot of other artists going in to cut theirs, too. Those songwriters are even trying to come up with a ’Patty Loveless’ song. When they know that you’re actually looking for material, they’ll go in and try to write something especially for you.

“But I’ve been real fortunate,” she continues. “There are songs that maybe have been around for ten years or so that I had never recorded or had never come my way, and then all of a sudden, it seems like they just land in my lap. And I ask, ’Where has this song been.?’ Well, it’s been around town, but it just never got to me. Maybe at the time, someone just didn’t hear it as a ’Patty Loveless’ song. Even in the earlier days, we were trying to figure out what songs went with the artist Patty Loveless.

A simple definition of a ’Patty Loveless’ song has certainly shifted in several different directions over the years. Pure country traditional with an occasional gutsy edge could have described her work at one time, and still often does. Surprising us, however, has also become a great Patty staple as well.

“Back when I was living in North Carolina for about seven years or so, I got into doing some rock-n-roll singing,” she remembers. “I experimented by doing other people’s material just to see what my voice sounded like. So I’ve learned that sometimes my voice is suited for some songs and sometimes it’s not. During that time, I found out even more about what I could do — even more than just country. So I started mixing in just a little bit of that rock-n-roll edge. I once even attempted Donna Summer’s “MacArthur Park” back during that era when she was definitely the pop and disco queen. It just didn’t suit me,” she laughs. “So I know my limitations as far as what I can do, but as far as the song itself, if I don’t record it, it doesn’t mean it’s a bad song. What it means is that I just don’t fit the part. It’s like when a lot of actresses are trying out for a part in a movie. Sometimes you just don’t fit that character. That’s the case with a song, too.”

The characters who star in Patty’s new Long Stretch Of Lonesome disc range from herself, family and friends, to the folks who come to her shows and buy her records. Perhaps slightly more somber than past projects, the album cuts deep into raw and ripped emotions with a hint of rescuing light just beyond the darkness.

“For Long Stretch of Lonesome, I felt that I really brought in a lot of my own feelings,” she reveals. “I had gone through quite a year, and because of that I felt like I was able to bring even that much more into the type of songs I was doing. It’s kind of unreal that when I stop to think about when I was listening for material, it wasn’t that I was just trying to find material to suit the way that I felt. It was just that this material was coming to me and it was meant for me to do those songs that were chosen. The song ’I Don’t Want To Feel Like That’ is a song that makes me think of the many many times I had awakened in the bunk of my bus. I cried myself to sleep last night/I don’t want to feel like that no more/Woke up before the morning light/I don’t want to feel like that no more. There were just many times that I experienced that. But always when I’m listening to songs or doing them, sometimes it’s not always myself I’m putting into them. Sometimes I’m putting in stories of other people or other situations that other people have gone through.

“I always look for something that other people can relate to as well as myself. ’Too Many Memories’ is another song that relates. I think a lot of us, as we get older and look back, we think about our past and those moments that were special. ’Long Stretch Of Lonesome’ — for me, this song makes me see so many of my friends and family members who have really experienced this song. I was really thinking a lot about them when I was recording this song.

Patty has long been regarded as one of country music’s leading female traditionalists, who can easily wail out the best of the best when it comes to deep emotion-slashing and pain-gripping songs. Sometimes being categorized as a cry-in-your-beer singer is not a problem.

“That doesn’t bother me at all,” she says, “because the fact is that I have experienced those things. I want to let other people out there who are also experiencing pain and struggles and all these things that I know they go through, know that they can look at these songs as a sense of hope. They can realize that there is a light at the end of the tunnel. I remember listening to Linda Ronstadt, Bonnie Raitt and Emmylou Harris’ albums. Those ladies’ music was really good therapy for me. I just hope that the music that I do is good therapy for other people out there — people that sometimes have to face a lot of their problems by themselves. Sometimes when a song is on, it can make a difference. It can change things and make you see things differently.

“All the songs on Long Stretch are serious and have very good messages,” she continues. They are probably a little bit more serious than I’ve ever been on an album. To tell you the truth, when I handed the album in, I felt like it wasn’t completed. I really wanted to add one more song to the album. I felt like we should add one really fun song. Because when I listened back to the album, it seemed like everything was just so serious. Emory, my husband, expressed to me once that there is a serious side of me, but there’s also a fun side. He told me that I should always show that fun side and that ’I Try To Think About Elvis’ was my fun side. That’s a song that allows me to get out there and just have fun. He was right. To this day, I pretty much have to close the show down with ’I Try To Think About Elvis’ because they go crazy about that song.

Hands down, Patty’s latest work is comprised with those same surprising elements that create one of the year’s best productions. Of course, having artists like Mary Chapin Carpenter, Kim Richie and even George Jones guest appear on her album is icing on the cake. It’s obviously Jones’ voice we hear on the project’s current hit, “You Don’t Seem To Miss Me.”

“For George Jones to come in and sing on my record was a first-ever opportunity,” Patty explains with pride. “I had worked with George in the past though. I was opening shows for Randy Travis and him and George was closing the shows, I guess back in ’87. Then around 1992, I helped sing quite a few songs on his Rockin’ Chair album, which my husband produced. He just thought our voices blended well together. When we were doing “You Don’t Seem To Miss Me,” Emory once again said ’This would be a very cool thing for George to sing on. I was thinking, ’Yeah, but can we get him to do it?” So I was very honored to have someone of his stature to come in and sing. George Jones has been making music that’s going to live on through many generations. He’s actually probably going to be the grandfather to my children’s music. I’m just amazed at some of these folks such as George. I’m in awe of them and I look up to them. To me, they are the parents of the music that I do.”

Fortunately, Patty has accepted those same parental traits and continues to pass them on as well. And it very well may be that it was such pioneers such as George Jones and even earlier legends like Ernest Tubb and Hank Williams who lit the torch for honest traditional country music, but it’s artists like Patty Loveless who keep it burning.