Patty Loveless Returns With Triumphant Music

'Sleepless Nights' Combines Country Classics With Hidden Gems

Patty Loveless is without question one of the finest country singers ever. She has been absent from the country music scene for a while, for reasons she talks about in this interview. Fortunately she has returned, with a new CD that ranks with the best work she has ever done. The Traditional Country Soul of Patty Loveless: Sleepless Nights is a collection of traditional country songs that have been important to Loveless throughout her life and career, songs such as Carl and Pearl Butler's "Don't Let Me Cross Over," Webb Pierce's "There Stands the Glass" and Hank Williams' "Cold, Cold Heart." Here she talks about the songs, reasons for selecting some of them and recent twists and turns in her life and career. The cover of the CD is reminiscent of 1950s and 1960s music rooms everywhere, with Patty sitting and playing acoustic guitar, with the record player open and LP albums scattered across the floor. So you're still keeping vinyl albums alive?

That turntable on the cover is mine. We wanted to make that cover look like I'm in my music room, listening to my records, like I used to do in my bedroom. Oh, yeah, I've got a lot of vinyl. Can't get rid of those. And you can read the print on those albums!

What was the impetus for you recording a collection of songs such as these?

Emory [Emory Gordy Jr., the producer and musician, and her husband] and I -- I took a sabbatical for about three years. My mother-in-law passed away in 2005, and then my mother passed away in 2006. Of course in 2005, my brother Roger, who I dedicated this album to, had a stroke, and it was a year while we didn't know if he would make it through. So there were a lot of things going on. Sony Epic and I parted ways after my last record, Dreaming My Dreams. I had made a final move to our home in Georgia, and Emory and I were sitting around and at dinner we would talk about his family and my family and go up and listen to old tunes. A lot of times I would talk about Roger and my sister Dottie and how I recalled them singing together and dancing. Music was always a big part of my family. Only a few of us had the talent -- or the courage -- to walk out on a stage. Roger had to drag me out on a stage the first time. I recalled how a lot of my older siblings would go to a friend's house and borrow records to play and sometimes borrow a turntable because we didn't have a turntable in the house until I was 8, about the same time we had a TV.

They would play those old records of Brenda Lee, Patsy Cline, Connie Smith, Ray Price, Jim Reeves and George Jones, of course, and Elvis and everybody else. At a very early age, I was exposed to that music and it was a very adult form of music. I didn't know the difference. As the years went on, I learned a lot from those songs and at the age of 12, I started going out and singing with my brother.

Emory and I got to talking and we said it would be kinda cool to make a record that Dottie, who passed away in 1996, and Roger would appreciate. Maybe a record that they would have made if they'd had the opportunity. So Saguaro Road records came to us, and we mentioned this record and they gave us their blessing.

It's interesting that part of the CD title is The Traditional Country Soul of Patty Loveless. What does country soul mean to you?

George Jones is country soul. Once this kind of music sits in you and you take it all, it reaches down into your soul. George Jones to me was one of the most soulful singers of any genre. That drew me to his music. He knew how to present a song without really thinking about it. I tried to project through these songs how they touched me when I first heard them. It is in my soul and always will be and that's why I wanted to call this The Traditional Country Soul of Patty Loveless, because it is.

These songs also belong to the ages, in the sense that they don't belong to any era, and don't sound as if they do.

The thing is that these songs are timeless. Especially a song like "She thinks I Still Care." That song belongs to George Jones and always will. It's his and I'm just borrowing it. Like so many songs over the years. I borrow them to take out on stage and sing them. Maybe not all of them are that timeless, but they all take you back to a time when that song lyrically meant something to someone back in the '50s or '60s. There are songs here that go all the way back to the '40s and '30s. It's good to go back in history and appreciate them, and it helps you have more appreciation and respect for the things that you have.

It makes you appreciate what the performers didn't have when traveling. They traveled by car and had to sleep sitting up in a car or on a bus. I experienced some of that when I went out with the Wilburn Brothers. Doyle had a black Cadillac. This was when they would have four or five artists on one show and here was this young girl on a weekend. I'd go out with them on a weekend. I was 15. I appreciate how hard it was because I would go to sleep with my head on Doyle's shoulder or Teddy's. When I started recording, I had seven guys in a van. I was the only girl and traveling in a van and pulling a U-Haul. That was my first year recording at MCA.

What do you look for when you're selecting songs to sing? You're known as a very careful song picker.

I look for songs that the listener, when they hear it, they believe what I'm singing about, that I know what I'm singing about. That's my whole deal. I try to choose songs that a male or a female can perform and relate to. I stayed closer to more of the songs that were recorded by male artists, if you'll notice. The only song I recorded that wasn't here is "I Forgot More Than You'll Ever Know," which was recorded by the Davis Sisters. But that was an old classic song that I recalled my brother playing to death. Here's a bizarre story. When we had finished doing the tracking in Nashville, I was doing some background vocals there at the house in Georgia and my brother Roger called me up and said, "I had a dream -- I've got to tell you, here's the song you need to record." I said what's that, Rog? He said, "You need to record 'I Forgot More Than You'll Ever Know.'" He started singing it. I said are you sure? He said, "Really!" I said you're a little too late. We just did! I used to hear him sing so many of these songs.

Not all of these songs are obvious choices, I would say.

A lot of these songs were never singles. "The Pain of Loving You" was a Porter [Wagoner] song. I was 14 when I met Porter and Dolly [Parton] and they co-wrote this. I remember singing it then when I worked with them. There's a 15-year-old girl singing on this with me, Syndi Perry. When Dolly hears her, she's just gonna be blown away. Syndi took me back to that time when I was 15. Dolly was like a big sister to me. I want to be like that now, with this kind of music.

How did you approach the recording sessions themselves?

Emory is really good about combining musicians. We wanted to merge some of the old with the new and that was the case here. So we started talking about Pig Robbins playing piano and Billy Linneman playing bass. I said, you know, they played on my first demo session and I have the tracks today. So we had Pig and Billy playing on it. Then we had Harold Bradley. Then you mix that with Steve Gibson, John Hobbs, Al Perkins, Guthrie Trapp, Deanie Richardson, who's also Syndi Perry's teacher on fiddle. Harry Stinson on drums. And of course Emory. A great little orchestra. Vince Gill sang vocals. I love Vinny. Two souls that have been brought together.

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