Loretta Lynn’s publicist is as dodgy as a groundhog on a garden raid. After almost a half-year’s worth of attempts to interview the comeback country queen — in April for her gig at MerleFest, and this month before her appearance at Biltmore Estate — Xpress was finally allowed a past-deadline phone chat with Ms. Lynn late last week.
It was worth the wait.
If you’ve got tickets to Lynn’s Friday-night concert — a co-bill with fellow legend Doc Watson, the paterfamilias of flatpicking blues — you certainly already know her history. From Butcher Holler to “Fist City” to Hurricane Mills, from coal-miner’s daughter to “Blue Kentucky Girl” to Jack White-courted den mother of latter-day hipsterism, the grand dame of country music is still basking in the rowdy success of last year’s Van Lear Rose, her CMA- and Grammy-kissed collaboration with the White Stripes’ eponymous front man.
“Wasn’t that somethin’? I couldn’t believe it,” she says, as warmly as you’d imagine, referring to Van Lear Rose‘s status as her best-selling album (not a shabby accomplishment in a canon-altering half-century career). “It was the biggest record I’ve ever done, and I’ve done some big records. But this one outdone ’em all.”
Lynn still expresses shock at White’s garage-y approach to Rose: He insisted she record all her songs — starting with “Women’s Prison” — in one take.
“I thought, ‘Oh, Lordy, this ain’t gonna be the ‘Nashville Sound,’ I can tell that right now. But I told Jack, ‘This is your baby, you can rock it.'” (A couple of other nuggets for fans of the fey tastemaker: Lynn says White is “like an old man at the control table, and like a kid [everywhere else] … he’s entirely two different people.” She also dishes that White recently mailed her sketches he made of his surprise wedding to model Karen Elson, which took place in a canoe on the Amazon River. “And he can’t draw,” she clarifies. Lynn goes on to wonder, like everyone else, at the suspicious swiftness of White’s nuptials, especially given the recent, also-hasty marriage of his ex, A-list actress Renee Zellweger, to pop-country star Kenny Chesney. “I didn’t even know he had a girlfriend,” she says, dismissing Jack’s antics with a deep laugh. “I have to talk to that boy.”)
The next chapter
White’s name helped sell Rose to the “PopMatters” crowd. But bringing down Detroit (that’s where the backup band hailed from, too) isn’t what seduced the country-radio DJs, according to Lynn.
“They hadn’t heard anything as country as Van Lear Rose in 20 years,” she says, “and they were glad to get it.”
Lynn claims she couldn’t have sung it any differently, anyway.
“I’m so country that when someone does try to cut me [in a highly produced] way, it never works. Polished music don’t fit my voice.” (Nor do set lists. She won’t use them: “I sing what people want to hear. They paid to get in, I didn’t — I snuck in the back door.”)
Lynn tells Xpress she wants White to produce her next project — a Christmas record. She’s not hearing some twangy take on “Jingle Bells,” though; Lynn says she intends to write at least half of the album herself. And about those country “artists” who only cover others’ material, she muses: “I kind of think they take on someone else’s life a little bit. … It shows.”
The very title “Van Lear Rose” was a nickname bestowed on the singer’s mother by her father; her beloved parents are frequently resurrected on the autobiographical album, as is her late husband, “Doo,” and more than one “other woman” from the past.
Even now, at 70, Lynn says her stories (she uses the word interchangeably with “songs”) still want out. “Honey, I have stories upon stories upon stories.”
When she eventually delivers those tales, the characters should sound familiar — they’re the same bearers of love, grief, sickness, passion and deceit that shadow anyone’s walkway.
“Everyone,” she says, “has their own life. And they live their life just about like I do.”
Biltmore Estate Summer Evening Concert Series presents “An Evening with Loretta Lynn and Doc Watson” on the Estate’s South Terrace at 8 p.m. on Friday, Aug. 19. Tickets are $55-$60. Call (800) 624-1575 or see www.biltmore.com.