Loretta Lynn, three chords and the truth




El pasado mes de noviembre rendíamos homenaje en la versión papel a Loretta Lynn, que partía de este mundo a los 90 años dejando un legado incomparable y posiblemente inigualable. Parte viva de la música country, su talento ha sido reconocido y admirado por todos los grandes artistas del género y de la música en general. Lanzamos unas preguntas a algunos y esto es lo que nos respondieron en una versión íntegra y original en inglés para que pueda llegar a todos ellos.


Loretta Lynn: coal miner’s daughter, country star and feminist icon. Over six decades, she gave voice to the women of United States, stood up to the patriarchy and told uncomfortable truths. Today we remember her with some very special guests.

Loretta Lynn (Butcher Hollow, Kentucky, 1932) didn’t write for men, she wrote for women. In her songs, she spoke openly about sex, divorce, infidelity and even about the right to abortion. The titles of her big hits read like a call to liberation or, to put it in current terms, empowerment: “You Ain’t Woman Enough (To Take My Man)”, “The Pill”, “Don’t Come Home A-Drinkin’ (With Lovin’ On Your Mind)”.

She was the first country star to write her own material from a combative woman’s perspective and had success with it. With that success, she broke down walls and opened doors. The impact she had in the oppressive America of the 60s and 70s was huge. She spoke from the truth of her own experiences (she got married when she was 15, was a mother at 16 and lived with an alcoholic husband for 48 years) and became an example for many women of her generation.


The body of work that she left behind when she passed on October 4 (dozen of records, three Grammys, 24 number ones) constitutes, at the same time, a form of resistance and a true school of how to write songs, with class and bravery but without shying away from humor and tenderness.


To remember her, we’ve sat (metaphorically speaking) some of the finest experts, singer-songwriters and troubadours in country and folk rock around a table and chatted with them.


What did Loretta Lynn bring to country music and do you see her as an outlaw operating in the oppressive Nashville system? 

ROSIE FLORES: Loretta was the first woman of country music to tell it like it is. As a gifted singer and songwriter writing from a woman’s point of view, she was groundbreaking in her attitude and confidence in her gutsy twangy style of singing. She sang, people listened.

ROBBIE FULKS: I don’t know how Loretta thought of herself but to me “outlaw” is a little too pat. She made a name for herself writing and performing within the industry. She hustled and sold her records out of the trunk of her car early on. She and her husband were good businesspeople. In explaining the boldness and originality of her lyrics and themes and singing style, I’d only say that that’s the kind of person she was, and that the industry of her day was a lot smaller and so less risk-averse — more welcoming of original stylists.

MARY GAUTHIER: Loretta wrote her own songs. This was a HUGE shift, it was transformational. Before Loretta, most women just did not do that. And because they became hits, it opened the door to other women who wanted to do the same.

TODD SNIDER: I don’t think Nashville is an oppressive system at all, and I say that as a person who gains nothing from it. When she cut her first single and sent it to country stations, the oldest of those stations was ten years old. Country music as “show biz” was only 30 years old and what it was, was still being defined. So in my mind she brought the ground floor.

SID GRIFFIN: Loretta Lynn was different to what many people think of when they think of a country music star in that her themes were very adult and challenging. But she was no outlaw. She worked within the parameters of the Nashville country music industry and at times let those parameters boss her around. It took over three years for her single of “The Pill” to come out. She recorded it, it was ready, but her label was nervous and blocked it for over three years. How hard did Loretta Lynn fight to get that important record out, a record about women taking the pill in order to control their bodies? We may never know but she was somewhat shackled by the C&W music industry so you could hardly call her an outlaw. She did bring new themes to C&W music about women defending their rights, defending their husbands and family, defending themselves, and this is great, I cannot think of anyone else doing it or as often but she was a country music insider. She was not an outlaw.

In what sense was she a pivotal figure in the history of American feminism? 

MARY GAUTHIER: She spoke for millions of women, and tapped into the truths of their experiences. She gave voice to what it was like to live in a patriarchy, as a woman.

ROSIE FLORES: She spoke with truth and showed how she wouldn’t stand for any kind of abuse from anyone, especially her man. She was in some ways the poet standing up for all women’s rights and voices. She changed the way men and women thought about things.

ROBBIE FULKS: I’m not a feminist scholar by any means, but in terms of the female country lineage, Loretta’s lyrics were more forceful and explicit than earlier country women like Jean Shepard and Kitty Wells. In demanding the prerogative to speak adamantly about things like birth control and extramarital desires, she was right in the current of the times but well ahead of the pack in the conservative south. Songs like “Fist City” fatally damaged the prototype of the demure, rib-of-Adam, gallantly suffering woman, like the “Stand By Your Man” narrator. That prototype is gone and won’t be back. There were a handful of women writers in country before Loretta, like Cindy Walker and Felice Bryant, and obviously women stars, back to Patsy Montana; but I’m not aware of any female singer/songwriters who achieved stardom. Do you know of any?

SID GRIFFIN: I would not say Loretta Lynn is a pivotal figure in the history of American feminism. Most of the middle class women who would classify themselves at feminists today would only know her name or perhaps the wonderful movie Coal Miner’s Daughter. You are way off the mark here. I have never seen her name crop up in a story on or a discussion about the American feminist movement. Where Loretta Lynn does pack a punch is taking a feminist message to working class USA women, the women who have families but who work in small shops and factories during the day and then go back to being a Mom about 5pm when work is over. Loretta Lynn sang a lot of songs for those women who heard someone singing about their lives for the first time… witness “Don’t Come Home A-Drinkin’ With Lovin’ On Your Mind”, “One’s On The Way”, and “The Pill”. Lynn never said she was a feminist anyway! She was a political conservative.

She had one of the great voices in all of American music, pure and authentic. How would you describe the effect it had on the listeners and what do you particularly feel when you listen her singing? 

ROSIE FLORES: Her voice was pure and honest. Her accent as a girl raised poor from the Kentucky Butcher Holler gave her such a sweet and adorable sound as she pronounced her lyrics with heart. She was always clear as a bell and easy to understand. I recorded a few of her songs and often tried to sound like her when I sang my country songs.

ROBBIE FULKS: Well, I love the tremulousness and the amateur quality too. I just hate when singers and tech conspire to iron all the kinks out, and Loretta was a high-kink artist. I might add that I participated in a night of Loretta’s music at the troubadour in L.A. a few years back. People like Kesha and Joe Henry and Sierra Hull sang Loretta songs for 2 hours. My teenage son was there, and afterward, he shyly told me that he was affected by the direct power of the songs, and was interested in learning more about country music. This is after 18 years of living in the same house with me! All the records I played and songs I sang in those 18 years apparently failed to cut through, but Loretta made the connection in one night.

MARY GAUTHIER: Her voice was both in her singing, and in her writing. For me, I loved her singing, but it was her writer’s voice that knocked me out. Loretta wrote truth, and that’s what made her singing voice even better.

TODD SNIDER: I think humanity would be wise to spend more time trying to understand the effect certain music has on certain people. Maybe there’s a secret elite society that already does? My suspicion is that we were supposed to communicate by dialing into the source of creation and radiating a harmonious frequency and that singing is as close of a proximity to whatever way we are supposed to be communicating, but are not, because we came up with a language and an alphabet that keep us from being able to speak. Sometimes, on a rare occasion, maybe there are people who are really connected to the universe when they sing, unlike other singers, and they actually dial into the source of creation and radiate a harmonious frequency. They don’t just approximate it. The singing turns into something that could be called “speaking in tongues” (but not like a fake preacher). It becomes like the OHM of meditation, or the hum or the earth. You can’t learn to do it.

SID GRIFFIN: Loretta Lynn’s voice was a blessing. It was pure Kentucky and extremely believable. It was totally honest and not some polished mid-Atlantic Broadway show voice which was only there to deliver the song. Loretta Lynn’s voice was part of the message along with the lyrics. Hearing her accented voice on the radio gave her instant authenticity with listeners and they believed her when she said she suffered or cried or fought or whatever it was.

Her skills as a singer-songwriter are somehow overshadowed. What was, in your opinion, her strongest ability as a composer and if you had to choose one song from her body of work, what would it be and why? 

MARY GAUTHIER: Loretta’s songs were the embodiments of Harlan Howard’s definition of country music: three chords and the truth. It’s impossible, here in 2022, to imagine the deep resonance of Loretta’s songs when they hit in the 1960’s, the truth, of what it was like for a woman, written by woman, for the very first time. Loretta was the female Hank Williams, a voice for the women’s side of the human experience.  

ROSIE FLORES: Her strength as a songwriter was that of honesty and truth, she simply wrote about her life. “You Ain’t Woman Enough (To Take My Man)” is one of her strongest songs with a very clear message to that woman messing around with her husband. Loretta said in an interview that her close friend Patsy Cline told her that song was a hit. She recorded it after Patsy’s death and, rightly so, it did become a huge hit for her.

ROBBIE FULKS: I always respond to humor, broadly defined, and I love Loretta’s playful country touch with phrases and rhymes. Like “you come in a-kissin’ on me” in “Don’t Come Home A-Drinkin’” — the “a-“ prefixing! — or the “last night/half-tight” rhyme in that song. “The work we done was hard/at night we’d sleep ‘cause we were tar’d” — that killed me when I first heard it! So that’s why they slept! Such a warm, funny, positive spirit.

TODD SNIDER: I don’t know enough about songs to speculate on what her strongest abilities at making them up were. I do know she was a serial killer. They keep it under raps but she murdered a lot of transient men and in that way, I feel like she could have been a better person. Other than that though, she was just a good old fashioned country girl.

SID GRIFFIN: “Rated X”. What an amazing song. And from a political conservative!  “And if you’re rated X you’re some kind of goal/Even men turnin’ silver try to make/But I think it’s wrong to judge every picture/If a cheap camera makes a mistake/And when your best friend’s husband says to you/You’ve sure started lookin’ good/You should’ve known he would/And he would if he could/And he will if you’re rated X”. Loretta Lynn is saying that post-divorce a man can now chase women but if a woman is even seen around too many men, be those men married or single, then she is labeled cheap and a tramp by society. It is a valid point to make, an important point to make, and I note singers of her era like Janis Joplin or Grace Slick never came close to making the kind of pro-women comments on society as Loretta Lynn did!

JIM LAUDERDALE: Loretta Lynn was a ground breaker in country music, and music in general. She wrote so many of the songs she recorded (and they are great songs), was independent and took stands and was out spoken about topics in a brave way and stood her ground. Her voice was unique and unmistakable. She was a warm, kind, and generous person who was down to earth on stage and on in spite of her great talent and accomplishments.  Although she had experienced many hardships, she continued through life with an inner strength that inspired others in their own lives. She was one of a kind and brought many smiles to this world and made it a better place. She left a lot of recorded music we can listen to and enjoy for the rest of our lives. If you are not very familiar with her, start anywhere with her music and you can’t help but feel her depth and wonderful presence.

ROSANNE CASH: Loretta was the best kind of artist, the best kind of songwriter, and the best kind of feminist, because it all came from a perfectly honest, authentic, and fearless heart. She didn’t pretend to be what she wasn’t, and she wrote with a direct poetry that created scenes that were so well-drawn that they were short stories, character studies, and narratives that were packed with emotion and fire. She was also just COOL. People who know themselves and don’t give a damn where the pieces fall are the epitome of cool.  I remember seeing her playing a white electric guitar once, and I got obsessed with getting myself a white guitar like Loretta. She left so much— she will be deeply missed.


By Jordi Pujol Nadal


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