March 10, 2018


HEY, LORETTA! (Marianne Worthington,  November 21, 2017, Oxford American)

When I was growing up in the 1960s, our little tract house in northern Knoxville, Tennessee, was nearly always filled with the twin aromas of cigarette smoke and home cooking--a bouquet of bacon, fried eggs, coffee, and fried toast, which my stay-at-home mother cooked daily for my manual-laborer father--and the reverberations of country music. Some mornings I could hear my parents talking in the kitchen when they thought I was still asleep. (I learned a lot of family secrets by eavesdropping from bed.) But mostly I listened for the kitchen radio, tuned to WIVK, from which the splendid twang of country music poured forth. My father loved Merle Haggard. My mother loved George Jones. I loved Dolly Parton, Skeeter Davis, Jean Shepard, Tammy Wynette, and Connie Smith. I adored Loretta Lynn, though it was not easy for a Tennessee girl like me to choose a Kentucky singer as her favorite. After all, Dolly had come down from the mountains in neighboring Sevier County and sung shows around our town; she had appeared on local television for years. One was expected to be loyal, to take sides, to support the home-grown hero that Dolly was becoming. But I watched Loretta on TV, too. With her big hair, big guitar, and big voice, she materialized before me in flickering living color every Saturday afternoon when I tuned in to watch The Wilburn Brothers Show, a country music variety program hosted by Doyle and Teddy Wilburn, a singing brother act from Arkansas. 

My father told me that Loretta was from Eastern Kentucky--a "child bride" was what he called her with some pity--and that she wrote most of her own songs. He admired the way she kept up with herself by thrumming out a steady rhythm on her guitar, backed by the Wilburn Brothers' house band, an old-school country knock and grind grounded in that familiar crying-shame country music accompaniment: pedal steel, bass, and electric guitar. She sang her heart out in a voice that awakened my budding musical sensibilities. I could sing along. I could pick out her songs on my grandmother's farmhouse piano. But Loretta's voice kindled the fire for that honky-tonk sound that still burns in me today. And I liked the way she looked. 

I didn't have a name for Loretta Lynn's coiffure in 1963, but now I'd call it a sort of beehive-mullet. 

Posted by at March 10, 2018 4:27 AM