Seventy-four-year-old legend Loretta Lynn, whose first single, “I’m a Honky Tonk Girl,” hit the country singles chart in 1960, is as busy as ever.
She still tours, writes songs and is working on not one but two albums. The first is a collection of her hits that she’s rerecording with John Carter Cash, the son of Johnny and June Carter Cash, while the other is a set with her sisters, Crystal Gayle and Peggy Sue. On June 19, she was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame during a ceremony in New York.
Lynn spoke recently with Billboard about the craft of songwriting and her thoughts on the modern music industry.
Billboard: When you write songs, do you write them with the intention to record them or as a way to express yourself?
Loretta Lynn: What started me writing was a way to express myself, to get back at my husband for whatever he was doing. You know, “Take that! I’m a honky-tonk girl!” I didn’t even know hardly what a honky-tonk girl was.
Billboard: Did you realize songs like “Fist City” and “The Pill” would be controversial?
Lynn: Not really. I mean, I never took the pill. That’s why I’ve got kids, kids, kids. I never dreamed people would holler about it. But every song that they would holler about would go to No. 1 for me. So I thought, “You know, this is not a bad deal. I’ll just write whatever I’m feeling,” and that’s what I did.
Billboard: You’ve been inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame and have won many awards through the years. But how does it feel to be recognized specifically for your songwriting?
Lynn: When I was inducted into the (Country) Hall of Fame, that tickled me to death. But this one makes me the proudest.
Billboard: What can you tell us about your new albums?
Lynn: I’ve been in the studio recording for six months (with John Carter Cash). I’m cutting all the old hits over and putting down some new ones that I’m writing. Me and Crystal and Peggy, we’re getting our songs ready too. I said, “Girls? We need to write three songs for this album for the three of us.” I imagine I’ll be talking to MCA (about releasing the albums) before I talk to anyone else.
Billboard: What are your thoughts on shows like “American Idol” and “Nashville Star,” which give young artists record deals? And how do you think you would have done on a show like that?
Lynn: If there would’ve been “American Idol,” (my husband/manager Doolittle Lynn) would’ve had me on there, because he was the one that got me going. But after he got me started and I was gone so much, he said he wished he would’ve never gotten me into it because it kind of separated us from being together a lot. I would’ve probably passed out before I went out, knowing how bashful I was. I could’ve never done it by myself. But some of them I like. Carrie Underwood — look how great she is. Kelly Clarkson, she’s fantastic.
Billboard: When you co-write a song, do you have to work harder to get your point across?
Lynn: No, because I don’t write deep. I think if you have to listen to a song real close, it’s not going to make it. A good song will tell you what the story is on the first verse. And I like that. If you can’t tell what my song is about after the first verse, you are in trouble.