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Loretta Lynn: ‘You Can’t Go Wrong Working With Jack White’

Loretta Lynn

You know you’ve led a legendary life when two memoirs aren’t enough to tell your tale. In her third book, the new Honky Tonk Girl: My Life in Lyrics (Knopf), country music icon Loretta Lynn, 76, shares the origins of groundbreaking songs like “Fist City” and “The Pill.” Even still, Jack White’s sparring partner — currently prepping a new album with T Bone Burnett — has common sense and war stories to spare. Y’all better listen up.

If you want to sing, you’ve got to put just as much into that as you do into taking care of your family.
It may not be what people want to hear, but I’m just tellin’ it like it is. Breaking into the music business is even harder for a woman. She’s got her career and she’s got her husband and kids. A woman’s got two jobs. That’s just the way you’ve got to look at it. My first four kids were in school by the time I was 22. I didn’t laugh at all back then. I was too busy to laugh.

One day I came home from bein’ on the road and my twins wouldn’t even talk to me.
I asked the woman taking care of the house why, and she said, “They’re mad at you because at the end of ‘One’s on the Way’ you said, ‘I hope it ain’t twins again.’ ” Those girls wouldn’t have a thing to do with me for two weeks. I didn’t even think about my kids hearing my songs before that, you know?

When you start writing, you gotta write night and day.
The whole time I was on the road I would write. I’d write before every show, and I’d start writing again once the show was over. I’m not saying that every song I wrote was good, but every now and then I came up with something.

You can’t go wrong working with Jack White.
Me and Jack, we made probably the most country record I ever had [2004’s Van Lear Rose], and it was a heck of a good record. It was cold country. I told him I had to get me a rock’n’roller to make a cold-country record. I’m getting ready to go into the studio and cut a record that’s from the hills now. T Bone Burnett wants me to cut all hill songs like the ones Mommy taught me. You remember “The Great Titanic”? I sang it every Friday at school growing up. And do you remember when Roy Acuff came out with “Great Speckled Bird”? And Bill Monroe had “Footprints in the Snow”? Where did those songs go? Those are the ones I’m gonna record.

I’m gonna stay out of the presidential campaign.
The first president I went to the White House for was Nixon, and since then I’ve been back for just about every one of ’em. Jimmy Carter even sent four songs backstage for me to sing at his inauguration. And wouldn’t you know what he had on his list? He had “One’s on the Way,” “Don’t Come Home a Drinkin’ (With Lovin’ on Your Mind),” “Coal Miner’s Daughter,” and “You Ain’t Woman Enough (To Take My Man).” I sang every one of ’em.

You have to give as much as you take in marriage.
I don’t think it’s just you against your husband or your husband against you. You have to put both your heads together and work as a team. There’s nothing easy about it. Being married and being on the road at the same time, it’s a hard thing. I lost my husband [Oliver “Doo” Lynn] 16 years ago. He’s been gone for so long now….I think we ought to leave it there.

You gotta say what you want to say and do it with respect.
I don’t think you should do anything to hurt anybody. If you gotta do that, you ought not to be doing it. You oughta speak your mind, as long as you ain’t makin’ anybody angry.

It’s just as hard to make it in music today as it was when I started.
You can’t afford to take days off. You have to put your nose to the grindstone and keep going. Ain’t nobody gonna hand it to you on a silver platter, that’s for sure.