by Jane Roser
The first time I sang the old Carter Family tune “The Titanic” in public, I was sitting at a large dinner table in a dacha located in a small Russian village in the Ural Mountains. The town mayor was across from me and our host, a former KGB agent, was solemn as I finished the rather depressing song. I was later told that, although they didn’t understand the lyrics, the guests could feel it’s heart and soul.
This is how I felt when I first saw “The Titanic” on YouTube performed by Mrs. Webb, Loretta Lynn’s mama, and her family. A song that Sissy Spacek later told me at a book signing was Mrs. Webb’s favorite to sing to her children and it’s the tune I most love on the Coal Miner’s Daughter soundtrack and it, like all of Miss Loretta’s songs (although this particular one wasn’t written by her) are timeless, honest and true Americana.
I saw Loretta Lynn perform live for the first time last year at the 9:30 Club in DC. I HAD to go. I have always regretted not going to Johnny Cash’s show there in the 80’s and there was no way in hell that I was missing another music legend. And she was a hoot. Getting her sparkly prom-like gown caught in the microphone she mused “Uh oh. My dress is done caught. Oh well. If it falls off, it falls off.” And the show at the Keswick Theatre on November 30th was also not short on charm, storytelling and honest to God love of music.
Loretta’s daughter, Patsy walked on the stage to introduce the show “Celebrating over fifty years of my mom and country music” and telling the audience how most of her mother’s songs were written about her daddy. “Whatever he was up to the whole world knew about it.”
After a warm up by the Lynns, Patsy and twin sister Peggy’s band, Loretta Lynn came onstage to hoots and hollers by the audience to sing “Love’s Gonna Live Here Again”. Backed by her eight piece band The Coal Miners, all dignified looking country gent, including one rather colorful man who reminded me of Twisted Sister in a suit.
Loretta sang most of her hits, streamlining one into another with no introductions at first. “You’re Lookin’ At Country”, “When The Tingle Become A Chill”, “You Ain’t Woman Enough” and my all time favorite, the bad ass, kick ’em in the balls song “Fist City”. Seriously, any woman who can write a song like that has my vote for city council.
At the 9:30 Club show, Loretta treated us to a Patsy Cline medley. Here, at the Keswick, she performed a medley of gospel tunes, which I never knew existed. I love it when established artists perform little known songs as well as their hits that cross all genres. I always learn something new.
“I love you!” was shouted from the audience more than once. The Queen of Country sweetly cooed “I love you, too honey”. I was reminded of Sissy Spacek’s stage mannerisms in Coal Miners Daughter, because they were emulated on stage now when Loretta Lynn looked over her shoulder at her band or used hand gestures to punctuate the song lyrics or when she wrapped the microphone cord around her hand then pulled it taunt. Little nuances such as these were magical in my eye.
“Louisiana Woman, Mississippi Man” is a duet Loretta Lynn recorded with Conway Twitty. It peaked at #1 on the Billboard Country Chart in 1973 and the cheers escalated as Miss Loretta sang it with the Coal Miners’ lead singer.
“How y’all doing tonight? I love you, too honey. It’s getting cold outside. People are in their shorts today? Oh my. They think they’re in Florida”. Loretta mentioned that they have had the last two weeks off for the Thanksgiving holiday and “That’s why I’m not singing good” (although I think we would all beg to differ!) Two taps on the drumsticks led right into “You Ain’t Woman Enough”, another take that, tramp! song sung with determination and bravado.
When she asked “What do y’all wanna hear next?” I’m the dork who shouted “Titanic!” because you never know, but she chose “I’ve Got Your Picture, She’s Got You”. Which was a good choice, because it’s equally as depressing a song as a doomed ocean liner. “One’s On The Way” and “The Pill” sauntered up next. Loretta Lynn explained that her twins were none too thrilled with “One’s On The Way’s” final lyric “I hope it ain’t twins again” and refused to speak to her for three weeks after she returned from touring.
Next up came “Your Squaw is on the Warpath” (“Everyone’s been hollering for this song lately”) “Dear Uncle Sam” was followed by feisty renditions of “Honky Tonk Girl” and “Don’t Come Home A Drinkin’ (With Lovin’ On Your Mind)”. One of the Coal Miners then said “Miss Loretta, I think that’s the prettiest dress. Doesn’t Loretta look pretty tonight everyone?” Loretta replied “You know what he’s fishin’ for? He wants to get paid.” To which the Coal Miner joked “It’d be nice for a change”.
The Coal Miners sang a few ditties, including the ever-popular-since-that-
Loretta Lynn always ends her concerts with her signature song “Coal Miner’s Daughter”. Listening to her sing this, I pictured the film credits rolling with Sissy, Tommy Lee, Beverly and Levon on screen accentuating the song’s autobiographical lyrics. I could almost even picture Loretta Lynn saying to her youngin’ “I done wrote me a song Betty Sue. Your mama’s a dadgum songwriter”.
Yessim. She sure as hell is.