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'Fresh Air' remembers country superstar Loretta Lynn

DAVE DAVIES, HOST:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Dave Davies, in for Terry Gross. Loretta Lynn, one of America's most beloved and influential country music stars, died yesterday at her home in Tennessee. She was 90. Lynn was famous for her singing, her songwriting and her life story, told in the 1980 film "Coal Miner's Daughter." The film was adapted from Lynn's memoir, which described how she grew up in poverty in eastern Kentucky, became a wife at age 15 and, after having four children, started writing songs and performing. She made her debut on the Grand Ole Opry in 1960. Lynn became the first woman to be named entertainer of the year by the Country Music Association in 1972, and in 1988, she was inducted into the Country Hall of Fame. Sixteen of her songs reached No. 1 on the country charts. In her New York Times obituary, Bill Friskics-Warren wrote, quote, "Ms. Lynn built her stardom not only on her music but also on her image as a symbol of rural pride and determination. Her music was rooted in the verities of honky tonk country and the Appalachian songs she had grown up singing."

Terry interviewed Loretta Lynn in 2010. A tribute CD had been released, which featured her songs recorded by The White Stripes, Steve Earle, Miranda Lambert and others. They started with Loretta's first recording, "Honky Tonk Girl," followed by the version on the tribute album performed by Lee Ann Womack.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I'M A HONKY TONK GIRL")

LORETTA LYNN: (Singing) Ever since you left me, I've done nothing but wrong. Many nights, I've laid awake and cried. We once were happy. My heart was in a whirl. But now I'm a honky tonk girl. So turn...

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I'M A HONKY TONK GIRL")

LEE ANN WOMACK: (Singing) So turn that jukebox way up high and fill my glass up while I cry. I've lost everything in this world. And now I'm a honky tonk girl.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

TERRY GROSS: And so we heard Loretta Lynn singing her song "I'm A Honky Tonk Girl," and then LeAnn Womack from the new Loretta Lynn tribute, "Coal Miner's Daughter." Loretta Lynn, what a great pleasure to have you on the show. Thank you so much for coming.

LYNN: Thank you, Terry. It's really nice to be on your show.

GROSS: Now, did you pick the performers on the new tribute CD?

LYNN: Well, I told them who...

GROSS: And did you talk with them at all about the songs?

LYNN: No, I didn't talk to them. I just told my manager who I would like to have on the, you know, the record. And the next thing I knew, they were here. And we did the album. We had a good time. Me and Sheryl Crow and Miranda Lambert did the video down at my house, and we were there all day long, so we had a good time.

GROSS: Now, the song we just heard, that's the first song you wrote. It was your first record released in 1960.

LYNN: Right.

GROSS: You say you wrote it in 20 minutes on a $17 guitar that your husband bought for you...

LYNN: That's true.

GROSS: ...Because he thought you sang well, and you wrote a song because he told you to. Do you think you ever would have written or performed if your husband didn't say that's what you should do?

LYNN: No, I wouldn't have because I was too bashful. I wouldn't get out in front of people. I wouldn't - you know, I was really bashful. And I wouldn't - I would have never sang in front anybody.

GROSS: So when you wrote "Honky Tonk Girl" with absolutely no songwriting experience, how did you approach writing a song?

LYNN: You know, I just sat down with my guitar. I was outside. In fact, I was leaning up against the old toilet out there in the West Coast, in Washington state.

GROSS: Did you say the toilet?

LYNN: The old toilet, yeah.

GROSS: OK.

LYNN: And I sat there and wrote "Honky Tonk Girl" and "Whispering Sea."

GROSS: So what made you think of the story that you tell in "Honky Tonk Girl?"

LYNN: Well, I think I probably listened to a bunch of people, you know, their songs and stuff. And I figured, well, I can - if they can write, I can, too. So I just said, hey, I'm going to tell a story. And that's what I did.

GROSS: And had you hung out at honky tonks, or did you know them from songs?

LYNN: No. When I first started writing, my husband got me a job at this little bar. And me and a steel player and my brother, he played the fiddle and sang. So we sang together. And so we really had a good time, you know? And I wrote "Honky Tonk Girl" and "Whispering Sea" during that time.

GROSS: So you were doing some performing.

LYNN: Yeah, I had just started. In fact, I had never sang in front of anybody till my husband pushed me out there. You know, I'd never been out and sang for anybody.

GROSS: But at home, you sang.

LYNN: I rocked the babies to sleep. And in Kentucky, when I was growing up with my sisters and brothers, we all sang and rocked the babies to sleep, you know? But that was about as far as we ever did, you know.

GROSS: So when you recorded your first single, "Honky Tonk Girl," you were 24. You'd already been married for 11 years because you got married when you were 13. And you already had four children. Do I have that right?

LYNN: I had four kids.

GROSS: And the twins came a little bit later.

LYNN: Yeah, the twins come later.

GROSS: What was your life like as a wife and mother before you started recording?

LYNN: It wasn't easy. Me and my husband both worked. I took care of the farmhouse. I cleaned and cooked for 36 ranch hands.

GROSS: Wow.

LYNN: And - yeah - before I started singing. And so singing was easy. I thought, gee, whiz, this is an easy job.

GROSS: Wait. So you cooked and cleaned for 36 ranch hands and had four children.

LYNN: Sure did. Paid the rent on the old house that we lived in, and that's what I did to make the rent. Yeah.

GROSS: Wow.

LYNN: It wasn't easy, let me tell you. Life was hard.

GROSS: So when you made your first appearance on the Opry, which was the same year that you recorded "Honky Tonk Girl"...

LYNN: Right.

GROSS: ...You weren't used to performing on such a prestigious stage in front of...

LYNN: Oh, no.

GROSS: ...An audience like that. Did you know how to perform on stage in a place like the Opry?

LYNN: Not really. I just got on there with my guitar, and I sang. I mean, I just did it just like I was doing it at home, you know? I never thought about it being the Grand Ole Opry because if I had, I wouldn't have been able to have done it. You just pretty well got to figure, well, you know, this is something like you do every day.

GROSS: Right (laughter). It's so much like what you do every day.

LYNN: Yeah (laughter).

GROSS: So the next song we're going to hear is a song that you first recorded in 1966, "Don't Come Home A Drinkin' (With Lovin' On Your Mind)." And this is a great song. Gretchen Wilson sings it on the tribute CD. We're going to hear your version. But first, I want to hear the story of how you wrote it. You'd already had about six years of songwriting experience behind you. You probably were no longer leaning against the toilet when you wrote this.

LYNN: I was probably - Doo had fixed me a little writing room at this time out in Goodlettsville.

GROSS: Doo is your husband - was your late husband.

LYNN: Doo was my husband, yes. And he's the only one I've ever had. And so he fixed me this little writing room, and I'd go out there, and I'd write. And this is one of the songs that I wrote was "Don't Come Home A Drinkin' (With Lovin' On Your Mind)."

GROSS: And at this point, did you feel like I know how to write a song?

LYNN: Oh, yeah. When I wrote "Don't Come Home A Drinkin'", I knew I could write because I'd had quite a few on the charts by that time.

GROSS: Now, you've said that your husband is in every song that you've written in a large way or in a small way.

LYNN: Still is. I mean (laughter), if I write a song, he's in there somewhere.

GROSS: Were you thinking of him when you wrote this song?

LYNN: Oh, yeah.

GROSS: Would he come home after drinking like that?

LYNN: Well, sure. If a man drinks, he's going to come home drinking. He liked to drink.

GROSS: Was the song intended to send him a message at all?

LYNN: Not really. I probably told him many times I didn't have to sing about it.

GROSS: Yeah (laughter). OK. Well, let's hear the song.

LYNN: All right.

GROSS: This is "Don't Come Home A Drinkin'," recorded in 1966 by Loretta Lynn.

LYNN: Right.

GROSS: And it was a No. 1 country music chart hit.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DON'T COME HOME A DRINKIN'")

LYNN: (Singing) Well, you thought I'd be waiting up when you came home last night. You'd been out with all the boys, and you ended up half tight. But liquor and love, they just don't mix. Leave the bottle or me behind. And don't come home a-drinking with loving on your mind. No, don't come home a-drinking with loving on your mind. Just stay out there on the town and see what you can find. 'Cause if you want that kind of love, well, you don't need none of mine. So don't come home a-drinking with loving on your mind.

GROSS: That was Loretta Lynn, recorded in 1966. And there's a new Loretta Lynn tribute CD. And on that CD, that song is performed by Gretchen Wilson.

Now, when you started performing, Patsy Cline was your mentor until she died.

LYNN: But, you know, she hadn't been in the business that long when I come to Nashville. She'd only been singing two or three years. And, yeah.

GROSS: So she must have really related to what you were going through.

LYNN: Oh, yeah. We talked a lot.

GROSS: What were some of the things that she taught you that really helped you a lot? Things relating to - you know, from clothing to performing style to dealing with the music industry...

LYNN: Well, she kind of helped me...

GROSS: Yeah, go ahead.

LYNN: ...You know, with the style and everything that I was - you know, I was in blue jeans and a T-shirt or blue jeans and just a Western shirt. And she taught me a lot how to dress and...

GROSS: What did she tell you about how to dress?

LYNN: Well, she told me to get out of the jeans, you know? Course, I would wear them till we get to the radio station, and then, I'd get in the back seat and put on my dress. And then, I'd take the dress off and go back into my jeans and wait till the next radio station.

(LAUGHTER)

LYNN: And then, I'd go back into my dress again.

GROSS: And did she give you any advice about performing?

LYNN: Not really. I think she wanted me to learn that on my own. And I think it's best for every artist to learn on their own what they going to do on stage and how they act. And I don't think anybody else can teach you that.

DAVIES: We are listening to an interview Terry Gross recorded in 2010 with Loretta Lynn, who died yesterday at the age of 90. We'll hear more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF LORETTA LYNN SONG, "MRS. LEROY BROWN")

GROSS: I want to play another song that you wrote. And this was a song that was actually pretty controversial at the time it came out, and it's called "Rated 'X.'"

LYNN: Yeah.

GROSS: And I'm going to let you describe what the song's about.

LYNN: Well, it's about a woman that's been married and divorced. And I'll just let you listen to it.

GROSS: OK. And what I want to do, I want to go to the tribute CD. The White Stripes have a really good, reworked, like, reinterpreted version of this.

LYNN: Yeah.

GROSS: And I know you've worked with Jack White before. He produced a terrific album of yours...

LYNN: Oh, yeah.

GROSS: ...In 2004 called "Van Lear Rose."

LYNN: Right.

GROSS: So do you want to say anything about the White Stripes version of your song?

LYNN: Well, I think whatever Jack does is good. I mean, you can't - I mean, he's good. You have to love him. So this is good.

GROSS: OK, so this is the song Loretta Lynn wrote. She recorded it in 1971. It's called "Rated 'X'". And here's the White Stripes from the Loretta Lynn tribute album, "Coal Miner's Daughter."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "RATED 'X'")

THE WHITE STRIPES: (Singing) Well, if you'd been a married woman and things didn't seem to work out, divorce is the key to being loose and free. But you're going to be talked about. Everybody knows that you've loved once. They think you'll love again. You can't have a male friend when you're a has-been or a woman. You're rated X. And if you're rated X, you're some kind of gold that even men turning silver'll try to make. But I think it's wrong to judge every picture if a cheap camera makes a mistake. So if your best friend's husband says to you that you started looking good, you should have known he would, and he would if he could, and he will if you're rated X. Well...

GROSS: That's the White Stripes from the new Loretta Lynn tribute album "Coal Miner's Daughter." And also, Loretta Lynn's famous memoir, "Coal Miner's Daughter," has been published in a new edition.

Now, we were talking before about writing from a woman's point of view, which "Rated 'X'" most certainly is, you know, about what it's like to be a divorced woman when men think that you're available and try to take advantage of you and you have a reputation. So why was this song controversial?

LYNN: I think it was because, you know, you're a - been a married woman. I think it - when you write about it, they take it to heart, too, you know? They - people do. So I think that was it. It just starts out, if you'd been a married woman, things didn't seem to work out. Divorce is the key to being loose and free. So you're going to be talked about. So that's exactly how it is, you know?

GROSS: When you called it "Rated 'X'" I mean, do you think some people thought, oh, this is going to be a very provocative, sexy (laughter)...

LYNN: Oh, yeah. You know, a lot of...

GROSS: ...Song 'cause it's called "Rated 'X'"?

LYNN: Yeah, a lot of the disc jockeys, you know, banned it before they even listened to it. And, you know, after it got way up in the charts, and they all flipped the record, started listening to it and playing it. But, you know, another old, dirty record from Loretta Lynn.

(LAUGHTER)

GROSS: Now, something that was even more controversial than "Rated 'X'" was your song "The Pill," which is about...

LYNN: That's right, "The Pill" and "One's On The Way." And, you know, we have a lot of them that says it like it is. So that's - really, I guess, we're not to talk about the way it is (laughter).

GROSS: This has some lyrics that I think, you know, really were controversial in some country music circles at the time. And the lyrics include, this old maternity dress I've got is going in the garbage. And you've set this chicken your last time because now I've got the pill.

LYNN: Yeah.

GROSS: I'm tearing down this brooder house because now I've got the pill.

LYNN: Yeah.

GROSS: So the song sounds autobiographical in some ways. I'm not saying that you are necessarily angry in the way that the character in the song is angry. But you had six children.

LYNN: I had six kids. I lost three.

GROSS: You lost three?

LYNN: I lost three.

GROSS: Oh, I'm sorry. I didn't realize that.

LYNN: I was about five and six - well, it wasn't - you know, I lost them before they were born.

GROSS: Oh. So you had six and lost three others? Wow.

LYNN: Yeah.

GROSS: That's a lot of pregnancies.

LYNN: Yeah.

(LAUGHTER)

GROSS: Yeah. Right. OK. Stating the obvious. Did you share the song's anger?

LYNN: Well, I sure didn't like it when I got pregnant a few times, you know? It's hard for a woman to have so many kids. And, well, at the time, I guess I had four. And then I got pregnant and had - you know, with the twins. But, yeah, I was a little angry.

GROSS: Let's hear it. And this was released in 1975...

LYNN: All right.

GROSS: ...Recorded in 1972. This is Loretta Lynn, "The Pill."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE PILL")

LYNN: (Singing) You wined me and dined me when I was your girl, promised if I'd be your wife, you'd show me the world. But all I've seen of this old world is a bed and a doctor bill. I'm tearing down your brooder house 'cause now I've got the pill. All these years I've stayed at home while you had all your fun. And every year that's gone by another baby's come. There's going to be some changes made right here on nursery hill. You've set this chicken your last time 'cause now I've got the pill. This old maternity dress I've got is going in the garbage. The clothes I'm wearing from now on won't take up so much yardage. Miniskirts, hot pants and a few little fancy frills - yeah, I'm making up for all those years since I've got the pill.

GROSS: That's Loretta Lynn, recorded in 1972. It was released in '75. The song is called "The Pill." Now, you've said that you never even used the pill as birth control (laughter).

LYNN: Well, if I'd had it, I'd have used it. At the time I...

GROSS: I see. Right.

LYNN: Yeah, because even - back when I was having all the kids, we didn't have birth control pills. Or if they did, I didn't know anything about them.

GROSS: Well, so you write that there's a lot you didn't know about, that you were 13 when you got married in 1947. And you say you didn't even...

LYNN: Didn't know anything about sex either, did I (laughter)?

GROSS: No. You said you didn't know anything about sex...

LYNN: No.

GROSS: ...Or even pregnancy. You say when you got pregnant, you didn't even know the word. Is that right?

LYNN: Well, I don't know. I guess we just called it having a baby. We didn't call it pregnant. Back in Butcher Holler, there was a lot of things we didn't know...

GROSS: So...

LYNN: ...A lot of things they still don't know back there (laughter).

GROSS: When I think of you getting married at 13, it just seems so young.

LYNN: Well, it is. It is way too young.

GROSS: So when you got married, about a year afterwards, you moved to the state of Washington.

LYNN: Washington state.

GROSS: Far away. Did you feel lost for a while when you moved away from...

LYNN: Oh, yeah.

GROSS: ...Your family and everything you knew?

LYNN: Yeah. Daddy said, he told me he wouldn't take you away where I couldn't see you (laughter). And here I was, 3,000 miles away two months after he married me.

GROSS: Wow. I was thinking what it must've been like for you to be, you know, so far away from home at the age of, like, 15...

LYNN: Yeah.

GROSS: ...Having children already. You probably had no idea you were ever going to become famous.

LYNN: No. Never. And. I still don't (laughter). I'm not famous. I'm just me.

DAVIES: Loretta Lynn speaking with Terry Gross in 2010. Loretta Lynn died yesterday at her home in Tennessee. We'll hear more of their conversation in the second half of the show. And Sissy Spacek will talk about what it was like to play Loretta Lynn in the 1980 film "Coal Miner's Daughter." She won an Oscar for that role. I'm Dave Davies. And this is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "YOU AIN’T WOMAN ENOUGH")

LYNN: (Singing) You've come to tell me something you say I ought to know, that he don't love me anymore and I'll have to let him go. You say you're going to take him. Oh, but I don't think you can 'cause you ain't woman enough to take my man. Women like you, they're a dime a dozen. You can buy them anywhere. For you to get to him, I'd have to move over. And I'm going to stand right here.

(SOUNDBITE OF BILL FRISELL'S "KEEP YOUR EYES OPEN")

DAVIES: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Dave Davies, in for Terry Gross. We're remembering country music singer and songwriter Loretta Lynn, who died yesterday at the age of 90. Her life's story was made famous in the 1980 film "Coal Miner's Daughter," which was based on her memoir of the same name. Her song "Coal Miner's Daughter" hit No. 1 on the Billboard country chart when it was released in 1969.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "COAL MINER'S DAUGHTER")

LYNN: (Singing) Well, I was born a coal miner's daughter in a cabin on a hill in Butcher Holler. We were poor, but we had love. That's the one thing that Daddy made sure of. He shoveled coal to make a poor man's dollar. My Daddy worked all night in the Van Lear coal mines, all day long in the field hoeing corn. Mommy rocked the babies at night and read the Bible by the coal-oil light. And everything would start all over come break of morn. Daddy loved and raised eight kids on a miner's pay.

DAVIES: Sissy Spacek won an Oscar for her portrayal of Loretta Lynn in the 1980 film "Coal Miner's Daughter." But she told Terry when they spoke in 2012 that she was initially reluctant to take the role and didn't know why she was being offered it.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

SISSY SPACEK: Because Loretta had looked - she'd been brought a stack of 8-by-10 glossies by the studio. And they said, go through these. These are some of the young actresses that we were thinking might be good to play you. And she got to me. And she said, that's the coal miner's daughter. And she did not - she'd never seen any of my work. She's - I ask her why, what - you know, what was it about it? She said, I don't know. I just had a feeling. And Loretta's like that.

But she was going on - she was so amazing. And she was on the Johnny Carson show several times a month, and also on Merv Griffin. She was just a favorite guest. She was so darling when she was on these shows and so entertaining. Everybody loved her. And she would always say, well, little Sissy Spacek, she's going to play me. And I'd be watching the show. And I'd - you know, when you're young, you like to think - you like to believe that you have some control over your destiny. As an older person, I realize now that that is not the case at all. But at that time, I believed that.

And so when I heard this woman saying that, I was going to be like, now, just a minute. I don't - I haven't met you. I haven't made a decision about what I'm going to do. So that was why. That was why. But then I met her, and everything changed.

GROSS: So let's hear a little bit of you singing as Loretta Lynn in the movie, the title song "Coal Miner's Daughter."

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "COAL MINER'S DAUGHTER")

SPACEK: (As Loretta Lynn, singing) Well I was born a coal miner's daughter in a cabin on a hill in Butcher Holler. We were poor, but we had love. That's the one thing my daddy made sure of. He shoveled coal to make a poor man's dollar. Daddy loved and raised eight kids on a miner's pay. Mommy scrubbed our clothes on a washboard every day. Well, I've seen her fingers bleed. To complain, there was no need. She'd smile in Mommy's understanding way.

GROSS: My guest is Sissy Spacek. That's an excerpt from the film "Coal Miner's Daughter," in which she played Loretta Lynn. And Sissy Spacek has a new memoir called "My Extraordinary Ordinary Life."

How much did you have to change your style of singing to sound like Loretta Lynn?

SPACEK: I thought that I changed it a lot. And I...

GROSS: Well, you got that whole twangy, country thing going.

SPACEK: Yeah. But there's something about the way Loretta - nobody else sings like Loretta. And nobody talks like Loretta. In fact, nobody in Kentucky even sounds like Loretta.

GROSS: (Laughter).

SPACEK: There's something that she does with her breath that just - and her accent is just unique. And once I captured that, her rhythm, the hardest part of "Coal Miner's Daughter" for me was giving it all up, it was not being Loretta. I was so funny when I was Loretta. I had such a - she has such a great sense of humor. But, you know, early in my career, my brother, who was in the music business with Decca Records, took me there once to - when I first went to New York and set up a meeting for me. That's my brother Ed, my older brother. And so all these agents filed in. I guess they weren't agents. They were executives. They all filed in. And I played my guitar and sang. And then they listened. And they nodded their heads. And then they filed out. And I waited. And a little bit later, one of them came back in. And they said, you know, we have another artist that's very much like you, Loretta Lynn. And I was probably 18 at the time. And I was like, I do not sound like Loretta Lynn.

GROSS: (Laughter).

SPACEK: And who's Loretta Lynn (laughter)? But I thought that was pretty funny later in life.

GROSS: Well, I want to thank you so much for talking with us.

SPACEK: Thank you, Terry. I've enjoyed this so much.

DAVIES: That was Sissy Spacek speaking with Terry Gross in 2012. Coming up after a break, the final part of Terry's interview with Loretta Lynn as we continue to remember the country music star who died yesterday. This is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF BILL FRISELL'S "MR. MEMORY")

DAVIES: This is FRESH AIR. We're remembering country music singer and songwriter Loretta Lynn, who died yesterday at the age of 90. Terry Gross interviewed her in 2010.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

GROSS: Well, I want to play another song, and this is a song that's covered on the new tribute album. But we'll hear your version. And this is "After The Fire Is Gone," and it's one of the hit duets that you recorded with Conway Twitty. So this song is attributed to L.E. White, a songwriter I'm not familiar with.

LYNN: Yeah. L.E. White wrote this song. It was one of Conway's writers.

GROSS: Oh, I see. And so they brought the song to you.

LYNN: Yeah.

GROSS: How did you start recording with Conway Twitty? These duets are so good.

LYNN: Me and Conway went overseas. There was a whole crew of people went overseas to, you know, perform. And me and Conway started singing in the dressing rooms. So we thought, well, when we get home we'll sing to Owen Bradley and see what he thinks. So...

GROSS: Owen Bradley was your producer.

LYNN: Our producer, yeah.

GROSS: And, obviously, he liked it.

LYNN: He loved it. He says you all get in the studio and let's record. So that's what we did.

GROSS: Some of the songs are like, oh, we're so attracted to each other, but it's wrong, so we really shouldn't. And then...

LYNN: Yeah.

GROSS: ...And this one is after the fire is gone.

LYNN: After the fire's gone.

GROSS: So this was recorded in 1970, went to No. 1 on the country charts and...

LYNN: Yeah, everybody thought me and Conway had a thing going, you know...

GROSS: Oh, but you didn't.

LYNN: ...'Cause of the song we recorded. But me and Conway were friends. We wasn't lovers.

GROSS: Right. So on the tribute album, on the Loretta Lynn tribute album, "Coal Miner's Daughter," this duet is covered by Steve Earle and Allison Moorer, who are, in fact, married. But we're going to hear your version with Conway Twitty. So here it is.

LYNN: OK.

GROSS: This is Loretta Lynn and Conway Twitty.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "AFTER THE FIRE IS GONE")

LORETTA LYNN AND CONWAY TWITTY: (Singing) Love is where you find it when you find no love at home. And there's nothin' cold as ashes after the fire is gone.

CONWAY TWITTY: (Singing) The bottle is almost empty. The clock just now struck 10. Darlin', I had to call you to our favorite place again.

LYNN: (Singing) We know it's wrong for us to meet, but the fire's gone out at home.

LYNN AND TWITTY: (Singing) And there's nothin' cold as ashes after the fire is gone. Love is where you find it when you find no love at home. And there's nothin' cold as ashes after the fire gone.

GROSS: That's Loretta Lynn and Conway Twitty recorded in 1970, a song that went to No. 1 on the country charts. Now, there's one kind of song you've written that I haven't asked you about. And that is the I am so angry, you'd better be careful because if you take my man, I will actually hit you kind of song.

LYNN: Is that "Fist City?"

GROSS: I'm thinking of "Fist City," yeah.

LYNN: Oh.

GROSS: And it's not exactly a sisterhood is powerful kind of song. The lyric is, if you don't want to go to fist city, you'd better detour around my town or else I'll grab you by the hair of your head and lift you off the ground.

LYNN: Yeah.

GROSS: So tell me about writing a lyric like this where - I mean, it's, like, real physical anger.

LYNN: Well, there was an old gal that tried to take Doolittle away from me.

GROSS: There was somebody who tried that.

LYNN: Yeah, there was somebody. And - but she didn't make it.

GROSS: Did you threaten her?

LYNN: Yes, I did (laughter) with more than a song.

GROSS: And not in rhyme.

LYNN: That's right. It didn't rhyme at all.

(LAUGHTER)

GROSS: What did you tell her?

LYNN: I just told her back off. She's playing with the wrong (inaudible).

GROSS: You know what's amazing to me? Like, why would somebody think that they could compete with you? And also, maybe I'm speaking out of turn here, but, like, why would your husband...

LYNN: Well, that's how women take your husband away from you all the time, so...

GROSS: Yeah.

LYNN: They all think that, you know.

GROSS: Right. So was it right after this incident that you sat down and wrote the song?

LYNN: You know, I don't know exactly when I wrote the song, but I'm pretty sure that I had some things in mind when I wrote it. I won't talk about it.

GROSS: That's fine. But do you think she knew that it was about her?

LYNN: I just imagine.

GROSS: You imagine that she did.

LYNN: I imagine she did.

GROSS: OK.

LYNN: I probably told her.

GROSS: Oh, nice (laughter).

LYNN: Yeah.

GROSS: OK. So this is "Fist City." This is Loretta Lynn, one of her many hits.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FIST CITY")

LYNN: (Singing) You've been making your brags around town that you've been lovin' my man. But the man I love, when he picks up trash, he puts it in a garbage can. And that's what you look like to me and what I see is a pity. You better close your face and stay out of my way if you don't want to go to fist city. If you don't want to go to fist city, you better detour around my town. 'Cause I'll grab you by the hair of the head and I'll lift you off of the ground. I'm not sayin' my baby's a saint 'cause he ain't and that he won't cat around with a kitty. I'm here to tell you gal to lay off my man if you don't want to go to fist city. Come on and tell me what you told my friends if you think you're brave enough. And I'll show you what a real woman is since you think you're hot stuff. You'll bite off more than you can chew if you get to cute or witty. You better move your feet if you don't want to eat a meal that's called fist city.

GROSS: So that was "Fist City" featuring Loretta Lynn. And I should mention, too, that Loretta Lynn's famous memoir, "Coal Miner's Daughter," has been published in a new edition. I want to play another song. And this is something more recent than what we've been hearing. This is your collaboration with Jack White. He produced an album of yours in 2004, "Van Lear Rose." How did you meet?

LYNN: I went to Detroit to work, and Jack White came to see me. And of course, he told me about when he was little. He was about 9 years old. When "Coal Miner's Daughter" came out, he stayed in the theater the whole time, all day long and watched "Coal Miner's Daughter" over and over and over. So when he got a chance to work with me, he says - I told him I had to go home because - I said, I've got to hurry because I got to record tomorrow. He says, well, how about me coming - being the producer? I said, well, why not? That's how we got together. So he was in Nashville by the time I was. And we recorded, and that's how we started. He lives here in Nashville now.

GROSS: Oh, I didn't realize that.

LYNN: Oh, yeah. He lives here in Nashville.

GROSS: Oh.

LYNN: So, yeah.

GROSS: So you're good friends now?

LYNN: Oh, yeah.

GROSS: Oh, that's great.

LYNN: We've always been good friends ever since we did the album.

GROSS: The track I want to play is called "Miss Being Mrs." You wrote all the songs on this album. And this is one of my favorites. I like the song a lot, and also, I just love how stripped down it is. It's just you and a guitar. Is that Jack White on guitar?

LYNN: That's Jack White.

GROSS: OK. Do you want to say anything about writing this song?

LYNN: Well, you know, I don't like to talk about the way I write songs. I just let people hear them, and they know what I'm talking about.

GROSS: All right, good enough. So this is Loretta Lynn from the 2004 album, "Van Lear Rose," produced by Jack White, who's accompanying her on guitar.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MISS BEING MRS.")

LYNN: (Singing) I lie here all alone in my bed of memories. I'm dreaming of your sweet kiss. Oh, how you loved on me. I can almost feel you with me here in this blue moonlight. Oh, I miss being Mrs. tonight. Like so many other hearts, mine wanted to be free. I've been out here every day since you've been away from me. My reflection in the mirror, it's such a hurtful sight. Oh, I miss being Mrs. tonight. Oh, I miss being Mrs. tonight. Oh, and how I loved them loving arms that held me so tight. I took off my wedding band and put it on my right hand. I miss being Mrs. tonight.

GROSS: That's my guest, Loretta Lynn, with Jack White on guitar from the album "Van Lear Rose," which Jack White produced of Loretta Lynn's songs in 2004.

Your husband, who we've spoken a little bit about, died in 1996. And you didn't perform for a while after that. How has your life changed since he's been gone?

LYNN: Well, not for the better. I mean, I miss him so much, you know? He kind of kept things going like me recording - and he'd always tell me how good I was, you know? And that always helped a lot. And he would say, you know, we need to get a new record out or whatever. He always kept me moving. And if it hadn't been for him, I wouldn't have been singing, period, because he thought I could sing. And that's - he put me to work.

GROSS: You know, so many people are, I think, kind of baffled a little bit by the relationship 'cause it seems, in some ways, to have been a very rocky relationship. And at the same time, you stayed with him throughout.

LYNN: Oh, we had a - I think we had a relationship. We fought one day and would love the next. So, I mean, that - to me, that's a good relationship. If you can't fight and if you can't tell each other what you think, why, your relationship ain't much anyway.

GROSS: You don't need him anymore to tell him (ph) you're a good singer, right? I mean, you know that, right?

LYNN: Well, I don't know about that, but I try.

GROSS: So this year was the 50th anniversary of your first single.

LYNN: Right.

GROSS: This year, you got a Lifetime Achievement Grammy. How much are you performing now?

LYNN: I'm performing quite a bit. We've been home for two or three weeks. It's been quite a bit of time off for us 'cause we don't usually take that kind of time off. But I work a lot. But I like it. I don't like to sit down. I don't like to not do something.

GROSS: Well, Loretta Lynn, it's really been great to talk with you. Thank you so very much.

LYNN: Well, it's been nice to talk to you, honey.

DAVIES: Loretta Lynn speaking with Terry Gross in 2010. Loretta Lynn died yesterday at her home in Tennessee. She was 90 years old.

Coming up, we remember another musical figure, jazz producer Sue Mingus, who was married to the bassist and composer Charles Mingus and formed a number of tribute groups which performed Mingus' music after his death. We'll be back in a minute. This is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHARLES MINGUS' "GOODBYE PORK PIE HAT") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Combine an intelligent interviewer with a roster of guests that, according to the Chicago Tribune, would be prized by any talk-show host, and you're bound to get an interesting conversation. Fresh Air interviews, though, are in a category by themselves, distinguished by the unique approach of host and executive producer Terry Gross. "A remarkable blend of empathy and warmth, genuine curiosity and sharp intelligence," says the San Francisco Chronicle.