This story appeared in The Journal Gazette on Oct. 14, 2007.
Loretta Lynn doesn't pull punches.
She recently attended a Webb family reunion in Kentucky (Webb is Lynn's real last name), and aspects of it disturbed her.
"It was a mess," she said in a phone interview. "Fourth and fifth cousins coming out of the woodwork. I'd ask (sister Crystal Gayle), `Where did he come from?' And she wouldn't know. These people would come up to me and say, `We're your cousins' and I'd say, `Well, you couldn't prove it by me.' "
Her music is rich with such truth-telling.
Lynn's songs are Lynn's life, unfiltered. She says she has never regretted a single thing she has admitted to the world in her lyrics.
"No," she said. "I just told the truth, and some people called it dirty. It wasn't dirty. It was just life."
Lynn is often described as a country music legend.
Legend is a noun that is perhaps too readily bestowed these days, but Lynn is the real deal.
A true legend could certainly be excused for resting on her laurels, but Lynn - at 73 - still tours and records extensively.
She performs at the Embassy Theatre tonight.
Asked about her work ethic, Lynn responded, "I guess it's hard for me to not do anything. I've started back into writing so that will take something away from the road. I just can't sit down."
She has three albums in the works: a Christmas album, a gospel album and an album on which she shares vocals equally with her two sisters, Gayle (born Brenda Sue Webb) and Peggy Sue.
Lynn says she is flattered to be called a legend.
"They do it to make you feel good," she says. "You know if you're anything or not."
And of course being called a legend repeatedly doesn't preclude you from being humbled now and again.
"Crystal got interviewed by somebody and they said, `Loved your movie,' " Lynn recalled. The ersatz journalist was no doubt erroneously referring to the classic film about Lynn's life called "Coal Miner's Daughter." "They didn't know which one of us they were talking to. That's the time you stop your family reunions at first cousins."
Lynn still travels the country in a tour bus with her name painted on the side of it. Incognito is not a concept Lynn has much appreciation for.
Lynn says Gayle once disapproved of this bus' emblazonment (presumably this was before her suspicions were confirmed this year when a fugitive stole Gayle's tour bus).
"Crystal said she'd never do that. She wouldn't want people to bother her. I said, `Brenda, you are in the wrong business.' "
Lynn likes to be bothered. She loves her fans and won't let them down.
Even though her health hasn't been great these past few years, she says she has never skipped a performance.
"I always make my shows," she said. "That's what you're supposed to do. You're not supposed to cancel shows unless something goes bad wrong. There are other people involved. They can lose a lot of money. And I am selling out wherever I go these days, and that's powerful incentive to show up."
The people who come out no doubt have found solace and authenticity in the stories she tells.
Lynn believes country has gotten away from storytelling.
"Songs come out almost like a version of pop than a version of country music," she said. "They don't get into the deep color stories the way they should.
"If you are gonna have country music, you'd better call it country," Lynn said. "And if it's not country, then make up another name. You can't really call it pop because it doesn't quite stand up to the best pop. What should they call it? A little lost, I guess."
Lynn works a lot, but she also makes the most of her time off. She loves travel that is unencumbered by performance obligations, and she intends to do more of that.
"I love to go places when I'm not working," she said. "When you're working, you don't see nothing. Me and (late husband Oliver "Mooney" Lynn) did that. We went to Alaska. That was the last trip we went on."
It's been 11 years since her husband died of complications from diabetes, and Lynn says the loss can hurt as much today as it did when it was fresh.
"You learn to live with it," she said. "It still hurts, but you learn to live with it."