By Loretta Lynn
By George Vescey
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Reissued for the 40th Anniversary of the Oscar-winning, Sissy Spacek-starring film of the same name, Coal Miner's Daughter recounts Loretta Lynn's astonishing journey to become one of the original queens of country music. Loretta grew up dirt poor in the mountains of Kentucky, she was married at thirteen years old, and became a mother soon after. At the age of twenty-four, her husband, Doo, gave her a guitar as an anniversary present.
Soon, she began penning songs and singing in front of honky-tonk audiences, and, through years of hard work, talent, and true grit, eventually made her way to Nashville, the Grand Ole Opry, eventually securing her place in country music history. Loretta's prolific and influential songwriting made her the first woman to receive a gold record in country music, and got her named the first female Entertainer of the Year by the Country Music Association. This riveting memoir introduces readers to all the highs and lows on her road to success and the tough, smart, funny, and fascinating woman behind the legend.
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Preface to the New Edition
It’s been over forty years since the book you hold in your hands was released. First it was a best-selling book; then it was an Oscar-winning movie. Forty years.
To me, that feels like yesterday.
Today I’m eighty-eight years old. Who’d have thought I’d live to be this old? I sure didn’t. My daddy had a stroke when he was just fifty-one—and I got kids older than that!
Lately I think a lot about the past. My memories are as real to me as the minute I’m living in now. When I think about people I’ve loved who have already passed, my heart fills up and the memories just start to pour. That’s the way I felt when me and my daughter decided to write about my good friend Patsy Cline here lately. I’d been talking about Patsy a lot and my daughter said, “Momma, we’ve got to write some of this down.” I knew she was right. Patsy was my best friend. If it weren’t for her, I don’t know what I’d have done. Me and her made a great team.
While we were writing the book that became Me & Patsy Kickin’ Up Dust, our editor asked me questions like, “Did that happen in kindergarten or third grade?” or “What color was that couch?” I told her, “Honey, I don’t know. When you’ve lived as long as I have, you just try and remember back that far!” Some things you just know and some things, well, who cares?
Fortunately, a lot of my memories have been preserved. Lord knows I’ve done thousands of interviews over the years, so there’s plenty of articles, videos, and even books where I’ve told a lot about my life. Plus, I keep near about everything. My kids accuse me of being a hoarder, whatever that means. Growing up poor, in the Depression, I learned to hold on to things. So, all my life I’ve been saving things from my fans, from my travels, and from my career. Clothes, letters, cards, furniture, awards, little presents from all over the world—you name it, I got it.
About twenty years ago we got serious and built a big, beautiful museum out near my house so fans who visit have somewhere to go and learn about my life and career. Tim Cobb designed it. We call it the Coal Miner’s Daughter Museum. It’s out on my property in Hurricane Mills, right across from the replica of the house I grew up in that they built for the Coal Miner’s Daughter movie. You can go inside and walk around. It’s fully furnished and looks just like it did when I was growing up, right down to the cup of tea sitting there on the kitchen table where my momma used to read tea leaves. You can walk from there over to my museum. It’s big—18,000 square feet! Inside I’ve got a bunch of my stage outfits—from the very first stage dress I ever made to my ball gowns, all my awards, and every single one of my records. The whole place is real interactive, so you can walk onto my first tour bus and see a replica of the one-room schoolhouse I used to go to back in Kentucky. I’ve featured special friends and family, like Conway Twitty, my sister Crystal Gayle, and of course, Patsy Cline. There’s always something new to see ’cause Tim keeps the displays fresh. People say it rivals Graceland—it’s just farther out in the country, just like me.
Even in a place this size, we still don’t have room to show everything. Tim went back into storage the other day to find a dress Barbra Streisand gave me. He’s got everything cataloged and real orderly and knows where everything is. He hauled out a bunch of big old scrapbooks. Boy, those things just took me back to 1975. They’d been in a closet in the big house for years, but then we had a house fire when a candle tipped over on the porch. I burned my hand trying to put that thing out with a pillow. Anyway, I guess somebody’d rescued them and moved them and I never even paid much attention. I pulled back the cover of one and I could smell the smoke. The pages stuck together, singed around the edges. Inside were hundreds of clippings—interviews and articles about me. I’d forgotten most all of them, to tell the truth. But what about took my breath away were the odds and ends that I had tucked in there, too, like a handwritten note from my dear friend, country music legend Ernest Tubb, a program from a White House dinner, and an invitation to the Oscars. Those little mementos took me right back.
So, I got to thinking we might take a look back at Coal Miner’s Daughter, maybe give it an update. After you read this new edition, you’ll find some new materials we added there at the end. I hope you’ll enjoy it as much as we enjoyed putting it together for you.
Hurricane Mills, Tennessee
About Me and This Book
Well, I look out the window and what do I see?
The breeze is a-blowin’ the leaves from the trees
Everything is free—everything but me…
—“I Wanna Be Free,” by Loretta Lynn
I bloodied my husband’s nose the other night. I didn’t know I was doing it—I just woke up at three in the morning, and Doolittle was holding a towel to his nose. He told me I sat straight up, in my sleep, yelling, “Do you see this ring? Do you see this ring?” And I was a-throwing my hands around until my fingers dug into his nose.
“Loretta, what in the world were you talking about?” Doo asked me.
I said I was dreaming about some old guy that tried to make a date with me when I first started singing. I didn’t have no ring at the time—we were too poor for that kind of stuff—but now in my dream I was showing that old buzzard I had a ring.
What does it mean when you carry on in your sleep like that? Somebody said it means you’ve got something on your mind. I said, “I know that.” I ain’t got much education, but I got some sense.
To me, this talking is almost like I’ve got things inside me that never came out before. Usually, when something is bothering me, I write a song that tells my feelings, like, “Don’t Come Home A-Drinkin’ (with Lovin’ on Your Mind).” That’s really about me and my marriage.
I’ve still got things inside me—sad things, happy things—that people don’t know about. I’ve had so many changes in my life, and I feel like there’s more to come. I’m superstitious; I believe in reincarnation and extrasensory perception; and I’ve got this feeling about more changes in my life. It’s like a girl feels when her body starts to grow up, or a woman feels when a baby starts to grow inside her. You know it’s there; you feel the stirrings, but it’s deeper than words.
People know the basic facts about me—how I was married when I wasn’t quite fourteen and had four babies by the time I was eighteen. Sometimes my husband tells me, “I raised you the way I wanted you to be.” And it’s true. I went from Daddy to Doo, and there’s always been a man telling me what to do.
I was just a kid—didn’t know nothing—picking strawberries in the fields with my babies on a blanket, under an umbrella. I’d change a few diapers, my fingers all rough and dirty, give ’em a few bottles, and go back to picking. So when I sing those country songs about women struggling to keep things going, you could say I’ve been there.
It’s like that hit record I had in 1975, “The Pill,” about this woman who’s taking birth control pills so she won’t have no more babies. Well, they didn’t have none of them pills when I was younger, or I’d have been swallowing ’em like popcorn. See, the men who run some of the radio stations, they banned the record because they didn’t like what I was saying. But the women knew. Like I say, I know what it’s like to be pregnant and nervous and poor.
Now I’ve got this huge ranch in Tennessee, and I’ve been on the cover of Newsweek magazine, and I was the first woman ever named Entertainer of the Year in country music. I also got honorable mention in the Gallup poll as one of the “most admired women” in the United States. Lordy, I even got to meet Gregory Peck!
But some of my friends who know me best say they wouldn’t trade places with me for a million dollars because of the pace I lead. I’m still a-traveling nearly two hundred nights a year to meet my fans who’ve given me everything I’ve got. In one way, I’m still working as hard as when I was working in the fields. But I’d have to admit the stakes are higher.
When I first came to Nashville, people called us “hillbilly singers” and hardly gave country music any respect. We lived in old cars and dirty hotels, and we ate when we could. Now country music is a big business. You go around the country, there’s a thousand radio stations broadcasting our music. Why, they’ve even got a country station in New York City, where I played in that big building—what’s it called, some kind of garden? Yeah, Madison Square Garden, that’s right. So I’ve seen country music go uptown, like we say, and I’m proud I was there when it happened.
They’ve also made a movie called Nashville that people tell me was one of the biggest movies of 1975. Well, I ain’t seen it, so I can’t tell you whether it’s any good or not. I don’t follow the movies much, and I’d much rather see a Walt Disney movie if I do go.
But some of my friends told me there’s two characters in there that resemble me and Doolittle—at least somewhat. Well, I met that girl who played the top country singer in the movie. She came to Nashville and talked to me and watched me perform for a few weeks. If she tried to imitate me in the movie, that’s their problem. If they really wanted me, why didn’t they just ask me?
But I ain’t worrying about no movies. My records are still selling, and I get more offers for shows than I can handle. So if you’re wondering whether that character in the movie is me, it ain’t. This book is me. I’ve got my own life to lead.
And my life hasn’t been easy, not even now. I’ve had chest surgery (nonmalignant, thank God) and blood poisoning, and sometimes I pass out on stage from migraine headaches. You hear all kinds of rumors about my sick spells, and also some rumors about me having trouble with aspirin pills. It wasn’t what people thought—but I’ll get to that later.
Also, I’ve had a bunch of death threats that we managed to keep secret. For a while, there was one or two people following me around until the police got ’em. Now I’ve got people protecting me all the time. Growing up in eastern Kentucky like I did, I’m used to having a few guns around to protect me (not that I’m crazy about waking up in the morning and seeing Doolittle’s pistol right there on the dressing table).
You’ve heard my husband’s name is “Mooney,” right? Well, I call him “Doolittle” because that’s his old Kentucky nickname. Everybody else calls him “Mooney,” which is what they called him in Washington State when they found out he used to run moonshine.
You’ll hear a lot of stories about Doolittle if you hang around Nashville long enough. Some of ’em are true and some of ’em ain’t. Doo is a smart man in a lot of ways. We’ve been married for more than twenty-five years, but we’ve still got some problems that I don’t know if we’ll ever straighten out.
When we started on this book, me and Doolittle talked it over about how much we should tell about ourselves. Suppose I don’t like the way he acts when he’s drinking. Or suppose Doo thinks I’m meaner than a snake. Should we tell our troubles to other people in a book?
Well, Doo leaned back in his chair and thought about it for a minute. Then he said, “Hell’s fire, Loretta, just tell the story the way it happened. I’ve always said you should never try to cover up things. Look, we’re not perfect. Let’s not pretend we are.”
I agree with that. Nobody’s perfect. The only one that ever was, was crucified. And sometimes I think our problems are made worse by the kind of business we’re in.
Doo don’t really like to be cooped up. He’d rather be out on the ranch, training his bird dogs, and I don’t blame him. Heck, I don’t like being cooped up either, only it seems that’s what my life has become.
It’s a strange deal. I’m supposed to be a country singer, writing songs about marriage and family and the way normal folks live. But mostly I’m living in motel rooms and traveling on my special bus with my private bedroom in the back. I don’t even open the shades in my bus anymore. I’ve seen every highway in the United States by now, and they all look alike to me.
Playing these road shows is a weird experience. One minute I’m out on that stage, usually dressed in my long-sleeved, floor-length gowns, with my hair hanging down to my shoulders, smiling at my fans. There’s such a feeling of love between me and those people. I know it shows on my face. Being onstage is the best part of my career. I just say whatever comes into my head, and I joke with my band, and we all have a good time. It’s the only time when I really feel grown-up and in control of things.
As soon as that show is over, I sign autographs if I’m not feeling sick, and then we pull away into the darkness and the fans just melt away. Then it’s just me and Doolittle and the boys in my band rolling down the highway.
It’s kind of lonely on the road. My first four kids are kind of grown-up now, but I still miss them and my eleven-year-old twins, who mostly stay home with the housekeeper. I’ve been trying to cut back on my road dates, but we still need the money because of some of the things we’d like to do. When you’ve got around fifty people on your payroll—heck, it used to be sixty-eight—the account books tell you to keep working.
It’s getting so bad I don’t even feel comfortable in my own house anymore. I get home for a day or two, and by the time I unpack my bags and see what’s changed since I left, it’s time to get moving again. Then all my family and fans come to visit, and I start getting so nervous in my own house that I sometimes even check into a motel in Nashville.
I was fighting with Doolittle one day about what kind of wallpaper we should put in our bedroom. We do the papering ourselves. When you’re poor folks from eastern Kentucky, you don’t lose the habit of doing things for yourself. Anyway, I wanted one color and Doo wanted another. Finally he said, “Hey, I spend more time in this house than you do.” That hurt me, but it was the truth.
Being alone so much, I often get to thinking about my younger days. Things I’d like to tell somebody, if I had somebody to talk to. I can remember how poor we were—waiting to get new shoes in the fall, walking across the first frost in my bare feet, sometimes sharing shoes until your feet got bunions on ’em.
It’s funny how most of the things I remember are about being poor. When I first started making money in Nashville, I was convinced I was gonna be poor again. Now I’ve sold millions of records, and my company tells me I’ve got a million dollars just sitting in the bank. But I could survive if we got poor again. In some ways, that was the best part of my life, learning how to survive.
Somebody said I should write all these memories down. But it ain’t like writing a song. I mean, when I get a title for a song, I scribble it down on a napkin or an old paper bag—anything that’s handy. Then when I get back to my room, I just start singing those words until I’ve got me a song.
People say I can’t read or write because I’ve only got about a fourth-grade education. But I can read and write some. I’m not pretending I know how to write a book—not even a book about me. I’m too nervous to even sit in front of a tape recorder for long. I’ve always been full of nervous energy, and I’ve gotten used to clowning around onstage, and offstage, too.
But I’m not really as happy as I seem. I’ve known a lot of sad times in my life that don’t square with that lady you see clowning up on the stage. You get used to sadness, growing up in the mountains, I guess. I was given up to die when I was a baby. I came close to drowning near my ranch a few years ago. And the doctors told me my heart stopped on the operating table when I had chest surgery in 1972. Ever since then, I’ve wanted to tell my life story.
The way I did it was this: The writers have always been really nice to me, and I’ve always enjoyed sitting and talking to ’em. But we finally got together with this one writer who used to live in Kentucky, name of George. He knows my part of the country real well; he’s visited the coal mines, and he’s been up to the hollers, so he speaks my language. Now for the past year he’s been traveling with me and Doolittle. I’ve taken him to Butcher Holler and introduced him to my uncle Corman. I’ve taken him to the ranch and shown him all my scrapbooks. He’s met my best friends, like the Johnson sisters. Him and his family took me to that itty-bitty Plymouth Rock up in Massachusetts. I couldn’t believe how small it was. I got bigger rocks in my driveway.
Anyway, I told George, “We’re gonna have us a hardback book. Doggone right, it’s gonna be a good book. Anything I go at, I go at it hard, because I only do what I want. It’s gonna be the best book about country music, because I don’t take no seconds.”
The only problem is how are we gonna spice this book up? I’ve heard about movie stars who had all kinds of marriages and adventures to reveal. But I’ve been married to the same man for all this time. The way we fight sometimes, you can tell. I’m trying to lead a good Christian life, especially since I got baptized two years ago. So there ain’t too much spicy to tell about me—just the truth.
So I’m gonna start at the beginning and keep going, from Butcher Holler, where I was born, to Hurricane Mills, where I live now. By the time I get done, you’re gonna know about the good times and the bad times in my life.
You can bet your last scrip penny I checked out every word before they sent it to the book company. And if I didn’t think it was true, out it went.
The first thing I insisted was that it sound like me. When all those city folks try to fix up my talking, all they do is mess me up. Like the way I pronounce the word “holler.” That’s our word for the low space between two mountains. City people pronounce it “hollow” but that ain’t the way I pronounce it. This is my book. Instead of using Webster’s Dictionary, we’re using Webb’s Dictionary—Webb was my maiden name.
So when you’re reading this book, just try to picture me up onstage, singing my songs and clowning around, and try to hear me saying “Butcher Holler.” Then you’ll know it’s me.
Well, I was borned a coal miner’s daughter,
In a cabin on a hill in Butcher Holler,
We were poor but we had love…
—“Coal Miner’s Daughter,” by Loretta Lynn
Most people know that much about me, because those are the first words of my biggest song. I open my show with it because I know people are gonna request it until I sing it. I wrote it myself, nine verses, and it broke my heart when I had to cut three verses out because it was too long. I could have written a thousand more verses, I’ve got so many memories of Butcher Holler.
To me, that place is the most important part of my life. My fans and writers are always making a big deal about me acting natural, right from the country. That’s because I come from Butcher Holler, Kentucky, and I ain’t never forgot it.
I’m always making Butcher Holler sound like the most backward part of the United States—and I think maybe it is. I’ve traveled all over this country, down South and out West, and I ain’t never seen anything like it. And I ain’t making fun of it, because I’m the most backward person you ever saw. I never knew where babies came from until it happened to me.
This might give you an idea of how backward we are, but first, to appreciate this story, you’ve got to know that in eastern Kentucky we say the word “press” instead of “closet.” Anyway, one of my best friends is Dr. John Turner, who took care of me when I was younger.
Doc swears he saw this patient standing in front of the hospital elevator, looking confused. Doc asked him what was the matter, and the patient said, “Doc, I just seen a nurse get into that press—and when the door opened, she was gone!” See, that patient lived in a holler all his life and never saw an elevator before. Myself, I never rode in an automobile until I was twelve.
Holler people are just different from anybody else. They live high up in the hills, one day at a time. There’s probably a few who don’t know who the president is, and there have been times when they were better off that way. Maybe things are changing now, with television and better roads and stuff, but I’ve got relatives living up in Butcher Holler who have never been further than Paintsville, ten miles away, in their lives. They’re really beautiful people in their own way. Everybody else is worrying about the energy crisis, and talking about getting back to the simple things. My people are already there. If we run out of energy, my relatives know how to patch their houses and grow gardens, so they’re gonna have the last laugh on everybody.
Let me explain where Butcher Holler is. You take any place in the United States today, and they’ve got an interstate highway, right? Well, you get on one of them interstates and drive to Huntington, West Virginia, which is already in pretty hilly country—but you ain’t seen nothing yet. You get off Interstate 64 and head south along Highway 23 into Kentucky. That’s a good three-lane highway going past some nice farms and factories and mobile homes. You drive for about an hour and a half until you get to Paintsville, which has around four thousand people.
Paintsville may not look too big to outsiders, but in Johnson County it’s the biggest thing going. That’s the first place I ever saw a toilet with running water, just before I got married. I went into the bus station to go to the bathroom, but when I sat down on the seat, the toilet flushed automatically. I got so scared I was gonna get flushed down I ran out of there and waited until we found a good old outhouse.
When I was a little girl, my big city was Van Lear, which was five miles away, a coal camp for the Consolidation Coal Company, with rows of wooden houses they rented to the miners. There must have been ten thousand people living around Van Lear in the good times. The company had a post office and company stores where you paid for your things in scrip. If you went into debt, you owed your soul to the company store, just like the song says. The company also had a recreation hall where they showed movies. People make coal camps sound like slavery, but in a lot of ways it was the best thing ever happened to people—as long as the coal kept running.
Before I was born, Van Lear was a boomtown. The company kept their houses painted. The foremen had nice homes up on Silk Stocking Row, and the bosses had real beautiful homes. Off to one side was a row of houses called Black Man Holler where the black miners lived. They worked in the mines with the whites, but they had to live off by themselves. I’m sure there was prejudice in the coal camps, but my family grew up so high in the hollers we never knew about it.
My daddy was color-blind in two ways. About the only color he could see real good was yellow, and I have trouble telling red from orange myself. But we were also color-blind about people. It’s like in 1972, when I was up for the award for Best Female Singer on national television, and Charley Pride was going to present the award. People warned me not to kiss Charley in case I won, because it would hurt my popularity with country fans. I heard that one girl singer got canceled out down South after giving a little peck to a black friend on television. Well, Charley Pride is one of my favorite people in country music, and I got so mad that when I won, I made sure I gave him a big old hug and a kiss right on camera. You know what? Nobody canceled on me. If they had, fine, I’d have gone home to my babies and canned some string beans and the heck with them all.
- "The Queen of Country Music."—The New York Times
- "Few subjects are too difficult to deal with here, yet there is nothing sensationalistic. . . Those reading this can be assured they have met the real Loretta Lynn."—Billboard
- "Engaging reading even for many to whom country music is an alien world."—The New York Times Book Review
- On Sale
- Sep 27, 2022
- Page Count
- 320 pages
- Grand Central Publishing