I got an early holiday present in 2016 when I flew to Nashville in November to interview the one and only Loretta Lynn about her latest holiday album White Christmas Blue. Since the country queen passed earlier this fall, it seems like a good time to pull this one out of the archives — and augment it with some bits that were cut for space back in the day. Enjoy.
NASHVILLE — All Loretta Lynn wants for Christmas is peace and quiet. But like countless working women, she knows what the odds are of that happening.
“Very slim,” laughs the 84-year-old country icon, relaxing in the front lounge of her warm, cozy tour bus outside the Grand Ole Opry. “I’d just like an easy Christmas. Nothing big or loud. But Christmas is always big at my house. All the kids come in. And everybody knows Loretta Lynn has a big Christmas, so they all come over. It’s a full house.”
On the plus side, this year’s holiday soundtrack is already sorted. The coal miner’s daughter just has to spin her new album White Christmas Blue. Her first seasonal offering since 1966’s Country Christmas, the dozen-track stocking is stuffed with beloved carols and hymns, her recently penned title cut, and even a few rewrapped oldies from its predecessor — all delivered with homespun sincerity and classic Nashville twang.
While picking at some Cracker Barrel takeout before her appearance on the annual CMA Country Christmas TV special, the plainspoken Lynn gave me an exclusive rundown of her tumultuous year, Christmases past and present — and why Jack White better lace up his shoes.
Are you already in the Christmas spirit?
Not yet — but I better get there fast! (Laughs)
Well, I’m sure your album will help. Did you do it because it was the 50th anniversary of your previous one?
I just thought, ‘I’ve only done one Christmas album in my life. I have to do another one.’ It was time for some new Christmas songs. So I just started recording. Simple as that.
What made you decide to recut some songs from the first album?
Well, the first album, you can’t get it no more. So I mixed some old songs with new ones. I redid To Heck With Old Santa Claus. I wrote that because I got mad at my husband one Christmas. I sent him down to Kmart to because Bibles were on sale. So he bought me a Bible — and got his girlfriend silk pants and a silk shirt. When I heard about that, we had a good ole hot Christmas.
You also do some more traditional fare like Away In A Manger.
I’ve always loved Away In A Manger. When I was a little girl, Mommy would sing that to me. And Frosty The Snowman, we used to sing that in school. In our little one-room schoolhouse, we didn’t have much music. But we managed to get a little Christmas program going, and that was one of the ones we sang.
Christmas albums are never recorded at Christmas. Did you decorate the studio with a tree to get in the mood?
No, we didn’t. But yeah, we did this in summer. It was hotter than the devil, and you’re singing White Christmas. So you’d have to mess with your mind, you know — close your eyes and think about Christmas. At least, that’s what I did.
The holidays must be very different now than when you were a kid.
No comparison. If we got an orange or an apple, we were lucky. It’s like my song (Country Christmas): ‘Mommy popped the popcorn and we strung it on the tree.’ But those are some of my favourite memories. We didn’t know we were poor. I thought everybody was poor. Then I got out and found out everybody had money but me. Even when I got married, we never had a lot of money. I remember getting the kids one thing apiece. And I got a set of forks and knives, which I asked for because we needed them.
Now that you can afford anything, what kind of gifts do you give?
For years now, at Christmastime my kids all get a cheque. Then they can get what they want. I raised one of my brother’s kids and gave him cheques too. Then he got married and became a Jehovah’s Witness. They don’t celebrate Christmas. I called him and said, ‘Come for Christmas.’ And he said, ‘No, we don’t believe in Christmas.’ And I thought, ‘Well, you shouldn’t have believed when you lived with me; I would have saved a lot of money.’ (Laughs)
If you don’t mind me asking, is it a big cheque?
It ain’t little.
Do you give cheques because you don’t like shopping?
Well, I don’t. But I can’t get out and shop anyway. If I went out to shop, I’d have to set up an autograph line.
You could try a disguise.
That wouldn’t make any difference. The minute I said anything, they’d know. It always happens. And people tell me: ‘You never should have opened your mouth if you didn’t want us to know who you are.’
How about Christmas dinner? Do you go all out?
I usually make a ham and we have chicken with dressing. I just set plates down and let them go through the line and get what they want.
Wait, you still cook yourself?
Oh, yeah! You gotta. I enjoy it. Used to be I cooked all the time. I don’t have to now, but I don’t want to get lazy.
You’re hardly lazy. Along with the Christmas record, you put out the album Full Circle this year.
Yeah, but I had a good time doing it. You know, if you’re going to do something, enjoy it. If you don’t enjoy it, go home.
On Full Circle, you also redid older songs like Fist City and Whispering Sea.
Well, Jack White said his favourite old song of mine was Whispering Sea. So I thought, ‘I’ll give it to you again.’ I’ve redone a lot over the years — about 90. But I keep writing new ones. I’m always writing and rewriting. I love to write. I’d rather write than sing. I never did think I could sing. I mean, I can carry a tune. But I never thought I was a singer.
Speaking of Jack White, it’s been more than 10 years since you worked with him on Van Lear Rose.
Is it really that long? You know, I’ve been thinking about calling Jack. He’s great. He made Van Lear Rose as country as country could be. So I think I’m gonna give him a call and say, ‘It’s time, boy. Get your shoes on.’ I ain’t gonna make people wait another 10 years. But first I’m fixing to go into hiding and write.
How’s your health? I saw that you took a nasty fall at home around Labour Day and then had surgery.
That was a hard deal. I fell right in the middle of my bedroom floor. I didn’t have anything in my hand, I didn’t step on anything. But my rug is thick, and I think the shoes I had on were the problem. It was awful. I went down right on my face. My head hit the floor too. I think it might have knocked me out for a few minutes. It really messed me up. They had to work on me for a long time. But I’m all right now. I’m back at work. And I pull my shoes off when I walk through that door now!
Did the incident make you think about slowing down? Have your kids tried to get you to take it easier?
They know better than to tell me what to do. (Laughs) They know I’m going to do what I want. And I feel great now. I don’t have any sick days. That’s pretty good at my age. I can still outwork everybody in Nashville.
When you see singers like Miranda Lambert and Kacey Musgraves following in your footsteps, how do you feel?
Great. They’re trying to do exactly what I did. And I say, let ’em get in there and fight for it. If you don’t fight for it, it ain’t worth it. I had to fight when I started. I was different. They were saying, ‘She’s not country,’ because I was singing things like, ‘I’m a honky-tonk girl.’ I didn’t talk about another woman being a honky-tonk girl. I laid everything on me.
Is there anything else you want to accomplish?
Right at this moment I can’t think of anything. But if it comes around, I’ll do it. I’m not going to let nobody tell me what to do or how to do it. Like Frank Sinatra said, I’m doing it my way.