Still cheerfully feisty and eager to please, veteran country superstar Loretta Lynn shows no signs of slowing down as her 2014 national tour rolls through the Lowcountry this weekend.
The award-winning singer-songwriter and Country Music Hall of Fame member has been entertaining audiences for more than 50 years. At 82, she seems as musically upbeat and expressive as ever.
Mount Pleasant's historic Boone Hall Plantation, home of the annual Lowcountry Oyster Festival, will provide an idyllic setting for Lynn's concert Friday night.
In recent years, the scenic plantation has hosted a variety of concerts and special events on its grounds along the Wampancheone Creek, across from the big plantation house. Rick Benthall, Boone Hall Plantation's longtime director of marketing, predicts Lynn's show will be one of this year's highlights.
"Complimentary admission to tour Boone Hall Plantation is included with the purchase of a ticket to the Loretta Lynn show," Benthall says. "Concert attendees are invited to come out any time on the day of the show. They can show their concert ticket at the admission gate and receive admission to the plantation for the day. It's a great opportunity to see one of the most spectacular tour attractions in the state of South Carolina and a great concert on the same day."
As many country music fans well know, Loretta Lynn's rise to fame and fortune wasn't a glitzy, overnight success story. Often referred to as a rags-to-riches tale, Lynn's story began in the coal-mining counties of eastern Kentucky with her musical career kicking up long after she married and had children.
In the 1940s, she sang in church choirs as a child. In the '50s, after marrying at a very young age, she focused on raising her four children with her husband, Oliver "Mooney" Lynn, in rural Washington state. It wasn't until the late '50s that she first broke into playing professionally with her first band, the Trailblazers.
Encouraged by her husband and other family members, she taught herself to play the acoustic six-string and started composing her own songs. Inspired and influenced by the melodic honky-tonk music of the time, especially by groundbreaking female country stars Kitty Wells and Patsy Cline, Lynn leaned toward a straightforward musical style and penned lyrics about real-life struggles, family experiences and marital misadventures.
Lynn quickly developed an impassioned and beautifully modulated singing style, a bit nasally and twangy, but effectively emotive.
Encouraged by a meet-up with California-based singer-songwriter Buck Owens at a televised talent contest in Tacoma, Wash., Lynn made her first step into the national country music world in 1960 with the single "I'm a Honky Tonk Girl." She hooked up with the Zero Records label and tracked her first batch of songs in California.
By 1961, the top movers and shakers in Nashville, Tenn., had taken notice of Lynn's music. Lured by a deal with Decca Records, she and her family relocated to Music City, where she focused on her budding musical career. She soon earned a regular spot at the Grand Ole Opry as a weekly featured act.
Lynn quickly became a major player in Nashville's country music scene. Through the mid- and late 1960s, she released a string of successful singles and scored dozens of Top Ten hits, including "Don't Come Home a Drinkin' (With Lovin' on Your Mind)," "You Ain't Woman Enough," "Fist City," "Your Squaw Is on the Warpath" and the autobiographic "Coal Miner's Daughter," which referred to her life growing up in Butcher Hollow, Ky.
In the early 1970s, Lynn partnered with veteran vocalist and songsmith Conway Twitty and recorded and released a series of popular duets. Between 1971 and 1975, five of the singles went to No. 1 on the country charts: "After the Fire is Gone," "Lead Me On," "Louisiana Woman, Mississippi Man," "As Soon as I Hang Up the Phone" and "Feelin's."
In the mid-'70s, Lynn collaborated with non-fiction writer George Vecsey to pen and publish "Coal Miner's Daughter," the first of three autobiographies she'd release over the years. The memoir shared the story of her early life in the mining towns of Kentucky and her remarkable journey into the world of country music.
"Coal Miner's Daughter" traced her experiences with poverty, being married at the age of 13 (it was revealed in 2012 that she was actually 15 when she married), making a home for a full family and eventually setting goals as a musical artist.
Lynn's best-selling book was tastefully adapted in the 1980 film "Coal Miner's Daughter" by director Michael Apted and screenwriter Tom Rickman.
The film starred Sissy Spacek in the lead role. Lynn personally picked Spacek for the part, based on her looks, personality and singing voice; Spacek earned an Academy Award and Golden Globe for Best Actress for her portrayal. Tommy Lee Jones starred as Lynn's husband. The cast also included Beverly D'Angelo, Levon Helm (of the Band), and several real-life country artists as themselves, including Roy Acuff, Minnie Pearl and Ernest Tubb.
"Coal Miner's Daughter" was an instant hit, earning praise from fans and critics alike. For many fans, the endearing story captured by the film helped elevate Lynn to the status of "First Lady of Country Music."
After years of recording in studios, touring in busses and appearing on television shows, Lynn stepped back from the business in the late 1980s. After recording the "Honky Tonk Angels" album with Tammy Wynette and Dolly Parton in 1993, Lynn all but retired, spending time with family at her home in Nashville.
In 1995, the Academy of Country Music Awards presented Lynn with the Pioneer Award during its 30th annual ceremony.
Lynn returned to recording in 2000, releasing the appropriately titled "Still Country," on which she included "I Can't Hear the Music," a tribute to her late husband, Mooney. The single "Country in My Genes" was her first to land on the Billboard Country charts in 10 years.
While "Still Country" earned moderate sales and critical attention, it was Lynn's 2004 album "Van Lear Rose" that marked her major comeback. Produced by singer/guitarist Jack White of the White Stripes, the collection of Lynn ballads and story-songs also demonstrated Lynn's willingness to experiment with instrumentation, arrangements and tones.
Intimate and unpolished, "Van Lear Rose" came as a surprise to longtime fans and music writers, as it offered a chance to experience and hear the raw, stripped-down, carefully textured, almost raggedy aesthetic and sound of the songs. It was a bold move for Lynn, and it earned her a new set of admirers from younger generations.
Lynn's latest studio project, 2010's "Coal Miner's Daughter: A Tribute to Loretta Lynn," is a collaborative tribute album, produced as a commemoration of the 50th anniversary of her first single.
The collection features a wild variety of contemporary country and Americana artists, including Lee Ann Womack, Alan Jackson, Martina McBride, Faith Hill, Carrie Underwood, Gretchen Wilson, Lucinda Williams and Steve Earle, among others. Jack White even contributed a track. Handling the title track "Coal Miner's Daughter" are Sheryl Crow and Miranda Lambert.
Over the last few years, Lynn has enjoyed spending time with family and friends away from the spotlight, but she does occasionally get back out on the road to reconnect with audiences around the country. This week's concert at Boone Hall will surely demonstrate Lynn's endearing talents and her spirited sense of humor.
Two local opening acts are on the bill for Friday evening: singer/guitarist and band leader Ronnie Johnson and swamp blues/pop songstress Shelly Waters.
A native of Valdosta, Ga., Johnson came to Charleston in 1986 and started performing professionally around the Lowcountry as a solo and collaborative rock/country/blues act. He's regularly traveled to Nashville, Colorado and the Florida Keys over the years while on tour.
Since 2004, he and his wife Kim have run restaurant and music venue Buddy Roe's Shrimp Shack, initially on the Isle of Palms under the name Budiroe's and more recently in Mount Pleasant on Ben Sawyer Boulevard.
Johnson's vast musical repertoire includes a variety of melodic original tunes along with an array of classic country, soul, blues, beach standards and deep cuts.
Known around the Carolinas as the "Swamp Pop Princess," singer/guitarist Waters grew up in Cajun country. Hailing from the southern Louisiana town of Rayne, the "Frog Capital of the World," Waters started singing and playing music at the age of 12.
These days, she splits her time between Louisiana and the Charleston area, performing at clubs, festivals and special events.
Waters regularly collaborates with local singer/pianist Gary "Shrimp City Slim" Erwin and his bandmates, all of whom recorded on Waters' recent solo debut album "Swamp Pop Princess." They'll handle a mix of classic Louisiana blues, vintage Gulf Coast rock and traditional Cajun styles while at Boone Hall.