A pair of exciting new country albums are coming out of Hurricane Mills, and for the first time ever, Loretta Lynn is producing both of ‘em.
The new CDs are an album of cover versions of classic Loretta songs performed by her daughter Cissie, and an album of original songs from Cissie’s singer/songwriter husband, John Beams.
“Mine is a remake of several of Mom’s old songs. She had asked me if I would do that,” Cissie says in a phone conversation from the popular Cissie Lynn’s Country Store and Music Barn, located near Loretta’s famed ranch and museum at Hurricane Mills.
“I said I was definitely honored to do that,” Cissie continues. “I took them and tried to do them the way they were originally done. Mama is gonna come in and do all the harmonies. To me, if I never do anything the rest of my life, I’m real, real pleased.”
Cissie is keeping the list of songs on her album a secret. She says the tracking is finished on the album, and now they’re working on the vocals.
This is an exciting new chapter for the beloved Coal Miner’s Daughter, the American genius singer and songwriter from Butcher Holler, Kentucky who won the CMA Female Vocalist of the Year in 1967, 1972, and 1973, and the top prize as CMA Entertainer of the Year in 1973.
Top country stars often produce or co-produce records, but for Loretta this is a first in a career that began in the late 1950s.
“My husband and I traveled with our own bus and band till my Daddy got sick,” Cissie tells us. “Then I wanted to go home and stay with him. We opened for several superstars over the years, such as Conway, George Jones, and Mel McDaniel.”
This is also an exciting pair of albums and story for Nashville Music Guide executive editor Randy Matthews, who is such an enthusiastic fan of Loretta and the family that he personally delivers the Guide to the ranch and the store every month.
“I’m a huge fan of Loretta’s for the fact she is still humble and down-to-earth,” Randy tells us from Oklahoma.
John Beams, Cissie’s husband, was Loretta’s driver for almost 20 years and now works at the ranch.
“John’s a great singer and a great songwriter,” Cissie says. “He’s been singing music since he got out of Vietnam. That’s his love and his passion. Doing this album, he’s on Cloud Nine.”
So is Cissie.
“Mom’s never produced. Our albums will be the first she’s ever produced,” she says. “It’s hard to explain my feelings. My children and my grandchildren will listen to this album and say that their Mama and their Grandma did this all.”
One of the wonderful features of the two new albums is that they will be very different, since John’s will feature all his own songs and Cissie’s will be a collection of favorites originally recorded by Loretta.
The projects had to take a recent hiatus while Loretta Lynn is recovering from heat exhaustion casued by the brutal heat of several tour dates this summer.
“She’s been doing better. She’s been a sick young ‘un,” Cissie says. “Mama’s been pretty sick; she got dehydrated on the road.”
Loretta’s country radio chart history began over 50 years ago when “I’m A Honky Tonk Girl” debuted on the Billboard charts in the summer of 1960. As country fans know, that song was on the independent Zero label and promoted on a personal radio tour driven by Loretta’s husband Mooney with several of their young kids in the car.
Decca Records quickly signed the rising star, and her first single on the label, “Success,” debuted on Billboard in July 1962. She scored seven Top 10 singles before her first No. 1, “Don’t Come Home A Drinkin’ (With Lovin’ On Your Mind)” hit radio in November of ’66.
She has truly always been a singer/songwriter, creating several of her No. 1s herself. Those included “Fist City” in 1968, the autobiographical “Coal Miner’s Daughter” in 1970, and “Rated `X’” in 1972.
Loretta became even more of a legend when the movie based on Loretta’s autobiography, “Coal Miner’s Daughter,” co-written by George Vecsey. Sissy Spacek played Loretta and Tommy Lee Jones was Doolittle in the film, and Sissy stayed with Loretta for several months before filming began to study her and learn her unique Kentucky accent.
Among the movie’s real-world musical connections was the actor who played Loretta’s father. That actor was Levon Helm, the former drummer and vocalist of The Band, who also acted in “The Right Stuff.” Tommy Lee Jones played football at Harvard, where at one time he was Al Gore’s roommate.
The most famous game Jones played for Harvard was the season finale against Yale, when Harvard scored 16 points in the closing seconds and the game ended in a 29-29 tie. The next morning, Harvard’s student newspaper, the Harvard Crimson, ran the famous headline, “HARVARD BEATS YALE 29-29.” In those days, games could and often did end in ties, both in college and pro football.
Loretta became a Grand Ole Opry cast member in 1962, one year after Patsy joined the Opry and tragically just a year before Patsy died in a plane crash near Camden, Tennessee. It was a devastating loss for Loretta personally, and for music fans everywhere.
Patsy too had a high-profile Hollywood film made about her, this one called “Sweet Dreams,” a 1985 release featuring Jessica Lange as Patsy and Ed Harris as Patsy’s husband, Charlie Dick. The title comes from a pop-flavored 1963 Patsy hit, “Sweet Dreams (Of You),” which was written by Don Gibson and debuted on the charts two months after Cline’s passing.
One of the oversights of the movie “Sweet Dreams” is that it does not include any scenes of Patsy with Loretta, which is ridiculous since they were such close friends and professional colleagues.
Two of Cissie’s sisters, Loretta’s twin daughters Patsy and Peggy, recorded as The Lynns and had a pair of radio singles on Reprise called “Nights Like These” and “Woman To Woman” in 1997 and 1998. Patsy and Peggy co-wrote both singles.
For Cissie, this opportunity to continue one of the proudest family traditions in country history is thrilling. Besides, it gives her and John the chance to emulate another of their favorites, the Carter Family.
“I can remember being a little girl, seeing the Carter Family and not realizing what a great legend they were,” Cissie says. “I look back and remember bein’ in the Ryman where it was hot and smoky and jam-packed.”
In those days, the Ryman was not air-conditioned.
Another thing she misses is the longtime tradition of including liner notes on albums, which came in 12 inch-by-12 inch containers when they were vinyl but are just 6-by-6 for CDs.
“I go back and I love the old albums,” Cissie says. “Those liner notes, my Daddy had the liner notes and my Grandma too. They don’t even have anything like that on these things anymore. And look at the great songs those albums had.”
She also has very fond memories of one of her Mama’s best friends and mentors when she first came to Nashville – Patsy Cline.
“The one thing I remember about Patsy as a child was how outspoken she was, she had no bones about nothin’,” Cissie says. “Mama was more reserved and quiet and bashful then. That’s why Mama loved Patsy. I can just imagine how great they would have been, had Patsy lived longer, with them two teaming up on things.”
Happily, country fans will now get a chance to hear the results of a pair of new creative pairings, between Cissie and Loretta on Cissie’s album, and between John Beams and Loretta on his project.
“I was 28 years old when I first started singing,” Cissie says. “With all the years of singing and road work, you learned to be a better singer and a better entertainer. You did that growing up.”
We asked her what she thought of today’s country stars and modern country radio.
“Nowadays, the minute somebody opens their mouth I can tell if they’ve been to a vocal coach. I think that’s good if that’s what they want, but everybody sounds alike,” Cissie says. “I wanna hear a Loretta Lynn. I wanna hear a Tammy Wynette. I wanna hear a Patsy Cline. I loved the Sons Of The Pioneers, the Wilburn Brothers, Hank Thompson, and Eddy Arnold, and it makes me sad that there’s none of them that’s like that now.”
But country fans are about to get the best of both worlds when Cissie and John’s new albums come out. They’ll hear both classic and new songs by two exciting artists, produced by Loretta Lynn for the very first time.
By Phil Sweetland