Back with her first album in more than a decade, The First Lady of Country Music, 83, opens up about working with Johnny Cash’s son and Willie Nelson—and what she really thinks of the new generation of country stars.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: It’s been 12 years since 2004’s Grammy-winning Van Lear Rose. What brought you back to the studio?
Loretta Lynn: To tell you the truth, I was just busy. I work all the time and hadn’t stopped to think about recording. Then I thought, “Well, it’s time.”
The album, Full Circle, has new versions of your favorite childhood songs and ones from your nearly 60-year career. Where’d the idea come from?
I would like people to know the stuff that I started singing to begin with. [The traditional Appalachian folk tune] “In the Pines” and all these old songs are the first songs I ever remember hearing Mommy sing. I’d listen to her, and if I’d ever cry, she’d say, “Now, Loretty, if you’re going to cry, I’m going to have to stop singing.” I loved hearing her. I hope the fans get out of it what I did.
What was it like to work with Johnny Cash’s son, John Carter Cash, as a co-producer?
There was nothing strenuous about it. We’d have a little break every bit and have a picnic. I’d have my cup of coffee, we’d be with our families—and then go back right into it.
There’s a beautiful duet with Willie Nelson, “Lay Me Down.”
Willie sent a record to me to do the harmony and stuff—but I can’t harmonize with Willie Nelson! He talks his songs. So I said, “You want me to do these, you wipe your voice off these and send ’em back. I’ll do my part and then give it to you!” I love the way it turned out.
As the First Lady of Country Music, what up-and-coming country stars are you into?
I love little Kacey [Musgraves]. She’s something else. And she’s trying hard, I think. [But] I can hear a lot of the girls singing today and I can’t imagine they’ll ever make it to the big time.
You continue to perform dozens of shows a year. At 83, do you still enjoy it?
Yeah. I wouldn’t do it if I didn’t enjoy it. I always ask for requests and they always holler out stuff that came out way before I was born. [Laughs] I’ll say, “Friend, you got the wrong girl up here singing. I don’t remember that song!”
The track “Who’s Gonna Miss Me?” is about the legacy you’ll leave behind. What did your family think of the song?
The first thing [my daughter Patsy Lynn Russell] asked was “Well, Mama, what were you thinking about when you wrote this song?” Finally I had to tell her, “Quit asking me that question!” [Laughs] She still asks me.
What inspires you to write songs now?
Well, I’d rather write than sing, to tell you the truth. Everything I do, I write about it. I’ve never known why. I wrote my song “Whispering Sea” sitting on a tree branch, hanging over the ocean, fishing. [Sings] “Whispering sea, why don’t you roll on by, listening to me cry.” It’s just as simple as anything. Whatever’d happen one day, if I’d be upset or happy, I’d just write.
This article originally appeared Entertainment Weekly Issue #1405, on stands March 4, 2016.