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Loretta Lynn’s First Single Drew Inspiration from a Drunken Woman’s Story

Loretta Lynn's First Single Drew Inspiration from a Drunken Woman's Story
Photo: David McClister
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Loretta Lynn, born in Butcher Hollow, Kentucky, is one of the most influential songwriters in country music history. Her timeless hits like “Coal Miner’s Daughter,” “You Ain’t Woman Enough,” “The Pill,” and “Portland Oregon” have solidified her status as an icon. Today, let’s delve into the story behind her very first song.

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From Homemaker to Hitmaker in the Pacific Northwest

Loretta Lynn’s journey began in the Pacific Northwest, where she penned her debut single while living as a young homemaker in Washington. In the spring of 1960, she recorded and released “I’m a Honky Tonk Girl.” With her husband Oliver by her side, they tirelessly promoted the song, driving from one radio station to another. Their hard work paid off when the song reached No. 14 on the Billboard country chart.

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>>READ ALSO: Loretta Lynn Once Shared her Husband’s View on Being Portrayed as a Cheater in Her Songs

The inspiration for “I’m a Honky Tonk Girl” came from a poignant encounter Lynn had with a woman in Washington. The woman, in a state of despair, shared her story of personal loss while crying uncontrollably. Moved by this, Lynn wrote the song in just 20 minutes, sitting in her bathroom and strumming a $17 guitar that her husband had bought her. During this session, she also wrote “Whispering Sea,” which became the B-side of her single.

Reflecting on that moment, Lynn said in 2010, “I just sat down with my guitar. … I was outside and leaning up against the toilet in Washington State. And I sat there and wrote ‘Honky Tonk Girl’ and ‘Whispering Sea.’”

>>READ ALSO: Loretta Lynn’s 7 Nicknames and How They Came to Be?

The Struggle to Get Heard

With “I’m a Honky Tonk Girl” ready, Lynn found support from a man who financed the Los Angeles recording and connected her with Zero Records, her first label. Lynn wasn’t one for overthinking decisions—she married Oliver after knowing him for just a month, and they moved from Kentucky to Custer, Washington, when she was seven months pregnant.

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In 1953, Lynn began teaching herself to play the $17 guitar, composing music to match her lyrics. She soon formed her first band, Loretta & the Trailblazers, performing at various venues in Washington. Her talent shone through when she won a talent contest in Tacoma, hosted by country star Buck Owens, a pioneer of the Bakersfield sound who was then residing in the Pacific Northwest.

The Song’s Impact

Lynn recorded “I’m a Honky Tonk Girl” in February 1960 at the Western Recorders Studio, with musician Speedy West on slide guitar and Don Grashey producing. Released the following month, Lynn and her husband undertook all the promotion themselves. She recalled, “We were pitiful. … We were too poor to stay in hotels, so we slept in the car and ate baloney and cheese sandwiches in parks. … Then we’d go into the radio station and pester the DJ to play my record. We didn’t care if it was a 500-watt local station or a 50,000-watt clear-channel station. We’d hit them all. We were on the road for three months.”

Their perseverance paid off, earning Lynn her first Billboard spot and setting the stage for her groundbreaking career. Listen to the song that started it all here below.

>>READ ALSO: Loretta Lynn’s Children: Meet The Coal Miner’s Daughter’s 6 Kids

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