It all started with cable television. Tyler had it before most other communities, so we could get the ABC, CBS and NBC affiliates out of Dallas, plus the public television station and the independent station. Crystal clear reception and no rabbit ears, for a small monthly fee.
All things considered, we watched more of the independent KTVT than any of the others. Channel 11, as it was called, had little in the way of original broadcasting, but we were watching practically every day for the syndicated programming it provided. Every weekday, the viewer could get a dose of I Love Lucy or The Dick Van Dyke Show for comedy or Perry Mason for a murder mystery. Alfred Hitchcock Presents and The Twilight Zone were on offer for those wanting a more thrilling entertainment.
But the one night of the week that we watched from beginning to end was Saturday. If we were home, it started with a broadcast of the Cowtown Jamboree, live from Panther Hall in Fort Worth. (That should be read with an announcer voice.) The big male country stars, like Ernest Tubb and Buck Owens, had their own shows. Porter Wagoner had one, too, which featured pretty Miss Norma Jean, before she was replaced by the even prettier Miss Dolly Parton.
The Wilburn Brothers were a popular duo back then with their own show. They famously turned down the opportunity to record “Heartbreak Hotel” before Elvis Presley made it a hit. But they didn’t turn down Loretta Lynn. She was their “girl singer” throughout the ‘60’s. Needless to say, she made them a lot of money.
Mother wasn’t a big fan of country music. She was more a Dean Martin kind of gal, but she watched along with Daddy since that’s what he wanted to do. After all, it was the music he was listening to on the radio driving all over East Texas between drilling locations. Mother really didn’t like the cheatin’ songs and particularly didn’t like Tammy “Stand by Your Man” Wynette.
Dolly Parton, even then, was in a class by herself, and Mother liked her from the first time she sang “Dumb Blonde” on Porter Wagoner’s show. Here was this woman asserting herself as being “nobody’s fool.” As for Loretta Lynn, I think Mother just wanted to get her out of those overdone dresses.
It took the movies to connect me with country music. The Last Picture Show really gave me an appreciation for Hank Williams. A few years later, Coal Miner’s Daughter did the same thing for the artistry of Loretta Lynn.
By that time, Dolly had moved on from Porter Wagoner, had crossed over to the pop charts, and was making her movie debut. 9 to 5 and Coal Miner’s Daughter were both released in 1980, and the Oscars for that year saw Dolly as nominee for writing the iconic theme song for her movie and Sissy Spacek winning the award for playing Loretta. As for the Wilburn Brothers and Porter Wagoner, well, the expression “eat my dust” comes to mind.
But when it’s boiled down to the music, there is a certain defiance in the songs of Loretta Lynn that is at least encouraging, if not downright empowering. While Tammy Wynette exhorts her audience to stand by your man, forgive him, and give him “something warm to come to when nights are cold and lonely.” (What could she possibly have meant?) Loretta, meanwhile, tells her man “don’t come home a drinkin’ with lovin’ on your mind.” I’m Team Loretta on this one.
Several years back, as part of a night out on the town, a group of us ended up at a restaurant/bar with karaoke. I was probably one martini from being under the table, or worse on top of it, and singing a song seemed like the right thing to do under the circumstances. But what to sing?
Well, it had to be a crowd-pleaser for sure. Something the wide range of people there would all know. Something with no crazy high vocal notes to hit, and which I could encourage them to sing along with if my solo wasn’t going so well. Something with an attitude, and something fun. Something honky tonk, which meant something country. It had to be “You Ain’t Woman Enough (To Take My Man).”
While my vocal was no doubt forgettable, and my performance regrettable, the crowd—also a bit lubricated—was there for the song. Loretta Lynn to the rescue, and not for the first time.
With Loretta’s death this week, the usual trite things get said by those who should know how to come up with something original. But I can’t do it either. I just hope it’s so good to be back home again, just like Loretta said.