Loretta Lynn is watching the murder trial of Casey Anthony when her assistant connects us by phone (“It’s probably an accident, but I think she did it.”). Lynn serenades Taste of Chicago on July 1, so we end the interview talking about food. Her favorites: Chinese, Mexican. What about Southern? “I do my own kind of cooking,” she says of that. But for her breakfast that morning, which the still-touring 76-year-old enjoyed in her Tennessee home, “I had—what do you call these little ol’ tarts? Pop-Tarts.” The country music legend from rural Kentucky still doesn’t have a star’s distancing airs. She entreats me to find her in her bus when she’s in town.
Your late husband, Doo, first encouraged you to perform, gave you your first guitar—
And pushed me onstage. [Laughs]
How has his passing 14 years ago affected your relationship to your music?
Well, I’d done so much before he passed away. He was home six years before he passed away, and I took care of him. I was married for 13 years before I ever sung a song. He’d hear me rockin’ the babies to sleep and singin’, and he said, “You’re just as good or better as most of them girls that are singin’ and makin’ money, so let’s make us some money.”
Your daughter Patsy said she thought you’d never come to terms with the loss of Doo.
Yeah, I think I see him everywhere I’m at, and everything at home and everywhere I’m goin’.
Some of your music has had a feminist thread—“The Pill,” “Rated X”—yet Doo hit you, cheated on you. Did that seem like a contradiction between the music you wrote and the relationship you lived?
I don’t think so. It’s part of everything I’d been going through ever since I was a kid. It wasn’t different. He was the boss, and that’s the way it was. There wasn’t two of us in that marriage. There was one. [Laughs] His life didn’t change.
In Coal Miner’s Daughter, you wrote that you always felt under the control of some man: your father, your husband from age 13.
Right. And after it’s all over with, you feel like you’re still under that same control, just keep doing what you’re doing. You don’t change. I’m doing what I think he would like.
You had four kids when you wrote “The Pill.” You said it was hard to have so many so young.
It is when you’re trying to make a living yourself. He was a great worker, but when he got paid, he spent it on Doo. It wasn’t spent on me and the kids. And you knowing you’re the one that’s keeping you and the kids going, that’s the way it was.
Do you feel regret about being absent from home, having to go on tour so much?
That was my worst thing, having to leave the kids when I went on the road. ’Cause I worked all the time at home. I was either pickin’ strawberries or hoein’ strawberries. Singing is not as hard as eight-hour job work, and with four kids.
Then what was your best thing?
Every day when you’re young and you’re growing up with your kids, that’s a great life. Even though you don’t have anything hardly, it’s a great life to be with your kids, and every woman oughtta be with her kids. That’s her job and it’s good for both of you.
So you look at that with a greater sense of accomplishment than your music career.
Yes, I do. Yes, I do.
What’s it like now when you go back to Butcher Holler in Kentucky?
Last time I was up Butcher Holler, one of the guys said, “Well, Loretty, ain’t you ever gonna get no older? You’re just as pretty now as you were when you were a young girl!” I said, “I’m still a young girl, and don’t you forget it!” [Laughs] Most of ’em are gone now, up the Holler. Every place changes.
You’ve talked about having a sense of ESP. Have you felt in touch with Doo?
I never have. I keep saying, “Well, there’s nothing to it, or he would be back.” He was so in control of everything. Why wouldn’t he be back to make sure that I was doing the right thing?
What does that make you think about the afterlife?
Everybody probably goes to the same place. I don’t know what’s gonna happen, I don’t think anybody really knows for a fact. Not long ago wasn’t it this preacher said it was gonna be the end of time? I think the end of time is gonna be the day you die. I don’t want to do some wrong that I might accidentally go to the other place, so I’m gonna stick with God. [Laughs] If there’s a God, I’m stickin’ with Him!
Loretta Lynn plays the Taste of Chicago July 1.