By Bill Oakey, October 4, 2022
Once upon a very long time ago, Time Magazine listed Austin as one of the most affordable cities in the country. I can attest to that, since my rent for a one-room efficiency in a house at 1904 Nueces was $120 per month, with all utilities paid. I moved into that place in 1971.
The burgeoning live music scene kept me out most nights, and the price of admission was next to nothing. A six pack of beer cost $1.50. I had been collecting records since the age of 5, so going to the live music shows, and meeting some of the performers was very exciting. I was never one to sit on the sidelines.
My favorite singer in the mid-seventies was Loretta Lynn. The news broke this morning that she has passed away, at the age of 90. Getting to meet her in person is one of my fondest Austin memories. It started in a very unexpected way. In the spring of 1976, I bought a copy of her autobiography, Coal Miner’s Daughter. In the middle of the book, I read about three sisters in a town called Wild Horse, Colorado. They started Loretta’s fan club. Then they built it into the International Fan Club Organization.
On a crazy whim, I picked up the phone and called Directory Assistance. They put me through to the sisters’ home, and we chatted for a good while. They invited me to come to Nashville for the annual Fan Fair event. I just needed to buy a $35 ticket, fly out there, and the sisters would introduce me to Loretta Lynn. It was all kinds of fun! After I got back home, arrangements were made for me to interview Loretta for a cover story in Country Song Roundup magazine. (Click to enlarge photos).
I was terribly nervous on the evening of the interview. She was doing a show and dance at the Silver Dollar dance hall. I was told to come outside to her bus, during the intermission. Well, I pushed open a side door and quickly set off the fire alarm! The club manager came over and took care of that. At Loretta’s bus, her road manager gave me a warning. He said I could talk to her about anything, except for one topic that was strictly off-limits.
Loretta had set up and performed at a charity fundraiser, for the children who lived in Butcher Holler, Kentucky where she grew up. The proceeds would go into an education fund, that would give the kids a chance to improve their lives and get good jobs after graduation. But a group of parents filed a lawsuit. They wanted to claim the money for themselves. That story was strictly forbidden from any news coverage.
In 1977, the very next year, a set of lucky circumstances put me on a chartered jet, with the stars of a big country music festival, at a town outside London. I chatted with Loretta on the plane and visited her backstage.
The next time I saw Loretta was at her house in Hurricane Mills, Tennessee. She allowed me to take pictures of several rooms for a magazine article. I can tell you that the homemade peach cobbler in her backyard was the best I ever tasted!
Back home in Austin, I was only a few years away from the launch of a new TV series called “Austin City Limits.” Those were unforgettable times. Marty Robbins could not remember one of my favorite songs of his from the early 60’s. I’m a pretty bold guy, but when he asked if I could sing a few lines to jog his memory, I politely declined.
Loretta Lynn was an amazing person. She put up with an abusive husband, letting the drama play out in a series of number one hits. She broke ground with controversial songs about birth control, and whatever else she felt needed to be said. In person, she was as down to earth as you can get. My favorite of her Austin shows took place where I first met her, at the Silver Dollar. The crowd had moved close to the stage, when somebody requested a song. She hollered out, “Well I know I’ll forget some of the words to that one. But, what the heck. I’ll get rid of the plans for the rest of the show. You all can pick the songs. Let’s just enjoy our time together and have some fun.” And indeed we did!
Check out this special article about Austin in the 1970’s.
Musical Tribute to Loretta Lynn:
3. “Don’t Come Home A-Drinkin’ (With Lovin’ On Your Mind)”
4. “One’s On The Way”
5. “They Don’t Make ‘Em Like Me Daddy”
6. “Somebody Somewhere”
7. “The Pill”
8. “I Wanna Be Free”
9. “You’re Lookin’ At Country”
10. “Keep On The Sunny Side” – From her last album, “Still Woman Enough,” released in 2021