Remember when: Loretta Lynn wrote her first single based on a story inspired by a drunk woman

Author of some of the most important and impactful country songs known to mankind, songwriter Loretta Lynn, born in Butcher Hollow, Kentucky, remains an icon of the genre. Her songs like “Coal Miner’s Daughter,” “You Ain’t Woman Enough,” “The Pill,” and “Portland Oregon” will live on for generations. But it’s the story of his very first song that we wanted to highlight here today.

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The beginnings of the Pacific Northwest

It was in the Pacific Northwest that Lynn wrote what would become her first single while living as a young housewife in Washington. That song, “I’m a Honky Tonk Girl,” was recorded and released in the spring of 1960. Then, driving from radio station to radio station, Lynn and her then-husband, Oliver, promoted the song, which would become a success. No. 14 on the Billboard table of countries.

The song, which is ultimately about personal loss, was inspired by a woman Lynn met on her trip to Washington and who drunkenly told her one night that she had lost everything she had, while crying uncontrollably. Soon after, the inspired Lynn wrote “I’m a Honky Tonk Girl” in 20 minutes in her bathroom, using a $17 guitar her boyfriend bought her to pursue her dream. During this same session, Lynn also wrote the song “Whispering Sea”, which was the B-side of the single.

Lynn said in 2010: “I just sat down with my guitar. …I was outside and leaning against the toilet in Washington state. And I sat there and wrote “Honkey Tonk Girl” and “Whispering Sea.”

On the song, Lynn sings,

Since you left me, I’ve done nothing but bad
Many nights I lay awake and cried
We were so happy, my heart was spinning
But now I’m a honky tonk girl

So turn that jukebox up high
And fill my glass while crying
I lost everything in this world
And now I’m a honky tonk girl

Spread it

With “I’m a Honky Tonk Girl” fresh in hand, Lynn took the track to a guy who helped pay for the recording in Los Angeles. He also had ties to the recently founded Zero Records, which became the country icon’s first-ever label. Lynn, after all, wasn’t really good at controlling people. She had married Oliver in 1948 after having known him for only a month. Together, they moved from the Bluegrass State to Custer, Washington, a logging town, when Lynn was seven months pregnant.

In 1953, Lynn began teaching herself to play the $17 guitar, adapting her lyrics to the music. Soon after, she formed her first band, Loretta & the Trailblazers, playing various venues around Washington. She even won a talent competition in Tacoma hosted by country icon Buck Owens, creator of the country sound from Bakersfield, Calif., who was also living in the Pacific Northwest at the time.

The resonance of the song

Lynn recorded “I’m a Honky Tonk Girl” in February 1960 at Western Recorders Studio with the help of musician Speedy West, who played slide guitar. The song was produced by Don Grashey. It was released the following month and all promotion was done by Lynn and her husband. She said: “We were pitiful. …Because we were too poor to stay in hotels, we slept in the car and ate baloney and cheese sandwiches in the parks. …Then we would go to 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 would hit them all. We were on the road for three months.

But in the end, it worked. It excited her Billboard and presaged a revolutionary and essential career. Check out the song below.

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Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images