By SEAN DALY
Times Pop Music Critic
Loretta Lynn, the first lady of country music, is flirting with me. When her assistant asks if I'm ready for our phone interview, I say sure, let's do it. And that's when I hear the 81-year-old icon's voice zing onto the line:
"You ain't ready for me!"
I laugh. She may be right.
The indefatigable singer-songwriter plays the Mahaffey Theater in St. Petersburg on Saturday, the hippest, most history-rich concert on this music-packed weekend in Tampa Bay. The sassy star of Butcher Hollow, Ky., is a national treasure not just for her music (Fist City, Coal Miner's Daughter, Rated X), but for giving feisty voice to strong, working-class women the world over.
It's no surprise that current Nashville stars such as Miranda Lambert, her side group the Pistol Annies and Carrie Underwood all list Lynn as a personal hero. The Pistol Annies did a rippin' version of Fist City at a Grand Ole Opry salute to her.
Lynn doesn't sing for the Tiffany set; she represents the rest of us using coupons for kitty litter at Walmart. A former 15-year-old bride, she's addressed poverty, infidelity, contraceptives, double standards and how dumb men can be — all the while loving, and hating, troublemaking lifetime hubby "Doo" Lynn, to whom she was hitched for almost 50 years before his death in 1996.
About her epically tumultuous marriage, Lynn has said: "He never hit me one time that I didn't hit him back twice."
Okay, now I'm ready for her.
• • •
Due to bad luck and a worse phone line, my chat with Lynn will be cut woefully short. In fact, had I known we only had a few minutes together, I wouldn't have continued flirting. I would have asked, for example, how it felt to be the first-ever female country artist to pen a No. 1 song, 1966's You Ain't Woman Enough.
Or if it's true that, as reported in Rolling Stone, she wants to team again with Jack White, who produced and co-starred on her 2004 Grammy-winning comeback album Van Lear Rose.
Or what she'll wear to accept the Presidential Medal of Freedom later this year, joining a 2013 class that also includes Oprah Winfrey, Bill Clinton and Chicago Cubs legend Ernie Banks.
That said, it's hard not flirting with Loretta Lynn. Why would you ever want to stop?
Before I can even fire off my first question, Lynn tells me to come visit her when she's in town: "Ain't nobody on the bus but the guy who makes my dresses. So knock on the door and come on in!" I say I just might commandeer the bus and drive her off into the sunset. "We could do that too!" she laughs.
Some mileage has crept into her voice, its timbre, its bounce. And yet there is no denying that Lynn is an age-defying marvel.
Sixty years ago, Lynn's husband bought her a guitar — and she's been playing ever since. She still tours a lot, even did back-to-back shows last week. Which leads me to my first and, alas, only question before disaster:
Why not relax?
"Hey, I do better shows today than when I was 40, when I was working five, six days a week," says Lynn. "I always had to work. I don't put a record out and make $100 per each record like they do today. No, I have —"
And then her phone cuts out. Zzzzttt! The coal miner's flirty daughter is gone like that.
I try to get Loretta Lynn back on the phone. I really do. Still not sure what happened. Maybe I'll find out when I knock on her tour bus door . . .