The First Lady of Country was born in Butcher Hollow, Kentucky in 1932. She was raised in dire poverty in the remote Appalachian hamlet. Her father was a coal miner and she lived with her seven brothers and sisters in a mountain cabin. When Loretta was 15, she married Oliver "Doolittle" Lynn, a 21-year-old war veteran with a reputation as a hell raiser. The newlyweds moved to Custer, Washington, because "Doo" had relatives who had lived in that part of the U.S. His various jobs included logger and heavy-duty auto mechanic. By age 21, Loretta had four children (two more, twins, came along in 1964).
During their 11-year stay in the Evergreen State, Doo bought Loretta a guitar and she began writing songs. She joined the Lynden, Washington band The Westerneers and then formed her own band, The Trailblazers, which played in nightspots such as Bill's Tavern and The Club Palace, both in Blaine, Washington.
After Loretta signed with Zero Records in Vancouver, B.C. and scored a hit with "I'm a Honky Tonk Girl" the Lynns moved to Nashville and she signed with producer Owen Bradley at Decca Records. She was part of the first wave of female artists to hit Music City, a pioneering generation of talent that includes Kitty Wells , Goldie Hill and Patsy Cline.
Loretta's prolific songwriting is matched only by her success as a performer. She has penned over 160 songs and released 70 albums. She has had 15 number one albums and 16 number one singles on the country charts. She was the first woman in country music to receive a certified gold album for 1967's Don't Come Home A' Drinkin' (With Lovin' on Your Mind). She has won every music award imaginable, including three Grammys, two of which were for her 2004, critically acclaimed album Van Lear Rose, produced by the White Stripes' Jack White. Lynn was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1988.
Despite being known for her humorous candor and refreshing frankness, Loretta rarely mentions Don Grashey and Chuck Williams, the music producers who discovered her at The Chicken Coop in Vancouver, B.C. in 1959.
In a 2012 interview with Rob Howatson, the First Lady of Country acknowledges that Don Grashey saw her at the Chicken Coop, but she insists Norm Burley saw her first on TV. Loretta does not explain what, if anything, Mr. Burley did to track her down after seeing her on Buck's show.
In 2012, an Associated Press article reported that Lynn was not married at age 13 as she claimed in her book Coal Miner's Daughter. Records show that she was in fact 15, the legal marriage age in Kentucky at that time.
If Loretta's life story contains other "discrepancies," they will likely be perpetuated in the Broadway musical that has been announced starring Zooey Deschanel as the First Lady of Country.
As of 2012, the singer is still touring.
He was born Dominic Michael Guarasci in Port Arthur, Ontario (now Thunder Bay) in 1925. Grashey first dabbled in the art of songwriting with Jim Amadeo, struggling for more than a decade to get a foothold in the Canadian music scene. He finally scored a breakthrough in 1954 with the song "My Rambling Heart," which became a Jim Reeves hit.
In 1955, Grashey decided to broaden his involvement in the music industry, after discovering then 14-year-old Myrna Lorrie (birthname Petrunka), who recorded a duet of "Are You Mine ?" with Buddy De Val (Jim Amadeo). Grashey co-wrote the song with Amadeo and Lorrie and the tune went on to become one of the most memorable country duets of all time. Even Loretta Lynn and Ernest Tubb covered the song in 1965. Grashey realized he enjoyed managing artists and producing records as much as he enjoyed writing songs.
Following Grashey's brief tenure with Jury and Zero Records in Vancouver, he and his business partner Chuck Williams spent much of the 1960's in California trying to launch a rocker from Thunder Bay named Jerry Palmer (birthname Godick). Palmer didn't catch on with the American public, but the U.S. military took a shine to him and issued him his draft notice in 1968. The Canadians decided to make a tactical retreat to Ontario.
Grashey opened DMG Studios on Cumberland Street in Thunder Bay and got back into a country groove with the signing of Carroll Baker to his fledgling Gaiety Record label in 1970. With Grashey as her manager, the team went on to become one of the most successful partnerships in Canadian country music history, scoring dozens of hit singles, including the Grashey penned "Ten Little Fingers." The duo parted ways in 1984, but Baker's career continued. In 1985, she was recruited to join the Canadian charity supergroup Northern Lights to sing "Tears Are Not Enough." Grashey's former client appears in the video, crooning between Ronnie Hawkins and Murray McLauchlan.
Grashey received the RPM Canadian Music Industry Hall of Fame Award in 1980 and he was inducted into the Canadian Country Music Hall of Fame in 1989. Carroll Baker sang at his memorial mass when he passed in 2005. Everyone who knew the man describes him as a straight shooter, not the kind of guy who would exaggerate his role in the discovery of a superstar such as Loretta Lynn.
George Charles 'Chuck' Williams was born in Alberta on January 21, 1930 and as a child moved to Manitoba, later settling in Thunder Bay with his family. He was a disenchanted finance company employee and devoted harmonica player when he first met Don Grashey at an Arthur Street restaurant in 1958. Grashey had just signed Orella Myers and was preparing to record her first demos, "Don't Leave Me Ever" and "The Day My World Fell Through" at radio station CKPR. The backing musicians were the T Bar C Ranchboys and four members of the Fort William Male Choir. Williams helped Grashey assemble the package, believed to be the first Northern Ontario recording session to use all local talent. The session was also the first of many Grashey-Williams music ventures. The pair made a great team because Williams was the affable, outgoing salesman and Grashey the introverted, detail-oriented, marketing strategist. Chuck set up the business deals, Don closed them.
It was Chuck who invited Grashey to Vancouver in 1959 to take part in the Jury label venture and Chuck who first spotted Loretta Lynn for Zero Records.
After Williams sold his shares in Zero for a nominal fee, he joined fellow harmonica players Fred Strickland and George Lulham in touring North America as The Largos. They were playing a Seattle club in 1963 when they got the news that Jack Ruby had shot Lee Harvey Oswald. The mouth organists began bragging about some evenings they had spent hanging with Ruby at his Dallas strip joint. As Grashey tells it in his book, co-written with Joseph Mauro, "Before they could blow four more bars of 'Lady of Spain,' the FBI had carted them off to a back room where each was questioned about their involvment with Oswald's assassination." The novelty act was later cleared of any wrong doing.
The Largos split in 1964, but Chuck's off-beat adventues continued in California with Grashey and Jerry Palmer. The Canuck trio went to L.A. and collaborated with Gary S. Paxton, the insane genius who wrote "Alley Oop" and "Monster Mash." Paxton owned five studios in Hollywood from 1959-1970 where he produced over 1000 artists (over 300 of them Canadian). Paxton suggested that Palmer cover Buddy Holly's "That'll Be The Day." They did so just as The Everly Brothers released their version on MGM and the frustrated Thunder Bay boys had to return to Canada to raise more money.
By 1966, Chuck and company were back working with Paxton in the City of Angels. Pax owned a home on Hudson Street with a ramshackle garage that he had converted to a studio. For a control room, Paxton installed a second-hand mixing board in an old bus. Grashey claims that the crazy hippie got better sound out of his primitive music factory than Capitol Records engineers of the day achieved using cutting edge audio technology.
Don and Chuck recorded a steady stream of relatively obscure acts for their Gaiety Records label, including The Dudes, Duncan and Fife, The Checkerlads, White Knights, Donnie Hinson, 49th Parallel, The Dewline, Myrna Lorrie, The Plague and Sandi 'Shore' Loranger.
In later years, both producers shifted their focus to country artists, but Chuck was never inducted into the Canadian Country Music Hall of Fame. Grashey made sure he thanked his partner in his 1989 induction speech. "If it hadn't been for Chuck's salesmanship and enthusiasm, several performers would not have made a mark in the music industry."
Those performers included Loretta Lynn. In a 2000 interview with Vancouver writer Mike Harling, Williams said: "Loretta was in the Pacific Northwest singing for quite awhile before we signed her. No one had made any overtures to record her, so I believe if we hadn't discovered her, if we weren't the professionals that we were and knew how to do things, I honestly don't think she would have made it."