Loretta Comes Clean … Sort Of
In a 2012 interview with Rob Howatson, the Queen of Country admits to having played at The Chicken Coop several times. She remembers the Vancouver drummer-promoter Johnny Zapp, but cannot recall if he was the one who invited her there. She thinks she may have heard about the jam sessions and "just showed up."
She remembers Zero president Don Grashey and VP Chuck Williams, but cannot recall where she first met them.
She struggles initially to recall doing two separate recording sessions in Hollywood for the tiny Vancouver label, but then seems to accept the reality.
She did not know that Don had written an autobiography in the late 1990's and devoted a chapter to correcting her version of the events surrounding her discovery. (Don told Mike Harling that he had sent her a copy of the book.)
She did not know that Don and Chuck had passed away in 2005.
Towards the end of the interview, Loretta seems comfortable with the idea that Don was present at the first recording session. She calls him the producer and when she is told that he resigned before the second session, she says: "but I don't recall who took his place."
She does not recall the sound engineer Don Blake, the original owner of Western Recorders. She seems to think there was a fellow named Ted involved in one or both of the Hollywood sessions, but she is not sure in what capacity. I mention Ted Kurluk, one of the Zero investors and she fondly recalls him, but Kurluk never went down to Hollywood on behalf of Zero. This new Ted mystery remains unsolved.
I suggest to Loretta that she and her husband went down to L.A. by themselves for the second trip. She says: "I don't remember. I don't think so, but I could be wrong. I think when I got down there I watched out for the steel player [Speedy West]. I think I had Speedy take care of the pickers. Now I think that's how it went. I don't remember. I can't remember all the little details."
This is as close as she comes to confirming Don Grashey's theory that her second trip to Hollywood got off to a shaky start and had to be rescued by Speedy West.
As for the momentous meeting at The Coop that Don describes in his book, Loretta has this to say: "I think that Mr Burley saw me sing 'Whispering Sea' on the Buck Owens show and then when I went to – I'm sure this is kind of the way it went – and I went to The Chicken Coop to sing 'Whispering Sea' and Don [Grashey] and them were there. That's where he [Don Grashey] probably came over and wanted to know if I wanted to record."
It may very well be the truth. Norm Burley saw Loretta on Buck's show, but did nothing about it except to file her away in his mind under Singers Who Help Me Mourn My Wife. Don and Chuck bumped into her at The Coop and delivered her to Norm not knowing that he had already been captivated by her on TV.
Or perhaps the truth is still out there and this is just a compromise scenario that allows all parties, living and dead to save face and satisfies stakeholders on both sides of the U.S.-Canada border. Call it the Peace Arch Protocol. The important thing for country music fans is that Loretta's songs survive without any loss of clarity.
In 2012, the Vancouver Heritage Foundation will install a plaque near the former site of The Chicken Coop commemorating the hen house's role in Loretta's career and in Vancouver music history.