Last Friday, Halloween 2008, I was lucky enough to talk with one of my musical heroes Patty Loveless on the phone. Over the course of thirty minutes we talked like two old friends and topics discussed included the new album “Sleepless Nights,” her passion to spread the word about the classic artists of the past onto a newer generation, the freedom of recording outside of the pressure cooker that can be the major label system and me introducing her to Joey+Rory. It was a fun conversation and one I won’t soon forget.
Matt Bjorke: With “Sleepless Nights” you’ve recorded some of your all-time favorite songs. How did it come about?
Patty Loveless: Well, I would go back and say when I was the age of 12, my brother Roger brought me around to local country jamborees around Louisville, KY and we started singing and performing together and we were doing quite a few of these songs. I was doing more of the female songs like Loretta Lynn, Brenda Lee, Wanda Jackson, Connie Smith and Patsy cline while at other times I’d do some Merle Haggard songs. Also, at that time I would perform some Linda Ronstadt songs. Roger was doing stuff like Conway Twitty, Hank Sr. and of course, Elvis. (laughing), Everybody did him. He and I would do Conway and Loretta songs and also some Ernest Tubb and Loretta songs.
So during the time I had taken off from the road, I’d actually taken a sabbatical because I wasn’t really sure, to tell you the truth, if I was going to return or not. I was trying to figure out if I was just gonna to hand it over to the youth today, the current artists out there and sort of just sit back and maybe concentrate on the writing instead. And that would enable me to be home…
Matt: Would you still tour, even without an album?
Patty: The thing I enjoy about the road is putting the music in front of the people. Everything that comes before it doesn’t matter as much as that. The getting there is the hard part. Especially when it’s a beautiful day like it is in Georgia, I want to be working in my yard or taking a long walk.
Matt: How many songs did you select for the album?
Patty: Emory and I, here in our home in Georgia, sometimes after dinner we’d go to our studio and just listen to some of the great classics. We’d play a variety of music, not just country but Jazz, blues, bluegrass, classical, just a variety. Trying to stay true to what I’m about, Emory got to talking about the thought of doing a record that showcased the songs you did back as a younger singer.
Matt: Was it hard to pare them down to the 14 that you chose?
Patty: When people have said we listened to hundreds of songs, which were literally over a three-year period or more where we concentrated or honed in on.
Matt: You probably kept a list of what you liked…
Patty: Right, and some of them we didn’t even listen to the whole song and we just moved on.
Matt: Just like when you would be pitched newly written songs for a record…
Patty: Exactly, exactly. It was hard selecting the songs because we did have a lot to choose from but Emory, being the producer he is, knows me well enough, so he said, “honey, let me help you out.” He would play the songs for me in our cabin/studio where we didn’t have distractions and we’d rate them from one to 10. But we still had 47 different songs to choose from.
Matt: How did the label deal with Saguaro Road come about?
Patty: We had the idea for the record before they approached us. They came here to Cartersville, from Nashville, and discussed, over lunch, this project. They were all for putting it out, thinking it sounded like a great idea.
Matt: Were there any songs that you were unsure of?
Patty: I wasn’t so sure about “There Stands The Glass” but after recording it, it came off well. But a lot of them were easy to select, like “Crazy Arms,” because I knew them so well.
Matt: Some of the younger people probably don’t know these songs that well…
Patty: “Color of the Blue” is one of those and “That’s all it took.” Some of the younger people probably know it from the Graham Parsons/Emmylou Harris version, but not the Gene Pitney and George Jones versions. I enjoyed doing that one and I thought that Jedd Hughes did a really good job with it.
Matt: He toured with you didn’t he?
Patty: Yeah, he did when he was 19 or 20 years old. It’s hard to believe it was that long ago. He ended up playing in my band in the year 2003. He’s a good one, one that has yet to be discovered.
Matt: I have his first record, the MCA album with “Soldier For The Lonely…”
Patty: Oh, God. “Soldier For The Lonely,” was such a great song.
Matt: Maybe he can revisit it later on….
Patty: Yeah, he may record that one down the road…
Matt: Are there any other particular ‘unknown’ tracks that that are on the record?
Patty: “Next In Line” is one that caught my attention. The Everly Brothers had it on a big box set collection of all of their stuff and I heard it in 2003 or 2004 and then Emory brought it to my attention from a Graham Parsons’ collection of recorded but unreleased stuff. We kind of combined the two songs and melded the darker imagery from Graham’s stuff with the not so dark stuff of the Everly’s version. I was influenced by both.
Matt: Does it feel any different not being with a major record label after all the years you were with one?
Patty: Well, I don’t feel pressured. I don’t feel like I’m on a “chain gang” anymore. You know, when I was first signed, it seemed like we did an album every 9 months. Then the labels started becoming wise around the time of Shania. I think it was great that she and Mutt did what they did to record a record every 3 years or so and just do what you can with the product you got there.
For me it was heartbreaking to go in and do an album and feel really great about the album and then have to go in and do another one…
Matt: Like when you recorded Marcus Hummon’s “Over My Shoulder” on the “When Fallen Angels Fly,” record…
Matt: I just didn’t understand why that great song couldn’t have been a single with the other songs. It feels like one that got away.
Patty: It was kind of frustrating for me and at this point with this record, we didn’t really go for any singles. Well, we offered “Why Baby Why” and “Crazy Arms” to radio but it feels good to go into the studio and have no pressure from the label. If anything, I had a lot of support from them.
Matt: Are there any plans to tour behind “Sleepless Nights?”
Patty: They weren’t pressuring me to get out there and tour but the fact was I thought, “Well, maybe I need to get back out on the road.” ‘Cause this is another way to let people know that I have new product and that there is new music. It’s something that I’m very proud of and (laughing) I want to show it off. I guess it’s my baby and I wanna show it off.
Matt: Well, I guess it’s like when you did your bluegrass record…
Patty: Exactly. You know, I made that album and then a Christmas record with a similar theme called “Bluegrass and White Snow.” Because the music was sort of similar to what I’m doing now. But I was raised on that music, Bill Monroe, the Carter Family and Lester Flatt & Earl Scruggs. When I started performing, what came out was country. A lot of people thought that I started out in bluegrass, or what they thought was bluegrass, and it just wasn’t true. It was just in my blood.
Matt: Did it make it hard for you to have that misconception?
Patty: When I started working with Emory, he could just tell that was a part of me. Emory actually asked Tony Brown if he knew where I was from and Tony said “She’s from Carolina” and Emory said, well I think she’s probably from the area from “Pikeville, KY;” which is where I come from. When Emory and I got to know each other, we’d go for drives out in the country and I’d say “I know this music, I grew up with it.”
Matt: I think the roots of the music is in many singers, so I think it’s great that you were able to make “Mountain Soul.” I think a lot of people think it’s one of your best.
Patty: Oh they do and here’s an example of problems with a label. When we did it the label said “it’s a great record but we don’t know how to promote it.” “Where do we go to get it played.” I was blessed at that time because of “O Brother,” I was able to tour on the “Down From The Mountain Tour.” I wasn’t trying to jump on the bandwagon maybe it was fate. Maybe it was my father, looking down just happy that I made a bluegrass record because he had a love for this kind of music.
Matt: Are there any special moments from the album?
Patty: When I think about “Sleepless Nights,” I want to share it with kids like Jedd Hughes and a little girl who sings on “Pain of Loving You,” “Please Help Me I’m Falling,” and “There Goes My Everything.” Her name is Sydni Perry. She lives in Franklin, Kentucky and she comes to Nashville to take lesions from my fiddle player, Deanie Richardson, who plays on the album and on the road with me. The first time I laid Eyes on her she was nine year old and she had a fiddle with her and she remembers talking with me and playing the fiddle and I told her to keep it up and she told Deanie the story and, now, at the age of 15, she came and stayed with us for a few days and ended up on the record.
Matt: Probably a dream come true for her…
Patty: I just want to make an impact, I just hope those kids that are coming along can be influenced by me, even if they don’t record these old songs, will go back and research these old songs and try to write like them because the country songs that I grew up on aren’t really being written today, at least what I call as country.
Matt: For example Joey+Rory are a new duo that feels the same way that you do, and their record is country to the core.
Patty: I’ll have to go online and check them out then. I’ll look them up for sure because I’d love to hear that.
Matt: Do you think that maybe “Sleepless Nights” will influence some people to go back and listen to the older songs?
Patty: Well, if people ever had a chance to meet me after a show, the college-aged ones would talk to me after shows and would say “I don’t like country music but I love your music.” I thought “I have to take that as a compliment” and then I think maybe they thought it was the ‘music of your parents or grandparents.’
Matt: Like how they’re drawn to artists like Taylor Swift nowadays...
Patty: Right. And the kids are drawn to stuff like hers and I don’t know if they’re going to like the same songs as they get older.
Matt: Like I know some younger teenagers are coming along to country music and truly enjoying your album or stuff like Kathy Mattea’s “Coal” record…
Patty: Yes, my 9 year old granddaughter was really into Hannah Montana but now she’s over that. It’s almost like the industry is going backwards instead of forwards with their courting of younger people and neglect for the history of the music.
Matt: What would you like to say to the readers who are maybe reading this article at Roughstock?
Patty: I hope that they learn about the impact of the classic artists of the past, people like Jack Greene, Hank Williams, Sr. and Patsy Cline. I hope for them to see the heritage and how if it wasn’t for these artists there wouldn’t be a Patty Loveless.
Matt: Thanks for your time and it was truly great to get to talk with you about traditional country music and your new album “Sleepless Nights.
Patty: Thank you, Matt; and I’ll check out Joey+Rory.