don't want to get into all that," says Patty Loveless from a plush sofa at Nashville's tony Hermitage Hotel. Nothing nasty about her tone, mind you; it's just that with 10 interviews ahead of her today, she's pacing herself.
And besides, Loveless has never been comfortable with spilling her guts about her personal life to just any shnook with a notebook and a tape recorder.
Over the last few years, though, Loveless has had plenty to fret about. In 1995, her older brother Roger fought off a potentially fatal liver ailment.
Shortly after that, her sister, Dottie, died from emphysema at 49. Her husband, producer Emory Gordy, Jr., faced emergency surgery for a life-threatening bout of pancreatitis. And Loveless herself was hospitalized for pneumonia during the winter of 1996-97.
But you won't find her doing any public therapy on Oprah any time soon. Instead, the emotional fallout from these events is kept tucked away, to be used as fuel for some of the most heart-rending vocal performances Nashville has known in a while.
Ah, but get her talking music and her career, and she can't shut up. No surprise, considering that she's a former Country Music Association Female Vocalist of the Year, and her latest album, Long Stretch of Lonesome, which just went gold, has gotten the kind of reviews that exist only in publicists' dreams.
And when she needs duet partners, she calls on the likes of Vince Gill ("When I Call Your Name"), George Jones ("You Don't Seem to Miss Me") and Ralph Stanley ("Pretty Polly" on his new Rebel Records album Clinch Mountain Country). After 12 years of record-making, Patty Loveless has become an elder stateswoman of country music - a crown she wears uneasily.
"My husband pointed it out to me," she explains, "because he's had the opportunity to work with some other young female artists. They talk about me to him, but when they get around me, they're so excited! There's a girl named Rebecca Lynn (Howard, signed to Rising Tide Records until that label folded in March), who's just wonderful. She's 18 and she's written a song that (mentioned) me. And she refused to take it out! I even told Emory, 'I don't think she should leave my name in there,' and she refused to do it. She said, 'It is what it is.' Which is good for her; I'm glad to know somebody so young can stand up for herself. Then I look at LeAnn Rimes, and I think, "My God, that kid was probably listening to me when she was three years old! Maybe two!'"
Loveless can understand the teen singer thing. "I had the chance to be a LeAnn Rimes at one time in my life if I had chosen to be," she says. "I was about 14 when I first came to Nashville. I was writing songs too - sort of adult-lyric type of songs for a 14-year-old. I signed with a company called Sure Fire for the Wilburn Brothers.
"But I look at LeAnn Rimes, and she's very mature for her age. Even some of the songs that she's starting to do today are little bit mature for a 14- or 15-year-old. But when I look back and think about those years, I had the chance, it's just that I didn't have the patience. At the time, when I was 14, there was a singing sensation that came along by the name of Tanya Tucker. I was so immature, but I loved hanging out with older people. Tanya, I think, was pushed into growing up really fast. And for me, I was still being treated as a 14- or 15-year-old - especially when I was with the Wilburn Brothers, because Doyle Wilburn was one who was always sort of an uncle image. He was always telling me how young I was, but I was thinking older. I wanted to record; I wanted to do what Tanya Tucker was doing!"
However, fate had other plans for Loveless. She met and married rock drummer Terry Lovelace, whose band sometimes backed up the Wilburns. "He was a rock 'n' roller, and he was a rowdy boy," admits Loveless, "the kind of guy I had to get involved with to find out what kind of life I had been missing - and I 'm glad I did miss!
She and Terry moved to North Carolina, and for the next seven years played the club circuit, often gigging from 11 p.m. till 6 a.m. "It was a training period for me, and it taught me a lot of things about life and people. It also caused me to grow up. I was very naive and very immature. I was 19 when I married him, but mentally I was still 10, or maybe 12. It's because I had a very isolated life when I was growing up. The only way I cold get out and do things was by singing."
However, it wasn't the kind of vocal work that Loveless' fans today would recognize. "It just came to a standstill for me musically, as far as country music," says Loveless. "I started getting into some rock 'n' roll, doing some Donna Summer. And of course, I did Linda Ronstadt, but I always tried to slide in some Dolly Parton - "I Will Always Love You" and that kind of stuff.
The band didn't last. Neither did the marriage.
But Loveless sent a demo to MCA Records in Nashville that featured two of her own songs, "I Did" and "Sounds of Loneliness."