Loretta Lynn's long and prolific career as a singer and songwriter has received a lot of attention lately, and for good reason: There are not many musicians who have ever recorded more than 50 albums, as Lynn, 83, has. Ten of those albums went to No. 1 on the country charts. All told, Lynn has sold more than 45 million records worldwide.
With her latest album, Full Circle, coming out today, the time is ideal to explore what a few of the keys to her success have been.
1. She has a meticulous head for business. Her longtime assistant Tim Cobb told the New York Times: "She's so down-to-earth, people think she's like their sister or their daughter. But they don't realize the woman has got a meticulous business head. She knows where every dollar goes."
Some examples of her business savvy include turning her home in Hurricane Mills, Tennessee, into a tourist attraction--after she realized fans were showing up at the 1,450-acre ranch anyway. The complex boasts campgrounds, a dude ranch, a motocross course, a music shed, a replica of the cabin where Lynn grew up, a simulated coal mine, and a Loretta Lynn Museum, notes the New York Times.
Lynn has also made savvy marketing choices about keeping her name and career afloat in the ever-shifting currencies of pop-cultural waters. Her previous album, 2004's Grammy-winning Van Lear Rose, was produced by singer-songwriter Jack White, a critically acclaimed and hard-to-categorize artist in his own right. His imprimatur lent lofty, crossover credentials to Lynn's long-established country brand, and exposed her work to audiences who would not normally be attuned to new releases from venerable country stars.
As for Full Circle, the marketing machinery is in full effect. The New York Times notes that a Broadway musical based on Lynn's memoir, Coal Miner's Daughter, is in the works. The star of it could be actress Zooey Deschanel. Lynn's career is also receiving the documentary treatment. PBS's "American Masters" series is debuting a movie tonight about Lynn's life story, called Still a Mountain Girl.
2. She has fostered trusting, long-term creative relationships. Full Circle was produced by Lynn's daughter, Patsy Lynn Russell, and John Carter Cash, the son of country music legends Johnny Cash and June Carter. Lynn used to change John Carter Cash's diapers.
"I trust Johnny, because me and Johnny Cash and June was real, real close. I had to take care of her kids," Lynn tells Rolling Stone. "When we were doing shows together, they'd hand me [John Carter], and say, 'Take care of the kids until I get off stage,'" she recalls. "So now he's recording me."
Lynn's relationship with White has also become a trusted source of creative input. Here's how Lynn described it to Rolling Stone:
We'd sit and talk everything over. If I come up with a song I'd like to sing, we talk it over. "What do you see in this song, Loretta?" he'd say. "What did you take from this song that you'd like to record?" And we would sit and talk it over, and then I'd sing and he'd record it....a lot of times I call him and ask him different questions about what's going on, and what I should be doing and not doing.
Business leaders can glean two important takeaways from this snippet. First, that Lynn, legend though she is, does not hesitate to call a younger artist and ask him questions. Second, the level of mutual respect in their rapport and communication is obvious. They both seek and value the other's feedback.