‘I’m A Honky Tonk Girl’ by Loretta Lynn: Story Behind the Song

by Keeli Parkey
(Photo by Scott Dudelson/Getty Images)

Loretta Lynn has been entertaining country music fans for six decades. Two factors that set her on the path of her legendary career were a basic guitar and an original song.

According to SongFacts.com, Lynn recorded “I’m a Honky Tonk Girl” in 1960. She said she wrote the song using a guitar her husband, Oliver “Doolittle” Lynn purchased for her.

“When I wrote this song, I didn’t think anybody would ever hear this song. Doo bought me this little ol’ $17 guitar,” Lynn said. “I thought it was the greatest thing I ever had, you know? It probably was. I wrote this song in about twenty minutes. I never dreamed that song would be heard, but then it was a single.”

“I’m a Honky Tonk Girl” tells the story of a woman who has lost her man. As a way of numbing the pain and loss she feels, she begins going to bars and drinking. His loss has led her down a dark path.

“So turn that jukebox way up high / And fill my glass up while I cry,” Loretta Lynn sings in her easily recognizable voice. “I’ve lost everything in this world / And now I’m a honky tonk girl.”

The song’s protagonist knows her behavior isn’t healthy and she is “ashamed.”

“I just can’t make a right with all of my wrongs / Every evening of my life seems so long,” Lynn sings. “I’m sorry and ashamed for all these things you see / But losing him has made a fool of me.”

Real Person Inspired ‘I’m a Honky Tonk Girl’

As with so many country songs, Loretta Lynn drew inspiration for “I”m a Honky Tonk Girl” from a real person, according to SongFacts.com. Lynn told the story behind the song in her 2012 book, “Honky Tonk Girl: My Life in Lyrics.”

“A girl I had picked strawberries with started coming in the little club where I worked. She would sit in the same booth every night. She never had drunk before, so after about two or three beers she would start to cry,” Lynn said. “One night on my ten-minute break I got down offstage and asked her why she was coming to the club alone and drinking. She told me her husband had left her and their seven children about three months ago for a younger woman who didn’t live too far from where she lived. Then we both cried. That night I wrote this song about her.”

“I’m a Honky Tonk Girl” appeared on Lynn’s “Honky Tonk Girl: Collection,” according to an article on CountryThangDaily.com. The song only reached No. 14 on the charts, according to SongFacts. However, it set Lynn on the path to country music stardom.

With the late 1960s came more and more female vocalist awards for Loretta Lynn. Then in 1972, she became the first woman ever to win the Country Music Association’s Entertainer of the Year. Hits kept coming and she remains relevant to this day. She even plans to release a new album on March 19.

Listen to Loretta Lynn sing “I’m a Honky Tonk Girl” below. Read more about Loretta Lynn here.