In 2004, experimental rock joined forces with country music’s golden era with the release of Loretta Lynn’s Van Lear Rose.
As her forty-second studio album, Lynn, 72 at the time, collaborated with 28-year-old Jack White for an album that would earn them both Grammys. As odd as the pairing sounds, it was a recipe for greatness. While Lynn could’ve easily released an album stylistically similar to her earlier records, she stepped outside the box. And it paid off in big ways.
With White producing, his goal wasn’t to change Lynn’s voice but merely shine a light on her voice in a new environment.
Even before he met her, Jack White had always loved Loretta Lynn. He even dedicated his album, White Blood Cells, to the country legend. In the album, White’s dreams come true as he acts as her Conway Twitty in songs like “Portland, Oregon,” which he discovered the lyrics on an old paper filed away in Lynn’s attic. The song was even based on an actual event when Lynn pretended to have a love affair with her guitarist, Cal Smith.
The Story Behind Loretta Lynn’s ‘Portland, Oregon’
In a 2005 interview with “60 Minutes,” Lynn confessed that she had made up the romance to make her husband, Oliver Lynn (a.k.a. Doo or Mooney), jealous after discovering he was having affairs with other women. Lynn named the song based on the setting in which the incident took place: a hotel in Portland, Oregon. However, she wouldn’t lay down the track until White encouraged her to do so.
The album’s first single, “Miss Being Mrs.,” was also discovered by White in a pile of old handwritten lyrics inside her house. Once White and Lynn decided to record together, he encouraged her to cut the record. The only musical accompaniment is Lynn’s voice and an acoustic guitar played by White. The video “Miss Being Mrs.” was also filmed on Lynn’s home in Hurricane Mills, Tennessee.
Experimental Album Earns High Honors
Van Lear Rose climbed t the No. 2 spot on the country charts and No. 24 on the Billboard 200, making it Loretta’s best crossover record at the time. Applauded by critics of both rock and country genres, the album is widely regarded as one of Lynn’s best records of all time.
At the time, Lynn hadn’t made an album that successful since her 1977 tribute album to Patsy Cline, I Remember Patsy. In its first week, the album sold 37,000 units, the best sales week for Lynn in the Nielsen Soundscan era. According to music critic Stephen Erlewine, “The brilliance of Van Lear Rose is not just how the two approaches complement each other, but how the record captures the essence of Loretta Lynn’s music even as it has flourishes that are distinctly Jack.”
At the 2005 Grammy Awards, White and Lynn’s experimental album would prove to be a hit with fans and critics. Van Lear Rose won the Grammy for “Best Country Album,” while their song “Portland, Oregon” took the award for “Best Country Collaboration with Vocals.” The album was also nominated three other times for “Best Country Song” and “Best Female Country Vocal Performance.”