One of my-all-time favorite movies to watch on TV, is “Coal Miner’s Daughter.” It brings back happy, nostalgic memories of our good Ol’ American family values. The movie was released in 1980 and is based on the 1976 biography of Loretta Lynn who is a famous country singer originally from Kentucky.
The movie portrays Lynn’s story of hard luck, heartbreak, and redemption as a sensational country singer and songwriter. Loretta’s life growing up poor, in the rural hills of Butcher Hollow, Ky was harsh but Loretta; her dad and mom (Ted and Clara Webb) along with seven siblings, were none-the-less happy.
The movie was a box office hit bringing in over $67 million dollars. Loretta Lynn was played by actress Sissy Spacek and her husband, Doolittle, by actor, Tommy Lee Jones.
The movie’s title comes from the song that Loretta Lynn wrote in 1970, “Coal Miner’s Daughter.” Loretta started writing the song for a bluegrass act called the Osborne Brothers, but realized later, that the song was meant to keep for herself to sing.
At the young age of thirteen, Loretta, married Mr. Oliver (Doolittle) V. Mooney. The couple decided to move across the country to Bellingham, WA. where she raised four children; wrote songs and sang at local “honky-tonk” clubs and radio stations. Soon after, Loretta Lynn started performing regularly at the “Grand Ole Opry House” located in Nashville, Tn. She was one of the most influential singers of modern country music, and had several Billboard hit records. In 1972, she was the first woman to be named the Country Music Association’s “Entertainer of the Year.”
In the movie, Coal Miner’s Daughter, Loretta reminisces about her childhood years with a father who labored in the cornfields during the day and worked at the local coal mine nights. Her mother, Clara, raised and cared for eight children. As Loretta stated, “They may have been poor, but they had each other and loved to sing and dance to country- bluegrass music.”
The 1969 song, “Up on Cripple Creek” and the Canadian rock group called “The Band.”
In November 1969 a group called “The Band” released the song “Up on Cripple Creek.” The song portraits the viewpoint of a truck driver who goes to Lake Charles, Louisiana to be with his lover, Bessie.
The lyrics to this song are full of wit, sound repetition and fantastic imagery.
One verse reads “Now there’s one thing in the whole wide world, I sure would like to see…That’s when that little love of mine dips her doughnut in my tea.”
The quirky doughnut line was added to the lyrics by Levon Helm, who was the drummer and lead vocalist in The Band. It was just what Robby Robinson (song writer for The Band) needed to make the song complete.
“Up on Cripple Creek” reached No. 25
on the Billboard Hot 100 and soon after The Band was featured on
the front cover of January 1970 issue of Time Magazine. This song is
also known for breaking ground on the usage of the Hohner clavinet, which was
played with a wah-wah pedal.
(Link to Cripple creek song)
The Band, also played backup for Bob Dylan back in the 1960s, which eventually landed Levon, and his band members in Woodstock, N.Y.
Not only was the band member, Levon Helm a drummer, and a soulful, country-bluegrass, singer in the rock group called The Band; he was a Grammy Award winner. In February 2008 he won a Grammy for his 2007 comeback album, Dirt Farmer– in Best Traditional Folk Album, and in 2010, for his follow-up album to Dirt Farmer- Electric Dirt (2009) won for Best Americana Album.
Due to drug and alcohol addiction among band members, The Band stopped touring in 1978 after a unilateral decision was made by Robbie Robertson, which led to the bands eventual demise. One of the bands members, Levon continued to have a successful career leading his own band.
The popular Rolling Stone Magazine ranked Levon Helm- No. 91 on its list of 100 Greatest Singers of All Time in 2008. Additionally, in 2016, Rolling Stone Magazine ranked him No. 22 in its list of, 100 Greatest Drummers of All Time.
During the ‘40s, Levon grew up working hard on the family cotton farm in Arkansas. At the age of six, he already knew he wanted to become a bluegrass and “Turkey Scratch” musician and singer after watching Bill Monroe perform. He began playing the guitar at age eight, but shortly after, turned his interest to becoming a drummer after attending a traveling tent show with F. S. Walcott Rabbit’s Foot Minstrels, and it’s adult-only “Midnight Ramble.” Additionally, he was inspired by James “Peck” Curtis, the drummer for bluesman legend, “Sonny Boy Williamson who had frequently played near his home.
What Do these facts all have in common with each other?
Not only was
Levon Helm a skilled and talented musician; he was also an American actor
who portrayed Loretta Lynn’s
father “Ted Webb” in the movie, Coal Miner’s Daughter. In fact, his role
in Coal Miner’s Daughter marked his acting debut.
Even though, Levon was new to acting, Loretta Lynn knew Helm was the perfect person to play the part of her father. Having been raised on an Arkansas farm, he had the perfect country accent and mannerisms necessary to play the part.
So perfect- in fact- that Loretta Lynn herself stated that she was shocked and almost fainted when she saw Levon in full makeup and wardrobe for the first time, because of how much he resembled her real father.
After his excellent performance in “Coal Miner’s Daughter,” Levon Helm starred in several notable films, and at the same time-continued his passion for performing as a musician in his band-The Barn Burners Blues Band. In 2004, he opened his beloved “Barn” located in Woodstock, N.Y. to host his Midnight Rambles Show-which hosted several musicians.
Unfortunately, in 1998, Levon was diagnosed with throat cancer, which caused him to lose his singing voice. With treatment, the cancer went into remission, and he regained his voice once again. He lost his battle with cancer on April 19th, 2012, and died peacefully in his home in Woodstock, N.Y., but his legacy as an actor and musician, will go on forever.