There is a bright eyed enthusiasm to Tayla Lynn that cannot be denied; it is simple to feel comfortable in her presence whether you’ve known her for five minutes or five years. There is a warmth in her voice, truth behind her piercing blue eyes, and genuine affection when she speaks of her history, her family, and her friends. Lynn’s journey however, is not one of simplicity and ease, but one of struggle, strength, recovery, and grace. She loves to the depths of her soul because she knows what it’s like to have a broken heart, she is gentle and kind because she has seen abuse, she sings because she has a beautiful story to tell.
Born into one of Nashville’s greatest musical dynasties, Lynn’s passion for singing and performing was sparked from an early age. Signed to Skyville Records in 2007, Lynn’s first major musical project was the trio Stealing Angels with Caroline Cutbirth and Jennifer Wayne; a group built for radio from a reality show the three women had appeared on together. “I got started with the trio Stealing Angels before I made music on my own, and the goal with them was always to make it on radio,” Lynn explained of her time with the band, “The constant drive behind everything that we did as a trio became chasing down radio and chart placement. Working in a trio taught me an awesome work ethic and how important teamwork can be. We worked tirelessly every single day; if we weren’t on the road we were writing. If we weren’t writing, we were rehearsing, doing a video, doing a photoshoot. The work was joyful, but there was no space for personal time at all. Jennifer and Caroline are still my sisters. I love them so much and I loved doing life with them, but I’ve really been able to find what hard work and self reflection mean for me now that I’m my own boss.”
Stealing Angels was just the tip of the iceberg for Lynn when it came to recording and working in the music industry, and her ability to self reflect has been critical to her success as an artist, a wife, and a mother. Her first solo project The Ranch, released in 2016, was the culmination of several years with the trio, a move across the country, addiction, recovery, a lot of hard work, and a dash of her grandmother, Loretta Lynn. It is impossible to speak of Lynn’s last project and the new music she’s set to release without acknowledging the life she lived between being an up-and-coming radio star and the strong, grounded woman she is today. Lynn’s experiences are wrapped up in her music; one is inseparable from the other as she writes and sings her truth about love, addiction, motherhood, and the coal dust that runs through her Kentucky veins. Lynn approaches the conversation of her addiction and recovery head on with complete honesty and uses the music she is writing today to tell her story of hope and faith. “When I was younger I wanted everything to be sort of crazy. I wanted sexy. I needed things to be wild and funky. My primary purpose and goal now that I am sober is to share my journey of recovery, to share my walk with Jesus so that I may help others. That doesn’t mean I don’t have selfish motives and I don’t need to support my family with my music, but the way I feel like I’m getting to heaven is that I serve Him and I serve Him well. God is the reason that I’m sober. My platform now is to write from a place of sobriety and share that journey. It’s all about sharing God. At the core of it, the gift I feel like I’ve been given from Him is to share this journey through music, through comedy, through truth. Inspiring hope is what we all should strive for, and the things I’ve been through have taught me that’s most important.”
Lynn stays well aware that her recovery, her faith in God, and her family must always be her primary focus. Rather than write songs primarily to gain airplay and chart, Lynn has reflected on her own history and family to draw her newer music straight from the heart. Her grandmother, Loretta Lynn, provided harmony on her last album and is billed as a co- writer on her newest project. “I love working and writing with Memaw. I’ll never forget the day we recorded “Honky Tonk Girl” together for my last album. The minute I put the headphones on to listen to her sing the harmony for that song I knew it was going to be a spiritual experience. Singing with Memaw was a lifetime dream for, well anyone, but for me. Having her singing on a recording with me, knowing I’ll have it for the rest of my life, is such a special thing. It blew me away to put those headphones on and hear her voice. You know what? She literally got out of bed, put some clothes on, came up to the studio still half asleep and sang better in one take than I had on the whole song in seventy takes. She did one take and it was flawless. That’s the difference between old country music and what we do today; it used to be that you better be able to sing your butt off or you could just go on back home. I’m not saying there aren’t amazing artists today, but there’s nothing like what I experienced hearing my 86-year-old Memaw singing in my headphones.”
Lynn’s newest album, originally set to be released this past summer, was put on hold while she dealt with the sudden loss of her mother, Cindy. The beauty of Tayla Lynn is that she can find truth and goodness in any situation, even grief. While her music is temporarily on hold, the wisdom, humor, and love she’s delivered to the world through her loss is extraordinary. Get Lynn talking about her mama and you can’t get her to stop. It was an honor to hear her story, from the night Cindy died to Lynn’s formation of her social media based “Dead Mama’s Club”, a hashtag Lynn uses when chronicling the peaks and valleys of dealing with her mother’s death. “I appreciate you asking about my mom and the Dead Mama’s Club because people don’t talk about death enough,” Lynn explained when asked how her use of social media has helped her process her grief. “When someone loses a loved one I feel like they become this person you can’t touch anymore. For instance, I have a girlfriend who lost her mom a couple of years ago and I felt like, even though we were so close, there was a piece of her I could no longer get to because we never talked about her loss. I knew when my mom passed away that I wanted to talk openly about it. I talk about it on my social media because it’s a part of my journey. It’s easier to grieve that way, to share videos or posts when I’m devastated because I have people out there who get it and who truly care, but they can’t get in my space and touch me. When I first started grieving my mom I didn’t want to be touched by anybody except for my husband and my children. I didn’t want the hugging and the awkward silence. When you cry, people want to make it okay. The filter social media provides means that I can feel it and I can share it and I can help others and I can say no, this isn’t okay. It’s not okay that my mom died at 63; that’s never going to feel okay to me. It feels terrible, but you go through the spells of grief and you’re devastated and then you feel like you’re going to make it the next minute. I didn’t know, number one, how horrific it was going to feel, but I also didn’t know how quickly those feelings came and went every single day. I share my grief and my desperate moments, but I also share the funny stuff that’s happening because my mom wouldn’t want me to sit in grief all the time. She damn sure would want me to feel sad for her and share it with the world who loved her, but she’d want me to laugh in the middle of it.”
Lynn stressed the importance of vulnerability in her grief and the music that’s resulted from her mother’s death. “As far as my music is concerned, my mother’s death is affecting me in a lot of ways. I’m a pretty tough person, but her death has softened me. When I’m in a softer place and more connected to God, I can write more. Whether it is writing blogs or music or being a better vocalist because I feel it more, I think all of that is a result of missing her. She was so proud of my music. The night before she died she was right there watching us on stage, screaming her head off, full of pride and happiness for us. I have to honor her through that because she loved watching me make music. She left me a voicemail the week before she died, singing some lyrics to a song she’d made up, and I’ve taken those lyrics to Memaw and she and I are writing the rest of the song. Memaw is one of the only people who knows how to help me right now. She loved my mom so much. She was there at the funeral with me, touching my face, holding me up. She’s the only one I could write this song with. I don’t think another writer who wasn’t there with me could understand the depth of my loss or the happiness that I know my mom is experiencing right now. When my mom died I said I wouldn’t wish her back for anything because she’s in heaven, dancing with Jesus, and there’s no way I’d take that away from her. I’m glad, though, that Memaw is here to walk me through this.”
Though her album is on hold while she adds songs to reflect this new phase of her life, Lynn is keeping busy with several other projects, including a faith based film titled “The Least of These” and her Conway and Loretta tribute show with Tre Twitty, grandson of the late Conway Twitty. In contrast to Lynn’s rambunctious, lively nature, Twitty is the quiet straight man of the duo. With carefully measured words, Twitty recalled the relationship between his Grandfather and Lynn’s Grandmother Loretta, comparing their own personalities and friendship to the beloved pair.
If we are lucky, once in our lives we will find an irreplaceable friend who understands us artistically and emotionally, who knows when to push our buttons to make us better at what we do, and when to take a step back, wrap an arm around our shoulders, and hold us up when we feel like we’re sinking. These friendships transcend any notion of romantic or familial love; they exist on a different plane altogether where we are able to become the absolute best versions of ourselves through another’s eyes. Conway Twitty and Loretta Lynn were two such souls; both impeccable artists in their own right, when their paths crossed the depth of their artistic kinship was undeniable. In a show to honor their grandparents, Lynn and Twitty have picked up where the original duo left off, crooning songs like “Hello Darlin’”, “Tight Fittin’ Jeans”, and “Blue Kentucky Girl” just like Loretta and Conway did back in the day. Both Tayla and Tre are well aware of the legacy their grandparents have made and don’t try to copy it; rather, they celebrate it with their own friendship, laughter, and wonderful music.
“Loretta and Conway really were best friends. It was a completely platonic relationship through and through. I didn’t really understand the depth or purity of their relationship until I met Tayla. I get what Loretta and Conway meant to each other so much more because I have the same dynamic with Tayla now,” Twitty explained as he recalled his grandfather’s friendship with Loretta and recounted how he came to know Tayla. Though the duo grew up in remarkable musical environments, their paths to making their own music were completely dissimilar as Twitty enjoyed music only as a listener, not a practitioner from a young age like Lynn did.
“I grew up listening to music of course, but I never made music myself. I got into rock-and-roll when I was a young teenager. That was back when Motley Crew, Guns N’ Roses, Nirvana, and Metallica were all big. That was my first real love when it came to music and those guys led me to discover the older bands like Led Zeppelin, The Rolling Stones, Aerosmith, KISS. On the Country side of things I really loved Waylon Jennings and the Outlaws, Elvis, and my Poppy, Conway, obviously.” Though music was a large part of Twitty’s life, performing didn’t happen until he had graduated high school and had done a stint in the Air Force.
“After I got out of the Air Force, probably around 1999 or 2000, I went to a tribute show that my Father had put on for my Poppy. Half way through the show, Dad invited me to get up and sing with him. I had never sang or performed before, but I got up on stage and did “Tight Fittin’ Jeans” and for whatever reason, the crowd really liked it. It’s kind of funny because I remember standing up there with my hand in one pocket the whole time. I still don’t have any idea why I got up there and sang, but I’ll never forget getting that first response from the crowd. After that night, Dad invited me to go on the road with him. I had just left the Air Force and I didn’t have a job or anything else going on, so I moved to Nashville and started doing this show with him.”
Though Twitty does make his own music with a harder rock sound, preserving both his grandfather’s songs and legacy has become one of his most important passion projects. “It was a different time back when Poppy was writing and singing. It felt like a smaller world back then. With Conway, George, Elvis, Johnny, Tammy, Loretta– you really had to have it; you couldn’t fake it back then. You can tune your vocals now, you can photoshop your face, but back then you couldn’t do all that. That’s why all the music you hear from that generation still resonates. It’s real; real storytelling, real sadness, real talent. That’s why it should and will live on forever. My granddad was obsessed with making music. Since he was a child, he loved playing and singing and writing. He was absolutely obsessed with it and he did it all day every day, which is what made him great. That said, I don’t want to be Conway. I have a beard, I’m not clean shaven, but I do the best I can to remember him and to keep his name and his legacy alive. I do it in part because I think Conway is one of the most forgotten legends of the era. People talk about George Jones, Merle Haggard, Waylon Jennings, Johnny Cash– but for some reason Conway Twitty didn’t have the same kind of media attention. Conway never lead a life of turmoil or conflict or bad habits, though. He didn’t drink, he didn’t do drugs, he didn’t beat his wife. He was never arrested. He was a family guy and all about his music and I guess that wasn’t as interesting as the rest of what’s traditionally been covered in the media.”
True to his introverted nature, much like his grandfather, Twitty spent more time reminiscing about working with Tayla Lynn and their shared family history than he did on explaining himself or his solo career. “I love being on tour with Tayla. She and I– our personalities are totally opposite, which really works out well. What I don’t do well, she does perfectly, and I can do things that don’t come natural to her. We’re just buddies, and she’s a lot like her grandmother, while I’m a lot like my grandfather. Loretta always talks about how well she and Conway complimented each other and tells us if she had a problem she’d go to Conway and he’d do the same with her. That’s how Tayla and I are now. There’s nothing fake about Tayla, just like there’s nothing fake about Loretta. She’s wide open, she’s unfiltered, and she’s got a good heart. Tayla and I also work very differently on stage. I write my material out ahead of time and we just never know what’s going to fly out of her mouth in the moment. She has no idea what she’s going to say when she steps on stage. When we first started playing together she’d see that the crowd was responding to my stories and would laugh at my jokes and she would try to do the same thing, but she couldn’t. I told her that I couldn’t do what she did and she needed to get up there and be her crazy self and I’d be the straight man. That’s why we work as an artistic team. She’s just like her grandmother in that way; Loretta was the “unfiltered country girl” to my Poppy’s “sophisticated gentleman”. One night, back when Jimmy Carter was President, he hosted a country evening at the White House. He was a fan of country music and he had all the big stars there for dinner and to perform; Poppy and Memaw, Merle, everyone. When you address the president and his wife you’re supposed to address them as Mr. President and Mrs. First Lady. So, Poppy walks the red carpet and addresses them that way, and here comes Loretta bouncing down the red carpet, just like Tayla would, and calls out “well hey Jimmy, hey Rosalynn, how y’all doin?!” An aide pulled her aside and told her she couldn’t address the President and his wife by their first names and Loretta responded with, “Well why not? They called Jesus ‘Jesus’ didn’t they?!” Poppy was just red faced; he couldn’t believe Loretta had said that in the White House. I have those same kinds of moments with Tayla now, and I love watching her and Memaw talk because they’re so much alike.”
Tayla Lynn and Tre Twitty are building their own legacy as they follow in their Grandparent’s footsteps, making their own memories of a life on stage. “I’ve had a couple of really great moments since Tayla and I started performing together. The other night I was on stage singing “It’s Only Make Believe” and I turned around and saw the black and white video of Poppy singing it in 1958 was on the LED screen behind me. I almost started crying because I saw him as a young man and thought my God, it’s 2018 and there’s still people here who want to hear this music. That moment in 1958 started it all, and people love him so much they’ll come hear his grandson sing his songs. What an impact he had on the world. The most special moment I think we’ve had was at Loretta Lynn’s Ranch this year for the 4th of July concert. Loretta had always headlined it but hasn’t been able to go the last couple of years because she’s been sick. This past year instead of doing it with a large group, Tayla and I did it by ourselves and it drew 1200 people, more than it ever had before without Memaw headlining the show. Tayla got Memaw on the phone to talk to the audience and they all went crazy over her. All those people were there because they love our Memaw and Poppy and wanted to celebrate them. It wasn’t technically the best performance Tayla and I have ever done, but it was the best one emotionally. I really realized then how cool what we’re doing together is, and felt the power of our grandparents with us.”
There is no denying Loretta Lynn and Conway Twitty were two of the best artists the country music genre has ever seen, but to hear their history told by the children who grew up adoring them provides a unique perspective on the wonderful people they were and are on top of their elite musicianship. With an innocent, deep, unbreakable bond, Twitty and Lynn navigated the ins and outs of country music together before there was a solid path to follow. More importantly, they paved the way for their grandchildren and so many others who hope to follow in their footsteps. The friendships and artistic partnerships between Loretta and Conway, and Tre and Tayla are best explained by their memories and moments on stage. To end this article with anything other than this story would be an injustice to all four artists, so we’ll allow the Lynns and the Twittys to finish this journey up the best way they know how; in their own words, laughing and crying and holding hands the whole way:
“Conway and Loretta” was a special relationship that will never be seen again. There was something almost cosmic in nature to their bond. While Poppy was in the hospital in Springfield, Loretta was also there with Mooney. So, she was in the hospital when the ambulance pulled in with Poppy on the gurney. Someone grabbed Loretta and told her Conway’s here and he isn’t gonna make it. Memaw rushed to his side before he went into surgery and held his hand. After Conway died, Loretta followed the family into his hospital room and had one thing to say to him: “Conway, you get back down here!” Then she kissed him on the forehead and turned to his loved ones. Loretta spent her time in the hospital going from Mooney’s room to Conway’s room, praying, and comforting his family. It makes me emotional to think about; these two people are so connected that you can’t say Conway without Loretta. They were so universally known as a duo, and fate just so happened to allow them to be in the same spot when one of them died. They could have been anywhere in the world but they were right there in the same spot when it came time to finish what they’d started. It could be chance, it could be fate or destiny, who knows, but that’s one of the reasons that makes them so special. Now we get to do what they did and honor that bond. People come to our shows because they loved Conway and Loretta. We get to stand there and love them with our audiences. That’s a gift.