Patty Loveless has been described as a “promising name in country music’s new traditionalism.” The petite and comely Loveless is yet another artist who has capitalized upon the public taste for old-style country music; her work—and her voice—have drawn comparisons with such country stalwarts as Loretta Lynn and Reba McEntire. Still, as Andrew Vaughan notes in Who’s Who in New Country Music, Loveless is not merely another old-fashioned “girl singer.” Instead, she “bridges the gap between pre-seventies country and progressive country with great finesse.” Vaughan adds: “[Loveless’s] band sounds up to the minute and her songs ring true with [modern] notions, but vocally she’s reminiscent of the old-time sound…. Loveless brings a fresh voice to country music—traditional but always ready to rock ’n’ roll.”
Young and fresh as she seems, Loveless is no stranger to the rigors of the country circuit. She began singing professionally at the tender age of 12 and has never been far from a microphone since. Only on her third attempt did she break through into big time country music. Before that she was simply another opening act for more established stars, another of the legion of hopefuls who try their luck in Nashville.
Patty Loveless hails from Belcher Holler, Kentucky, a tiny community near the town of Pikeville. She was born there in 1957 into the large family of an ailing coal miner. Loveless’s father suffered from both black lung and heart disease; the ten-member family subsisted on Social Security payments and occasional singing work by older siblings. When Patty was 10 her family moved to Louisville, where her father sought medical treatment for his condition. City life did not prove easy for young Patty—the children in Louisville made fun of her rural ways and drove her to seek friendship and solace within her immediate family.
Loveless decided upon a singing career at the age of eleven, after she saw her older sister perform in a USO show. Within a year she was singing onstage and even writing her own material. Her earliest performances most often took the form of duets with her brother Roger, who serves as her manager to this day.
In 1971, when she was only fourteen, Loveless set out for Nashville to seek her fortune. She and her brother managed to talk their way into a private meeting with Porter Wagoner, who was immediately impressed with Loveless’s delivery and songwriting talent. Wagoner helped Loveless to make a master recording of several of her songs, and he also introduced her to his many friends in the business. One of these was his “girl singer,” Dolly Parton.
“Dolly was just so warm and friendly, and we became
Born Patty Ramey in 1957, in Belcher Holler, Kentucky; daughter of a coal miner; married Terry Lovelace (a drummer with the Wilburn Brothers); divorced, 1987.
Changed name to Patty Loveless for professional reasons; began singing professionally in Nashville, Tenn., in 1971, serving as opening act in shows with Bill Anderson, Jan Howard, and the Wilburn Brothers; became rock and roll club singer after marriage to Terry Lovelace; returned to country format, 1984, signed with MCA Records, 1985, released first album, Patty Loveless, 1986. Has toured extensively in the United States and has played at the Wembley Festival in England, 1987 and 1988.
Addresses: Record company —MCA Records, 70 Universal City Plaza, Universal City, CA 91608.
really good friends,” Loveless told Stereo Review. “We ran around together a lot. She used to say, ‘Keep up your writing.’ And then when I was back in Louisville and she and Porter would pass through, they’d stop and call my house and say, ‘Come over and eat with us.’ It was sort of like a dream.”
Loveless did indeed keep up her writing and her singing. In 1974 she and her brother were invited to open a package show in Louisville that included the Wilburn Brothers. The Wilbums were looking for an act to replace Loretta Lynn, who had recently left them to perform on her own, and they invited Loveless to audition for them. The day after she graduated from high school, Loveless travelled to Nashville once again, signed a publishing contract with the Wilbums’ Sure Fire Music and began to tour with the group. Her success was not assured, however. After several months, the singers mutually agreed that Loveless was still too young to handle the heavy demands of touring. She “retired,” married the Wilbums’ drummer, Terry Lovelace, and moved to North Carolina.
Loveless’s husband formed his own band, a rock and roll group, for which Patty provided vocals. The group hit the club circuit, performing in a variety of venues and occasionally opening for bands such as the Pure Prairie League. The perpetual motion began to take its toll on Loveless, as it had on many other performers. “I was taking a lot of uppers and downers, and it was nothing for me to finish a fifth of straight bourbon in a day,” she told Stereo Review. “From about 1978 to 1982, I was just destroying myself. I looked twenty years older than I really was. Finally, I took ahold of myself and said, ‘I’m not letting this happen to me.’”
The real turning point came in 1984, when Loveless was engaged to perform country music at a small club. “It really felt good, and the audience went nuts over it—listening and dancing,” she remembered. “Next thing I knew, I called my brother Roger and told him I felt like my life had come back together.” Loveless and her brother returned to Nashville and made a five-song demo tape. On the strength of that work she was signed to the prestigious MCA label for recording and the Acuff-Rose company for music publishing. With her marriage ended in divorce, Loveless changed the spelling of her last name, principally because she did not want to be associated with the former pornographic film star, Linda Lovelace.
Loveless’s debut album, Patty Loveless, was hailed as “traditional country with a little edge.” Highest praise was reserved for “the power in the voice and the beauty of Patty’s high lonesome mountain singing,” to quote Vaughan. Actually the album contained a surprising variety of music, from a rocking version of Steve Earle’s “Some Blue Moons Ago” to a Texas dance-hall number, “Lonely Days, Lonely Nights,” to a torchy version of her original number, “I Did.” The album sold well by Nashville standards, and Loveless found herself opening shows for headliners such as George Jones, Reba McEntire, and Randy Travis.
Today, with several more albums in print, Loveless is a headliner herself. Her “wild and wounded” delivery has found fans outside the traditional country arena, especially in England and on the West Coast of the United States. The new popularity of music videos has also proven profitable for the photogenic Loveless, who has spurned the sequined look for a more comfortable, down-to-earth appearance. Loveless told Stereo Review that her years of struggle have prepared her for success. “Somebody says, ‘You’re heading to be a star,’” she said. “And I say, ‘But that’s not really what I want to be.’ Some people want to put you into a glamorous role. I just want to be known for my music, have people appreciate me for what I’m doing, and know that it makes people feel good inside…. I get off on that kind of thing.”
Patty Loveless, MCA, 1986.
If My Heart Had Windows, MCA, 1987.
Honky Tonk Angels, MCA, 1988.
On Down the Line, MCA, 1990.
Vaughan, Andrew, Who’s Who in New Country Music, St. Martin’s, 1989.
Stereo Review, November 1987.
—Anne Janette Johnson
Dubbed “The Heartbreak Kid” in the headline for an April 1997 article by TV Guide contributor Dan DeLuca, country singer Patty Loveless has certainly earned her title. Her ability to belt out the sentimental lyrics of her songs in a way that stirs and inspires her listeners is rooted in the fact that, because of her life experiences, she has become all too familiar with tragedy and misery. Nevertheless, her hard-luck past has served as her key to a spectacular present and a promising future, as Loveless’s songs continue to top the charts, her albums continue to win, and her personal life continues to become richer and fuller. Loveless, named the Academy of Country Music’s female vocalist of the year for both 1996 and 1997, told DeLuca: “I think torch songs and heartache songs reach out to people and say, ‘Hey, this is life and we’ve got to live, learn from our mistakes, and continue.’ That’s what I try to put into the songs. That’s what I make music for.”
Loveless was born on January 4, 1957 in the Appalachian mining town of Pikeville, Kentucky. Her father, John Ramey, was a coal miner who ultimately died in 1979 of black lung disease, and her mother, Naomi Ramey, was a homemaker who struggled to care for Loveless and her siblings. Loveless began singing at the age of five, primarily to entertain her parents, but by the age of 12 she was singing in her brother Roger’s band. Roger introduced his sister to country music stars Dolly Parton and Porter Wagoner in 1971, and Wagoner agreed to give the 14-year-old Loveless a song publishing contract; shortly thereafter the young singer began working with the Wilburn Brothers road show, replacing famous country singer Loretta Lynn, who is Loveless’s distant cousin.
It was while working with the road show that Loveless met Wilburn Brothers drummer Terry Lovelace (pronounced “Love-less”). In 1976, despite the disapproval of her family and friends, she married Lovelace and moved to Kings Mountain, North Carolina. In an article by People contributor Steve Dougherty, Loveless said that her marriage at the age of 19 was, in part, a rebellion. “So many people had been making decisions for me for so long,” she asserted, “I just wanted to feel a sense of freedom.” Unfortunately for the singer, her marriage to Lovelace did not turn out as she had planned. Instead, she began abusing drugs and alcohol and singing cover versions of popular rock songs in Charlotte-area night clubs, in order to support the couple’s expensive addictions and to make ends meet. Loveless ultimately overcame her substance abuse, and in 1985, she and Lovelace separated. After changing the spelling of her married name to Loveless, she returned to Nashville to try to rekindle her career as a country singer.
Born Patty Ramey, January 4, 1957, in Pikeville, KY; daughter of John (a coal miner) and Naomi Ramey; married Terry Lovelace (a drummer), 1976 (divorced, c. 1987); married Emory Gordy, Jr. (a record producer), February, 1989.
Country singer and songwriter, c. 1970—. Singer with brother Roger Ramey’s country music band, c. 1970-72; secured a song-publishing contract, c. 1972; worked as the “girl singer” in the Wilburn Brothers road show, c. 1972-76; worked as a singer in night clubs in and near Charlotte, NC, c. 1976-85; moved to Nashville, TN, recorded demo tape with help of Roger Ramey, c 1985; began recording artist with MCA, 1985-92; recording artist with Sony Music, 1992—.
Awards: Inducted into the Grand Ole Opry, 1988; American Music Award, favorite new country artist, 1989; TNN Music City News Country Award, female artist, 1990; Country Music Association Award, album of the year, 1995, for When Fallen Angels Fly, and female vocalist of the year, 1996; Academy of Country Music Awards, both female vocalist of the year, 1996, 1997.
Addresses: Record company —Epic, P.O. Box 4450, New York, NY 10101-4450.
With the help of her brother, Roger, Loveless recorded a demo tape and worked to sell it to record labels. While in the elevator on her way to audition for executives at MCA Records, she met Emory Gordy, Jr.—at the time an MCA producer—who would later become her husband. In 1985 Loveless signed with MCA and soon began to receive positive reviews from music critics and industry insiders who predicted that she would one day bea country music superstar. She and Terry Lovelace were divorced in 1987, and in 1988 Loveless was honored as an inductee of the Grand Ole Opry. Loveless’s first number one single came in 1989, with “Timber I’m Falling in Love;” that same year she and Gordy were married and she took home an American Music Award for favorite new country artist. Loveless continued to gain notoriety and became increasingly popular among country music fans; in 1990 she was awarded the Tennessee News Network (TNN) Music City News Country Award. The singer’s career was most definitely moving her toward stardom.
Between 1990 and 1993 Loveless’s luck changed, and she suffered a series of professional and private setbacks. In 1992, in an attempt to revitalize her career, which was in a slump following the sluggish sales of two of her records, Loveless left MCA Records and fired her brother, Roger Ramey, as her manager, a move which caused a rift in their previously close relationship. Before she was able to begin the work of recording fresh material—with her new label, Epic, and her new producer, Emory Gordy—and getting her career back on track, Loveless encountered another personal obstacle; in the fall of 1992 she began experiencing hoarseness, and soon learned that she had developed an aneurysm on her vocal cords. The situation was grave; in order to repair the aneurysm, which left untreated could have destroyed her voice, Loveless had to undergo risky laser surgery, which also had the potential to damage her voice permanently. The surgery was performed on October 21, 1992. After remaining completely silent during November 1992 and recuperating throughout December 1992, Loveless decided to try out her newly-repaired vocal cords and began recording her sixth album in January 1993. The album was an immediate success when it was released in the spring of 1993, and as People’s Steve Dougherty termed it, “it was clear that Loveless’ luck had turned.”
Unfortunately, despite the promise with which 1993 had begun, Loveless was to suffer yet another personal challenge. In June 1993 a tabloid article with the headline “Patty Loveless Killed Our Baby!” was published. The story, which quoted as its source Loveless’s ex-husband Terry Lovelace, revealed that the singer had had an abortion in 1980. Previously no one had known about the terminated pregnancy, and the singer was devastated to have her private misery made public in such a merciless and tasteless manner. In the People article by Dougherty Loveless discusses the reasons behind her decision to end her pregnancy, indicating that she was frightened that her excessive drug and alcohol consumption during the pregnancy would have produced birth defects or other health traumas for the fetus, and declaring that “[t]he abortion was a decision Terry and I both made. We swore we would never tell because of the pain it would cause our families. “Asserting her belief that her ex-husband was attempting to jeopardize her career out of bitterness, Loveless told Dougherty, “I wish [Lovelace] could just get on. I hope that people will understand and that I’ll be forgiven.” Lovelace has maintained that he was duped into revealing the secret to the press and never intended to subject Loveless to such public embarrassment.
Loveless managed to overcome her personal crises—even reconciling with her brother Roger—and used her familiarity with tragedy to her advantage, producing emotionally powerful songs that touched the hearts of fans and music experts alike. Matraca Berg, a songwriter who penned Loveless’s 1990 hit single “That Kind of Girl” and 1996’s “You Can Feel Bad,” maintained in an article by TV Guide’s Dan DeLuca that Loveless has “a lot of class and she’s no puppy. She’s lived, and she sings like she believes every word of it. And that’s a rare gift.” The music industry continued to bestow upon Loveless some of its highest honors. In 1996 Loveless was named female vocalist of the year by both the CMA and the Academy of Country Music (ACM), and in 1997, she repeated as the ACM’s female vocalist and was nominated for the CMA’s award as well.
Loveless’s vocal ability, which DeLuca called “a gut-bucket emotionalism that places her squarely in the sisterhood of soul,” has been applauded by critics since the release of her debut album, Patty Loveless, in 1985. The praise continued for her 1988 effort, If My Heart Had Windows and for Honky Tonk Angel, released that same year and containing the number-one single “Timber I’m Falling in Love.” Although critics lauded her 1990 album On down the Line—People’s Ralph Novak declared that it represented “just plain quality country singing”—as well as 1991’s Up Against My Heart, neither of the albums managed to reach the level of commercial success Loveless had attained with her previous albums.
However, with the 1993 release of Only What I Feel, Loveless again joined the ranks of the critically acclaimed and popularly successful country music stars. Recorded after her encounter with laser surgery, the album was hailed by critics as irrefutable evidence that Loveless’s voice had come through her ordeal intact. Billboards Peter Cronin declared that on the album Loveless was “singing with more range, more control, more conviction than ever before, effectively combining powerful delivery with fragile emotion.” Entertainment Weekly contributor Alanna Nash noted the “restored power and character shadings of Loveless’ authentically rural voice,” and People’s Hal Espen characterized Loveless’s vocals as “equal parts Linda Ronstadt and Pasty Cline,” referring to her ability to combine elements of traditional country and rock music. The album quickly produced a number-one hit with “Blame It on Your Heart,” an up-tempo tune in which Loveless tells her philandering lover that he is responsible for the breakup of their relationship, urging him to “blame it on your lyirï, cheatin’, cold-dead beatin’, two-timin’, double-dealin’, mean-mistreatin’, lovin’ heart.” Only What I Feel also contained the single “How Do I Help You Say Goodbye,” a poignant, moving ballad in which Loveless portrays a mother who is attempting to help her child cope first with the loss of a childhood friend, then with the ordeal of a divorce, and finally with the death of the mother herself. That single helped bring Only What I Feel out of the sales slump it had entered following the early success of “Blame It on Your Heart,” and quickly became a favorite of fans, who expressed how to Loveless the many ways in which the song had touched their hearts. Loveless told Entertainment Weekly’s Alanna Nash: “I hope it makes people think…. And to look at death as a long goodbye, and not necessarily something final. “The song, backed by the strength of the album on which it appeared,° earned Loveless three 1994 CMA Award nominations for song of the year, album of the year, and female vocalist of the year.
Loveless followed up the success of Only What I Feel with her 1994 album, When Fallen Angels Fly, which, she told Morris, she wanted “to be one of those that when people listen to it, it gives them some release and hope and encourages them not to give up.” The album garnered both critical and popular success, and the single “You Don’t Even Know Who I Am” earned Loveless 1996 Grammy Award nominations for best female country vocal performance and best country song. In his review of the album, Entertainment Weekly’s Bob Cannon called Loveless’s performance “emotionally gripping, “and People’s Craig Tomashoff offered praise for Loveless’s “conversational” tone, contending that “listening to [When Fallen Angels Fly] is like chatting with a close friend.” Loveless’s efforts on When Fallen Angels Fly were rewarded in 1995 when she became the first woman artist to win the CMA’s Award for album of the year.
The Trouble with the Truth, Loveless’s 1996 album that People contributor Craig Tomashoff asserted “builds a bridge” between country, rock, and pop music, was also a critical and popular success, earning Loveless a 1997 Grammy Award nomination for best country album. The album contains the singles “You Can Feel Bad,” in which a woman tells her ex-lover that she has successfully gone on with her life after their breakup, and “A Thousand Times a Day,” which critics praised for its powerful vocals; People’s Tomashoff called Loveless’s singing “warm and inviting” and Entertainment Weekly’s Nash asserted that Loveless “uses her backwoods soprano—as rural and unassuming as a mountain brook—to best effect” on this song. The album’s title song proclaims that the truth has “ruined the taste of the sweetest lies, /Burned through my best alibis,” and as Time critic Richard Corliss contended: “The way Loveless sings it, the truth ain’t pretty, but it sounds as golden as the Gospel.”
According to critics, Loveless’s 1997 effort, Long Stretch of Lonesome, lived up to the high expectations that followed the singer’s 1996 CMA and ACM Awards for best female vocalist as well as her 1997 ACM Award for best female vocalist and her 1997 nomination for the CMA’s best female vocalist honors. Jeremy Helligar, writing in Entertainment Weekly, observed that “Loveless’ Appalachian blues sound torchy with hardly a hint of twang,” and People’s Tomashoff lauded the singer’s “silky voice,” concluding that “Loveless’ words may tell you how tough life can be, but her voice lets you know that things will work out anyway.” Interviewed by TV Guide’s DeLuca while working on her ninth album, Loveless maintained that she was determined not to let her fame weaken her commitment her singing. Loveless told DeLuca: “I like to keep focused on the work. I’m just looking for songs that stir emotions in me. Because if it moves me, then somebody else is going to be stirred in the same way.”
Patty Loveless (includes “After All,” “Slow Healing Heart,” and “You Are Everything”), MCA, 1985, reissued, 1989.
If My Heart Had Windows (includes “A Little Bit on the Lonely Side,” “You Saved Me,” and “I Can’t Get You off My Mind”), MCA, 1988.
Honky Tonk Angel (includes “Timber I’m Falling in Love” and “The Lonely Side of Love”), MCA, 1988.
On down the Line (includes “You Can’t Run Away from Your Heart” and “Looking in the Eyes of Love”), MCA, 1990.
Up Against My Heart (includes “I Already Miss You (Like You’re Already Gone)” and “If It’s the Last Thing I Do”), MCA, 1991.
Greatest Hits, MCA, 1993.
Only What I Feel (includes “Blame It on Your Heart” and “How Can I Help You Say Goodbye”), Epic, 1993.
When Fallen Angels Fly (includes “You Don’t Even Know Who I Am” and “I Try to Think about Elvis”), Epic, 1994.
The Trouble with the Truth (includes “You Can Feel Bad” and “A Thousand Times a Day”), Epic, 1996.
Patty Loveless Sings Songs of Love, MCA, 1996.
(With others) Tin Cup (soundtrack), Epic, 1996.
Long Stretch of Lonesome (includes “You Don’t Seem to Miss Me,” a duet with George Jones, and “I Don’t Want to Feel Like That”), Epic, 1997.
Billboard, April 17, 1993, p. 7; April 16, 1994, p. 38; August 13, 1994, p. 1.
Entertainment Weekly, April 23, 1993, p. 56; August 26, 1994, p. 113; September 22, 1995, p. 77 ; February 2, 1996, p. 56; October 3, 1997, p. 85.
People, June 25, 1990, p. 23; May 3, 1993, p. 25; August 9, 1993, p. 85; September 5, 1994, p. 28; February 12, 1996, p. 27; November 3, 1997, p. 25.
Time, March 11, 1996, p. 71.
TV Guide, April 19, 1997, p. 42.
—Lynn M. Spampinato