One proposed title really stops me in my tracks. It was "I Felt the Chill Before the Winter Came." It seemed to contain already a whole story. Now we just had to trick it out.
I don't recall the order of what happened next. It seemed rapid and in slow motion at the same time. One image led to another, and, as with all viable songwriting collaborations, we were soon completing each other's thoughts and melodic lines.
I'm playing a J-200 that is as old as I am. The chords fall into place easily. but when the spacing or phrasing of cadence is not working. Loretta is on it like a flash. It ends up being characteristic of both our styles. We each took turns in singing the song, and in a short while the writing was complete.
The only lyrical difference between our two versions is the way I complete the bridge lines...
But l knew that we would go wrong
Just as they do in all of those tragic songs
I thought this might sound more believable coming from me than Loretta's original and true line.
Just as they do in those honky tonk songs
There just weren't that many honky tonks in either Twickenham or Liver-pool. where I grew up, and there are fewer still in Vancouver and New York City, where I live. We pick another title and opening sketch from the pile. There is less in the way of a lyric than a description, something about a wronged woman meeting her rival.
I can tell that this one might take a little while to work out. I ask Loretta if I could make the title character into the biblical Eve and promise to send a draft when I'm done.
After sitting a good bit, talking thoughtfully and with full hearts about life. love, and family and laughing at mischievous things that Loretta says with love about some other singers. we go back to looking through the lyrics, titles. descriptions of songs, looking for a third starting place.
I pick up a piece of cardboard and realize that I am not staring at an unfinished or unreleased song but a first draft of one of Loretta's biggest hits—I want to say it was "You Ain't Woman Enough," but my memory might be deceiving me. But it really was a song that famous.
I said, "Shouldn't this be in the Country Music Hall of Fame?"
Loretta laughed at the idea and turned the piece of cardboard over. It had been torn off the packaging from an item of underwear and must have been all that was available when inspiration struck. Thank goodness for cardboard.
"Oh. I see." I said, slightly embarrassed at the intrusion. "I suppose then they'd know all your secrets."
Now it was time for Loretta to fix one line that had dropped out on a live recording. I was gathering up our various drafts as Loretta slipped into the vocal booth. As I was closing my guitar case. I heard what I took to be a tape of the flawed live recording.
Looking up, I saw it was actually Loretta delivering a first-take performance that few singers could achieve without an hour of warm-up. No preparation, no warning. She is right there when the red light goes on.
New York City. March 2011