Country singer Patty Loveless is famous for her blend of musical styles, and songs like “How Can I Help You Say Goodbye?”
Born in Kentucky in 1957, singer Patty Loveless started out at a young age with her family band. She went on to become famous in her own right, mixing traditional country styles with the sounds of honky tonk and bluegrass. After vocal chord surgery in the early 1990s, Loveless bounced back to score some of her biggest hits yet, including the platinum album Only What I Feel.
Early Music Career
Born Patty Lee Ramey on January 4, 1957, in Pikeville, Kentucky, Patty Loveless was the sixth of seven children born to John and Naomie Ramey. The family lived in Elkhorn City, in eastern Kentucky, where John Ramey was a coal miner. Loveless was the youngest daughter and very much her daddy's little girl, and she took her early love of country music from her father.
When Loveless was 12, the family moved to Louisville, Kentucky, for her father to receive treatment for coal miner's lung. Loveless's older siblings Dottie and Roger had formed a singing group called The Swinging Rameys, and when Dottie got married and abandoned the band, Roger pulled in Loveless as a singer. Her first paid singing gig, for which she earned $5, took place at an event called the Lincoln Jamboree. At first Patty's shyness made her terrified of performing, but as soon as she started singing, she discovered she loved it.
In 1971, Loveless and her brother drove to Nashville to meet with the popular country singer Porter Wagoner, and Loveless sang him an original song she'd composed. Wagoner loved it and introduced the 14-year-old to Dolly Parton, who showed Loveless the ropes of the Nashville scene. By 1974, Loveless had begun singing with the Wilburn Brothers.
"I was only 15 years old when I was on a show in Louisville, Kentucky with the Wilburn Brothers and other various artists … I was singing 'Mule Skinner Blues.' Doyle Wilburn dragged Teddy out of their dressing room to watch me perform," Loveless once recalled. "After my performance they were backstage wanting to talk to me. Doyle asked me about myself and I told him I was working some with Porter [Wagoner]. He asked me to come to Nashville and bring some of my stuff with me … and I did."
Loveless's career singing with the Wilburn Brothers paid off both professionally and romantically; she soon fell in love with the group's new drummer, Terry Lovelace, and married him in 1976 (along the way taking the variation "Loveless" as her own last name). The two quit the Wilburns and moved to North Carolina, a move her family and friends condemned.
In North Carolina, the singer started performing under "Patty Loveless," and she played in all kinds of nightclubs and bars. "You wouldn't believe the people that would come to this club. They would get off from work, and they wouldn't go home. They'd come to this club and have a few beers, or whatever … dance or … whatever the case was. I learned a lot about people and life in those places. I mean, there was all walks of life … people who had hit the very bottom. And myself, there was times I felt myself becoming one of those people too."
Record Label Shuffle
By 1985, Loveless's father had died and her marriage was over, but she was ready to jump into a new phase of life.
"I learned so much about what to feel in a song from those years of playing those clubs. I was saddened sometimes because I thought 'I left Nashville, I left all that for this? What happened to me? What is wrong with me?' But I think what was happening was that I was beginning to find … me. Find who I really was. And what kind of person I was inside and out. I still believe to this day it happened the way it was supposed to happen."
Loveless moved back to Nashville and worked with her brother Roger to get a record deal. He played a demo tape for the head of MCA Nashville's A&R department, who signed Loveless on the spot.
Like the Wilburn Brothers' band before it, MCA proved a good choice for Loveless—or at least for her personal life. She married her producer, Emory Gordy Jr., in 1989, although they kept their marriage secret for a year and a half. "It was so difficult for me. Especially with him—our musician friends would say… 'We heard that you guys…' and we'd go "oh nah, nu uh no…' It was so difficult! But we wanted people out there to know that I was standing on my own. And you know how stories get going… especially a woman in this business… it's like 'OK, who's she sitting on the couch with.' I'll put it nicely. And he just wanted people to know that 'Hey, she's standing on her own.'"
Unfortunately, Loveless's musical success didn't immediately match her personal happiness. She made five records in all for MCA, but while she became a popular opener for acts such as Reba MacEntire and Wynonna Judd, her records didn't sell as well, and she felt as though she wasn't being promoted effectively by the label. Loveless and her husband decided to make the switch to Epic Records.
In the fall of 1992, Loveless's tour was cut short when she found out that she had a leaking blood vessel on her vocal chords, requiring immediate surgery. She canceled tour dates and stopped the planned record to have the surgery. After a few months of complete silence, she went back into the studio to record again; her first single became a smash No. 1 hit, and her new album, Only What I Feel, went platinum. It was the first of four straight Top 10 Loveless albums on Epic, making her one of the biggest country stars of the 1990s.
Patty Loveless has been performing and releasing records nearly every year since 1993, though she takes breaks to relax at her dream home outside Atlanta with her husband. In 2010, she was inducted as the 65th member of the Grand Old Opry, Nashville's prestigious country showcase. Her most recent album, Mountain Soul II, continues a trend of bluegrass and traditional country music. But Loveless won't commit to just one style: "A little more bluesy, a little more rock edge to it—I wouldn't mind doing something like that. You never know. I may surprise you."