VAN LEAR, Ky. – The news buzzes around town with the same tone that might mention a new baby or straight A’s.

Loretta won. And don’t forget to pick up milk on the way home.

Loretta, of course, is Loretta Lynn, the 69-year-old queen of country music. She won two Grammys last week, her first since 1971, when she and Conway Twitty snapped up an award for their duet “After the Fire Is Gone.”

The singer’s family watched the awards, but others figured news would spread if it were good.

And it was – “Van Lear Rose,” the CD mentioning their little town, where Lynn grew up, had won best country album.

“She was the belle of Johnson County, Ohio River to Big Sandy …,” the CD’s title track says. “She’s the Van Lear Rose.”

At Words N’ Stuff, a bookstore in town, the album is long sold out. The song “Van Lear Rose” was written about Lynn’s mother, but the tune will be a regular at celebrations and other gatherings around town.

“I’ve heard it at several funerals this year,” says Jim Tramel, a Van Lear native and owner of Words N’ Stuff. “It’s a real nice song.”

The movie “Coal Miner’s Daughter” made Butcher Hollow and the little house where Lynn grew up famous. It’s just a few miles outside Van Lear, where her daddy worked in the coal mines along with all the other daddies and husbands.

“Anytime Loretta does something, I’m glad,” says Tramel, 66, whose store also stocks music by Lynn’s sister, Crystal Gayle. “But I wish there was some way we could portray what we were, are. It’s not like Van Lear wasn’t here before Loretta.”

In 1935, the year Loretta Webb was born up in the holler, Van Lear suffered its largest mining accident. Nine workers were killed by a gas explosion and rock fall in the town’s largest coal mine, No. 5.

Since 1912, the town was home to Consolidation Coal Co.’s five mines, as well as the houses and stores built around them. The population grew to 4,000, topping Paintsville, the county seat.

Still, some say the accident was a start to the end.

“Van Lear never seemed the same after that tragedy,” wrote James Vaughan, who detailed the accident in “Bankmules: The Story of Van Lear, a Kentucky Coal Town.”

When Lynn was about 11 (still two years from marrying Doolittle Lynn, and decades from a singing career), Consolidation Coal announced it would sell its Van Lear properties.

The population today is 1,600, and many still live in the houses Consolidation Coal built.

Holler kids are different from town kids, Lynn wrote in her first autobiography. But everybody was there for the same reason – mining.

“I was born and raised here, too,” says Tina Webb, director of the Coal Miner’s Museum, which was once the coal company’s office. “She wins something and we’re glad, but we’re used to it. More people will come, but they come steady anyway.”

When the crowds come this summer, they’ll be some of the same from earlier years and some fans of the new album, which is attracting young rockers.

They’ll mention trips to Lynn’s ranch outside Nashville (another attraction expecting attendance to increase), then stop at Webb’s Grocery.

Lynn’s brother owns the old company store, just down the road from the museum. From a rocking chair in the store, Madonna Webb watches her Grammy-winning aunt on CNN.

“All of us were smiling from ear to ear,” says Webb, 49, explaining that the family stayed up late to watch the awards.

People call to offer congratulations, but it’s business as usual – just one customer since the morning.

Tourist season starts in March, but you can visit the holler house now, Webb says. Just watch for the painted rock sign – someone took a shotgun to it.

Five-dollar tours pay for the house’s upkeep, like the recycled tin roof that was just added. The furniture is original, and those are family photos on the wall.

Construction workers off early from the day’s job stop in to see the house, too, although they didn’t stay up to watch the Grammys.

“I get phone calls, 1, 2, 3 in the morning,” says Herman Webb, Lynn’s brother. “Those fans don’t pay attention to the clock.”

Herman Webb likes the new album, produced by Detroit rocker Jack White of The White Stripes.

But he prefers the old-fashioned country songs like “Blue Kentucky Girl” and “Whispering Sea” – “That’s my kind of music,” he says.


Around town, people buzz about the win, humming for their “belle of Johnson County.”

It was awfully nice of White to let Lynn speak when they accepted the best country album award, locals say, but he should’ve known she’d force him to the podium.

Who is that boy anyway, they wonder?

A sweet boy Lynn took up well with, Herman says.

A nice man with bad hair, Madonna says.

Some rock “n’ roll cat, says Tramel, from the bookstore.

“Portland, Oregon,” Lynn and White’s duet, won the Grammy for best country collaboration with vocals.

It’s an OK song, but it’s no “Van Lear Rose,” they say.

“I love that,” Madonna says. “It’s about my grandma.”

(c) 2005, Lexington Herald-Leader (Lexington, Ky.).

Visit the World Wide Web site of the Herald-Leader at

Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.


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Loretta Lynn

AP-NY-02-23-05 0942EST

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