January 4, 1957
With a powerful, expressive voice, Patty Loveless blended influences of bluegrass, honky-tonk, and West Coast country-rock. In the process, she created a distinctive, tradition-based sound updated with a modern lyrical perspective on relationships, families, and other real-life concerns. The convincing, lived-in sincerity of her mountain-bred voice helped her songs ring true, whether conveying heartbreak or humor.
Between 1988 and 2003, Loveless achieved thirty-one Top Twenty country hits. Among them were five #1s, including “Blame It on Your Heart,” “Timber I’m Falling in Love,” and “Lonely Too Long.” Her forays into bluegrass and mountain music, on Mountain Soul (2001) and Mountain Soul II (2009), received widespread acclaim. She has been honored with two Grammys and five Country Music Association awards, including 1995 Album of the Year for When Fallen Angels Fly and 1996 Female Vocalist of the Year.
A Coal Miner’s Daughter
Born Patty Lee Ramey on January 4, 1957, Loveless lists her birthplace as Pikeville, Kentucky, which had the hospital closest to her family’s home in Elkhorn City (population: 1,085 in 1960). Her father, John Ramey, a second-generation coal miner, and her mother, Naomi, moved frequently, residing at times in company-run coal camps in Kentucky and West Virginia. In the late 1960s, the family moved near Louisville so her father could receive better treatment for black-lung disease. He died ten years later, at age fifty-eight.
Loveless began singing and writing songs at age eleven. When she was twelve, her father bought her an acoustic guitar, so she could accompany herself while singing and ease the loneliness she felt when the family moved to Louisville. She soon joined her brother Roger—seven years her senior—in a duo, the Singing Swinging Rameys, performing at fairs and festivals. When they appeared as an opening act at a 1971 Louisville Gardens concert, an impressed Doyle Wilburn of the popular country duo the Wilburn Brothers suggested they should come to Nashville.
The Rameys soon made a visit to Music City, but on a whim stopped at the office of Grand Ole Opry star Porter Wagoner, who welcomed the duo and responded enthusiastically to their music. That evening, he took them backstage at the Opry and introduced them to his musical partner, Dolly Parton, who listened to their original songs and encouraged Patty to keep writing and singing.
The Wilburns continued in their support, signing Patty as a songwriter to their music publishing firm, Sure-Fire Music. Two years later, she began performing with the Wilburn Brothers on weekends, and after graduating from high school in 1975, she joined a Wilburn Brothers’ twenty-week tour. She performed with Americountry Express, a band consisting of other Wilburn band members.
At age nineteen, Patty married Wilburn Brothers’ drummer Terry Lovelace. The couple moved to Kings Mountain, North Carolina, and eventually formed a cover band, performing rock and pop hits in clubs across the eastern United States. Along the way, Patty altered her stage name from Lovelace to Loveless.
An Acclaimed Debut, and a Commercial Breakthrough
In 1985, brother Roger arranged for Patty to record demos in a Nashville studio. Her tape drew interest from three record labels, with MCA talent executive and producer Tony Brown making the strongest play for the singer. Loveless signed with MCA Records and, before long, ended her tumultuous first marriage.
Brown recruited veteran musician Emory Gordy Jr. to co-produce Loveless with him. Her self-titled first album, released in January 1987, drew acclaim from the press and from veteran country artists, including George Jones and Willie Nelson, both of whom took her on tour and invited her to join them onstage. Loveless’s second album, If My Heart Had Windows (1988), provided her commercial breakthrough. The title song, a cover of a 1967 George Jones classic written by Dallas Frazier, became her first Top Ten hit. A rockabilly-influenced take on Steve Earle’s “A Little Bit in Love” shot to #2 on the charts.
In June 1988, she became a member of the Grand Ole Opry, inducted onstage by Wagoner. With her third album, Honky Tonk Angel (1988), Loveless earned her first #1 hits, “Timber I’m Falling in Love” and “Chains.” Her next two albums—On Down the Line (1990) and Up Against My Heart (1991)—continued her hot streak, with hits such as “I’m That Kind of Girl” and “Hurt Me Bad (In a Real Good Way).”
In 1992, Loveless underwent successful laser surgery to rid herself of a persistent throat ailment and switched to Epic Records, where she would work again with producer Emory Gordy Jr., whom she had married in 1989. As the 1990s continued, Loveless reached new peaks in record and ticket sales, radio hits, and awards recognition. Her achievements came by building on her strengths: applying her supple, emotive voice to catchy, upbeat tunes and probing the heart’s shadowy corners through nuanced, engaging interpretations of dead-serious ballads.
Only What I Feel (1993), her first million-selling album, included the exuberant “Blame It on Your Heart.” The depth of emotion she instilled in ballads “How Can I Help You Say Goodbye” and “Nothing But the Wheel” became a hallmark of her style. When Fallen Angels Fly (1994) and The Trouble with the Truth (1996) extended her catalog of million-selling albums. She earned ten Top Ten singles between 1993 and 1997, including two #1s, “You Can Feel Bad” and “Lonely Too Long.”
Mountain Soul Marks a New Era
At the dawn of the new century, Loveless forged a new, creative direction with the album Mountain Soul, inspired by the bluegrass, gospel, and old-time music of her native Appalachia. Despite receiving little radio play, Mountain Soul landed on many Top Ten country album lists for 2001 and, later, on lists of the best country albums of the decade. In 2002, Loveless co-headlined the Down from the Mountain tour, a concert inspired by the popular film O Brother, Where Art Thou? She revisited traditional music on Mountain Soul II, which won a Grammy for Best Bluegrass Album.
In recent years, Loveless has been on a hiatus, staying close to her home in the Georgia mountains as Emory Gordy deals with health issues. She has occasionally recorded with other artists, providing harmony on Alan Jackson’s “Monday Morning Church” and on recordings by John Prine, Bob Seger, and others. A new generation of country stars—including Miranda Lambert, Carly Pearce, Chris Stapleton, and Chris Young—has enlisted her for duets as well. Her influence continues to grow, as emerging country and Americana artists cite her powerful voice and her ability to create country music hits while staying connected to country music’s core traditions.
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Patty Loveless’ achievements came by building on her strengths: applying her supple, emotive voice to catchy, upbeat tunes and probing the heart’s shadowy corners through nuanced, engaging interpretations of dead-serious ballads.