The Time That I Saw Lorretta Lynn Perform

John McMahon
3 min readOct 6, 2022

I have been an avid record buyer and concert goer since I have had money to spend. The last two shows I saw this past summer were Nick Lowe and Los Straightjackets, and Afrobeat pioneer Femi Kuti. I had seen Nick play in Rockpile opening for Elvis Costello in 1978, and Fela Kuti in NYC with Femi playing sax in the the band in the 1980s. Festivals, stadium shows, hockey arenas, concert halls, county fairs, amusement parks, night clubs, VFWs, house parties, backyards, and certainly thousands of bars, I have enjoyed every kind of music you can imagine, and I mean enjoy, because if someone is make an effort to entertain, and they are doing it right in front of me, I’m ready to be entertained. I saw arena Little Monsters Lady Gaga, and Skynyrd two weeks before the plane crash, at the Armadillo World Headquarters. I saw the Rapper’s Ball in 1984. I was once cursed out by Sid Vicious.

The best show I ever saw was Lorretta. It was on the aircraft carrier USS Independence in the eastern Mediterranean Sea off the coast of Lebanon on Christmas in 1983. We were digging holes in the water while the Civil War and Israeli intervention were going on. Our A-7 Corsairs and F-14 Tomcats launched airstrikes on the Syrians and probably Hezbollah. I was a Machinist Mate 2nd Class, so I spent most of the time below decks working on the machinery. I saw Beirut in the distance from the sponson, and it looked like Miami Beach with purple mountains behind it. And then there were puffs of smoke on the high rises as the artillery hit them. Idiocy.

The USO had planned a show onboard for Lorretta and her whole band, and everybody on the crew was really excited about it. We had been on station for a while, and there were no women USN sailors at sea in those days, and of course Lorretta Lynn was pretty lovely, even if you weren’t familiar with her music. There were problems with customs in Cairo for the band and their costumes and equipment, and it looked like the show would be scuppered. Lorretta and her husband/mangaer Doolittle Lynn managed to get out to the ship on a helicopter with the clothes on their backs and her guitar. On the 5,000 man crew they found a guitarist, a bass player, and a drummer with a kit, and they practiced with Lorretta Lynn for a couple of hours.

They had a stage set up in the hangar bay of the ship. The fighters and bombers were taken to the flight deck or pushed to the edges. There were probably over 3,000 sailors packed in there. The band played a little lead in, and then Lorretta walked out totally in denim with a red bandanna around her neck, so gorgeous. The applause shook the ship. She didn’t have to come out to us, but she did. She sang some of her hits, a couple of covers including a Patsy Cline song, and Christmas songs, which had a good sing-along. When she sang Coal Miner’s Daughter, tears poured down my face. I looked around and every man was unashamedly weeping. Hard motherfuckers that had killed in Vietnam were crying like babies. Chiefs, pilots, swabbies, blacks, whites, Filipinos, snipes, twidgets, deck apes, officers, all of us were weeping. She held us in the palm of her hand and told us that life is hard, but what you are doing is good.

I saw Lorretta Lynn play in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea on Christmas Day.