Book Excerpt: 'Coming Home to Myself'

I was instantly in love with Loretta. I think I connected to her because she reminded me of my people in Kentucky. And I loved the way she dressed – I had never seen so many ruffles in my life! There was nobody like her. Also, Loretta had backup singers – something I'd never seen before! It fascinated me. One of her backup singers was a beautiful black man with a powerful bass voice that resonated with every fiber of my being. It's like when a tuning fork is struck and everything in the room in the same key vibrates. That's how I felt. I was vibrating to his voice. He soon learned that I was a fan, and took Mom and me to church there in Las Vegas. It was my introduction to an all-black church and it profoundly influenced my music and my life. I also was impressed with the Gatlin Brothers show, because of their blood harmonies.

It was because of women like Loretta – and Dolly Parton and Tammy Wynette – that I dedicated my life to music. You couldn't have forced me into any other profession, even though I did learn quickly how fast you can go from a suite at the Aladdin to the streets of L.A, because the trip to Las Vegas ended abruptly.

"Pack your bags!" Mom said, rushing into the room.

I put down my guitar and stared at her.

"Jeff's project is history!"

"So?" It still hadn't hit home.

"We're in this suite because of Jeff's show! If the show doesn't go on, we may have to pay our bill!"

That hit home. The show tickets. The room service. The suite! We threw our clothes in bags like we were crazy women, and maybe we were! Down the back stairs of the Aladdin we ran, out the back and into the red Chevy. I felt like Tatum O'Neal on the lam in "Paper Moon." Mom and me, sneaking out the back of the Aladdin one step ahead of management.

Mom said all was not lost, though. Jeff was still optimistic about our career, and promised to help relocate us to Nashville, which was where he said we'd have to be if we wanted a career in country music. Mom and I returned to Los Angeles for a very short time, staying with our dear friends Nancy and Gabriele Balaz, then soon heading to Nashville. We lived in a motel until Mom got on her feet and could bring Ashley to Tennessee. Then we moved to an old house on Del Rio Pike, just outside of Franklin. The place needed a lot of work, but Mom did her best to fix it up. She's always had a gift for taking old used things and making them look new again.

Mom went to work in Jeff's office. She continued to plan and organize. When she wasn't writing scripts to pitch to production companies or coming up with ideas for the Country Music Foundation, she was talking to people about filming artists singing their hits, a precursor to the video.

As it turned out, one of the first acts Jeff signed back in Nashville was J. D. Sumner and the Stamps. Within days of their meeting, Larry Strickland and Mom began a whirlwind romance that continues today. It must have been providence that Jeff signed J. D. Sumner and the Stamps so soon after Mom started working there, because she started nursing as soon as she got her Tennessee credentials in the mail!

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