You melted my heart yet again at The Sellersville Theater in Pennsylvania when you performed 90 straight minutes with your sister Allison Moorer. I wasn’t aware that it took a Herculean effort on the part of you and your band just to make the gig. Your great guitar/bass/drums band — who flew in frantically from different cities only to arrive minutes before the gig — fulfilled their obligation to be swamp-rock country at its best. I understand your road manager never even made it to the gig. And Allison had to drive in from New York City. Your guitar, her guitar and piano, and, most amazingly, your sisterly harmony — like the Everly Brothers out of Kentucky — born out of your Alabama upbringing, was so special, so perfect, so gorgeous, and so unerring, that your alternative cover versions of Nirvana, The Killers, Merle Haggard, Bob Dylan and Jessi Colter became glittering transcendent jewels.
But it was your originals — some off Not Dark Yet (2017) — that seared my soul on a spiritual level.
I’ve loved you since you were a scared teenager with a debut album (Sunrise, 1989) that was so etched in pain, radio wouldn’t play it. But Epic Records knew it had a lit stick of dynamite in you. That’s why they paired you up with legendary producer Billy Sherrill. When I first fell in love with you, we sat on the bed in my hotel room in Nashville during Fan Fair week. You put on an air of nonchalant toughness, pretending not to care, even yawning in my face and asking your publicist who you had to speak to next, before I even asked my last question. It was a defense mechanism. It only made me love you more.
I knew of your family tragedy. I didn’t know at the time you had developed a crust, became tough to deal with, be it in the studio or the grocery store. Who could blame you? You wore your pain on your sleeve. When you tackled “I Love You So Much It Hurts,” the 1948 weeper by Floyd Tillman, you did it better than Ray Charles or Patsy Cline. So when Epic threw you back into the studio for the awful Tough All Over (1990) and Soft Talk (1991), you would cry softly to yourself and wonder how the hell to get out of your record deal.
You did. And the next record, Temptation (1993) was a Western Swing stunner where you even channeled your inner Elvis on “Feeling Kinda Lonely Tonight.” Restless (1995) might have described your mood but it was the last album you’d record for a Nashville major label. That’s when you left town and stuck up your middle finger to the powers-that-be.
You landed in Los Angeles asserting your independence, proclaiming I Am Shelby Lynne (1999). It won you “Best New Artist” honors at the Grammy Awards, despite you being at it for 10 years. I remember going to see you at Westbury Music Fair on Long Island oddly opening for the Kenny Rogers Christmas tour. You confounded the elderly crowd by jamming out on some James Brown funk. I never forgot that. And I left before the headliner sang one note.
Then there came a series of albums so strong, so willfully fem-centric and wildly ahead of their time, that you cemented a place in my heart forever. Our interviews at the time had me gushing my love and offering to leave my wife for you. You seemed bemused at such naked emotion and thought I was kidding. Love, Shelby (2001), Identity Crisis (2003) and Suit Yourself (2005) were all amongst the best CDs of those years. But it was Just A Little Lovin’ (2008), your Dusty Springfield tribute, that was supposed to be the record that made you a superstar.
Is that when you gave up on major labels? Is that when you gave up on me? I couldn’t get through to you. I tried calling your publicists and your managers all to no avail. Yet when you started your own damn label and released Tears, Lies & Alibis (2010) and Revelation Road (2011) — both brilliant — we spoke again and you finally acknowledged your appreciation of my love. You wrote me a letter and I saved it. In your hand-written cursive, you wrote “What a pleasure! So good to hear you and your kind words. Oh my god, the years! My life is blessed, most charmed. You make me happy. It’s wonderful the world has you…and me too. Love, Shelby.” That’s when I coaxed permission out of my second wife to have a love affair with you. When we came to see you in New York, we went backstage after the show and my music teacher wife told you that your guitar was out-of-tune. It was a cringe-worthy moment and you haven’t reached out since.
I tried calling you. I tried texting you. I offered to buy you and your sister dinner at the great adjoining restaurant to The Sellersville Theater (The Washington House). No word. I didn’t want to bother you because of the trouble you guys had in making the gig. But I stared at you on the stage for 90 minutes straight and you seemed rail thin and elegantly wasted, a female version of Keith Richards. You let Allison do the talking between songs. Your stance was pure punk, your look so cool, your voice like thick honey.
I know your sister broke Steve Earle’s heart. One never knows what two people share so I cannot be too upset but know that Steve Earle is my Woody Guthrie and Allison left him for a dude who is thinner, younger, with half the talent? When she introduced him in the audience as her fiancé, my heart sank into my stomach.
Shelby, you know I’ll always love you.