Behind the Meaning and History of “Portland Oregon” by Loretta Lynn and Jack White

Videos by American Songwriter

Videos by American Songwriter

As music fans likely know by now, the great songwriter Loretta Lynn passed away on Tuesday (Oct. 4) at the age of 90.

American Songwriter wanted to continue to honor her memory with a Meaning Behind the Song piece of one of her more recent hits, “Portland Oregon,” which the groundbreaking artist worked on with Jack White.

Origins

Released on May 3, 2004, the song was originally recorded just a few months earlier in January 2004. Though it was written long before that, the track features White on vocals and guitar.

Shortly before the two collaborated, White found out the song existed from an old piece of paper filed away in Lynn’s attic. It was among several old compositions that Lynn recorded with White for her popular Grammy Award-winning album, Van Lear Rose.

“Portland Oregon” was one of the first singles released from the album and received wide acclaim.

The Meaning Behind the Song

Lynn had written the music and lyrics years before its recording. The song, she says, was based on a true event during a moment in time when she pretended to have a love affair with her guitarist, Cal Smith.

In an interview in 2005 with 60 Minutes, Lynn told journalist Mike Wallace that she had contrived the romance to make her husband, Mooney Lynn, jealous. She said she did so because her husband had been getting involved with other women outside of their marriage.

Lynn named the song for the setting in which the alleged incident took place, in a hotel in the Pacific Northwest hub of Portland, Oregon.

The Recording

After she’d composed the track, Lynn shelved it and put the song away in a drawer for many years until she met the rock legend, Jack White.

While meeting Lynn for dinner at her home, White found a pile of handwritten songs and was stunned they hadn’t been put together and recorded. “Portland Oregon” was among this group. The two soon decided that they would record some of them for her 2004 record, which White produced.

The single earned positive reviews and includes both Lynn and White singing, along with some silky smooth lead guitar from the former White Stripes frontman.

American Songwriter contributor Davis Inman wrote of the single, “The song seems like it could be based on something Lynn observed of her audience’s antics—much like “You Ain’t Woman Enough (To Take My Man)” was inspired by a young woman telling Lynn about her marital troubles backstage one night.”

Lynn later performed the song on the Late Show with David Letterman with White.

Check out that version below.

Quotes from Lynn About the Song

“That’s the country-est album I’ve ever done,” says Loretta Lynn in American Songwriter’s Legends interview about Van Lear Rose. “I told [Jack Whitle] that and he said, ‘Well, thank you.’ And he’s not a country guy, he’s rock and roll. But when my movie came out, he was nine years old and he said, ‘I sat in the theater and watched it all day long.’ It just kept coming back on and he kept watching it. He’s a good guy, Jack White is.”

“I didn’t know [Jack] was gonna sing with me on ‘Portland, Oregon,’” says Lynn. “I walked in the studio and I said, ‘Who is that man singing it with me, Jack?’ and he said, ‘That’s me.’ I like Jack. Anything he did I thought was cool.”

Lyrics

Here are the jaunty lyrics from the song, to check out before listening to the live version (above):

Well, Portland, Oregon and sloe gin fizz
If that ain’t love then tell me what is, uh huh, uh huh
Well I lost my heart, it didn’t take no time
But that ain’t all, I lost my mind in Oregon

In a booth in the corner with the lights down low
I was movin’ in fast, she was takin’ it slow, uh huh, uh huh
Well, I looked at him and caught him lookin’ at me
I knew right then we were playin’ free in Oregon

Next day, we knew last night got drunk
But we loved enough for the both of us, uh huh, uh huh
In the morning when the night had sobered up
It was much too late for the both of us in Oregon

Well, sloe gin fizz works mighty fast
When you drink it by the pitcher and not by the glass, uh huh, uh huh
Hey bartender, before you close
Pour us one more drink and a pitcher to go

And a pitcher to go
(And a pitcher to go)
And a pitcher to go
(And a pitcher to go)

And a pitcher to go
(And a pitcher to go)
Yeah

And a pitcher to go
And a pitcher to go

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