This is an excerpt of a story that first appeared online at Rolling Stone Country on November 10, 2016. Read the rest of the story here.
Early afternoons were pretty quiet at the Lyric Springs Country Inn. The previous night’s guests usually left in the morning, headed for home or into Nashville about 20 miles away. The next guests would not arrive until evening.
This gave the innkeeper – a tall, waifish 24-year-old redhead from Los Angeles – all day to make the beds, dust the oil lamps and horsehair chairs, and tend to Jubal, her boss’s 200-pound English Mastiff. That’s one reason she liked this job. With only Jubal to keep her company, the innkeeper could spend all day composing songs aloud as she mopped the floors and pruned the peony bushes.
One morning, on her 40-minute commute from Nashville, the innkeeper was listening to a cassette tape of the Stanley Brothers. She decided to write a song the Stanleys might enjoy singing in their high lonesome voices. She reached over, switched off the cassette deck, and began to sing.
“I am an orphan, on God’s highway / But I’ll share my troubles if you go my way.”
The innkeeper continued to work on the song throughout the day, her voice ringing off the wood-paneled walls of Lyric Springs’ barroom and the porcelain of its toilets.
“I have had friendships pure and golden / But the ties of kinship, I have not known them.”
The song was finished by the time she got back in her car and headed home. What started as an idea a few hours earlier now had four verses and two choruses.
“I have no mother, no father / No sister, no brother / I am an orphan girl.”
When she got home, the innkeeper grabbed a guitar and her duet partner, an equally skinny guitar picker she’d met while attending Berklee College of Music in Boston. She played him the new song, but he didn’t say anything. “I thought, ‘Oh well, he doesn’t like it.’ But he says he didn’t say anything because he thought it was perfect, so what was there to say?” she recalls.
It wouldn’t be long before many people shared the guitar picker’s opinion. This song, “Orphan Girl,” would open lots of doors. It would launch a career that would make the innkeeper one of the most beloved figures in a new music genre called “Americana.” And it would take her away from scrubbing other people’s’ toilets forever.