I’ve always enjoyed going to clubs and watching the bands. There’s a lot of entertainment going on, up on the bandstand. This is one thing that I admired so much about Eddie Jackson and Frankie Meadows. These guys had the people out there dancing and they would involve their audience in the show. Guys like Eddie and Swanee Caldwell – they’re true entertainers, because they see someone come in the door and say, “Hi so-and-so” and call them by their names, “How are ya?” – Patti Lynn 
From the time she started singing in public, Patti Lynn’s vocal abilities, charm, and interest in all styles of country music attracted the support of Detroit musicians and bandleaders such as Ford Nix, Eddie Jackson, Billy Martin, and Frankie Meadows. Eddie Jackson wrote a song that graced her first record, on the Hi-Q label. A couple of years later, while Lynn worked bandstands with Frankie Meadows, Detroit producer Kit Wright signed her up with Indiana-based Glenn Records. Lynn quit performing for a few years to raise her children, then returned as Kelly Roberts during the 1970s. We’ll refer to her as Patti Lynn.
Born Patsy Waters and raised in Nantahala, North Carolina, in the state’s western mountains, Lynn arrived in Hazel Park, Michigan, with her parents and brother around 1954. She was 13 years old and had already been singing in church for most of her life. “My cousin and I sang together in church,” she said. “I was raised in a Baptist church, and we went to church Sunday morning, Sunday night and every Wednesday night. My uncle led the choir … and as soon as he found out we could sing, we were into it.”
According to Lynn, Nantahala is a Cherokee name meaning “Land of the Noonday Sun.” Lynn claimed Cherokee ancestry as well. Because of the family’s somewhat isolated location, within the Nantahala National Forest where many areas don’t receive direct sunlight until midday, Lynn grew up listening to country music radio from neighboring Tennessee.
We lived down in the mountains and the only radio programs we could get were the “Midday Merry-Go-Round” out of WNOX in Knoxville, Tennessee, at twelve o’clock every day. I remember Don Gibson singing “Sixteen Chickens And A Tambourine.” We would get the “Grand Ole Opry” on Saturday night. Back in those days, I grew up listening to the Maddox Brothers and Rose, Wilma Lee and Stoney Cooper, Carl Smith, Goldie Hill. … So it had been like a mix of bluegrass and country. And I was seeing country coming out of bluegrass with the electric instruments.
The first rockabilly song I remember hearing was Marty Robbins doing “That’s All Right,” covering Elvis. I left North Carolina shortly after Elvis was on the scene and came to Michigan. Elvis was popular up here, but I thought, “Where’d Marty go?” [laughs] But there’s never been a solid definition between bluegrass, country and rockabilly. To me, it was like a big family growing. Thank God, because I made a lot of friends in bluegrass. … When I was growing up, there was little definition between what was country and what was bluegrass. I saw musicians coming up to the bandstands and trying new things, and if it was good, the music evolved naturally into what it is today. I love Mac Wiseman, Bill Monroe and his Bluegrass Boys, Flatt and Scruggs – all of them.
Around 1958, Lynn attended a house party and met musicians Grady Sartane and J.O. Turner. After hearing Lynn sing, Sartane invited her to join them at some shows he had booked in local high schools. It was during one of these appearances that Lynn first met Ford Nix. “He just started dragging me around with him, introducing me to people, and getting me up every chance [he had],” said Lynn.
He took me to a bar down in Detroit called Taylor’s Bar. Ford said, “You’re gonna get up there and sing.” And I said, “No, I’m not.” He said, “Yes, you are!” They called Ford up, and Ford introduced me. I was shakin’ like a leaf, and a fellow by the name of Ray Taylor was working there. Anyway, I got up and did three or four songs, and I really liked it. The people applauded, and I thought, well, I lived through this and I think I can do it again!
One time I was working with Ford down at the Pullman Bar [in Highland Park], and they had chicken wire up around the band. That Pullman had a really bad reputation. But no, I’ve never had any problems. … Which is really amazing, because I saw a lot of fights, but I always tried to keep my nose clean and be a lady. Normally, if trouble broke out, they had bouncers … to put a stop to it pretty quick.
Ford Nix introduced Lynn to WPON Pontiac disk jockey Billy Martin, when he was assembling the cast for his TV variety show on WLIX Channel 10 in Jackson. Martin’s “Michigan Jamboree” aired in 1960 for 26 weeks. Besides Martin, Nix and Lynn, entertainers included Martin’s band, the Drifting Wranglers, and vocalists Arizona Weston, Billy Gill, and Jimmy Odell. “When I first met Jimmy, he was playing a flattop [guitar] and singing,” said Lynn. “He had an excellent voice. Red Lynch was playing steel for Billy, and Jimmy was playing flattop and singing. A couple of years after I worked on the Billy Martin show, I ran into Jimmy and he was sitting behind a steel guitar! … I still believe the Detroit area in Michigan has some untapped resources of talent.”
After Martin’s TV show ended, Lynn tagged along with Ford Nix, Wendy Smith and their bluegrass band. Promoter Fay McGinnis booked them around the region.
Coming in Part Two: Patti Lynn meets Eddie Jackson, makes records
- Patti Lynn interviewed by Craig Maki in 1995.