KEN BURNS "COUNTRY MUSIC" DOCUMENTARY
I hope if anyone have an interest in music history, particulary country and Nashville, will watch the PBS series going on, Ken Burns, COUNTRY MUSIC Documentary. Done decade by decade from the late 1800's, into the 2000's, it is an 8 part series, (the first four have shown this week, the next four will start this coming Sunday.) is an amazingly researched series, very factual and amazingly detailed. And always entertaining.
A funny part is seeing things I have always said, like the "Divisions in country music." Today, there is an undending conversation going on among writers, artists, publishers, and the general public about "what is country." Country radio and artists today have very little to do with what country music was when they grew up. But what I have always said and know is it has ALWAYS been that way. And this series points out from the beginning of the genre we refer to as "COUNTRY" that began with a record called "THE BRISTOL SESSIONS" in 1927. That is considered "THE BIG BANG" of country music.
It was many artists, recorded by a man named Ralph Peer, who recorded various local artists from the hills of Tennessee in the little town of Bristol Tenn./Virginia. (The state line is down the middle of the street.) Among those local and regional musicians, were Jimmie Rodgers and The Carter Family. Those records would go on to sell 4 million records during the depression and make superstars out of the Carters and Jimmie Rodgers. But they argued over which was "country." The appalachian hillbilly music, popularized by the Carters, or the delta blues coming out of the black people in Mississippi, that Jimmie brought in.
And that argument goes on today. Throughtout the series it is pointed out. Texas Swing, being considered "Big Band music", people like Marty Robbins, considered "Pop Singers, and not country. and it goes on today. The fact is, it is ALL country music, and while it may not fit our definitions, it certainly is that.
As it was once explained to me by the president of MCA records, hit producer and mogul, Tony Brown, "If Country writers write it, Country artists record it, country publishers publish it, country labels release it, country press writes on it and most importantly, country AUDIENCES EMBRACE IT.... IT'S COUNTRY.
I hope anyone with an interest in music history and finding out how we got where we are today, will check it out. You can do an
internet search and find out where you can see it. "Ken Burns, "Country Music."
Hope you'll tune it in.
PS: Jimmie Rodgers was my Grandmother's second cousin. So I come by this honestly.
MY TAKE ON THE KEN BURNS COUNTRY MUSIC SERIES
Well, last night was the final episode of the Ken Burns PBS “Country Music” documentary, and I have to say I am at the least, as impressed with it as I have been on every Ken Burns documentary. Starting with THE CIVIL WAR, through BASEBALL, THE ROOSEVELTS, WORLD WAR II, VIETNAM, and on and on, I’m pretty much firm in the Ken Burns camp. Again, sir, well done.
Having said that, I notice people on the web with their own takes and while most seem to be positive, there are always personal biases we all bring to it, and people that feel there was “too much this or that…. And “why was my friend/person/colleague skipped….” Etc. it is true you can’t please everyone. In something with the scope and literally millions of stories and people, songs and events, it is impossible to include everything and everything. You have to give the best overview that you can. And I think they did a great job.
With myself and, I think a lot of people from our Nashville community, there are going to be a lot of personal experiences. Each night we watched as people, places and things from our own life experiences are flashed on the screen. Stories we heard or experienced turned out to be different than we heard or experienced them. This is normal. Sort of like being at a party and one person starts a story and by the time it gets to you, it is totally different. Hey, it happens.
I’m just glad we have a pretty damn good narrative of our business, our town, our forefathers and our present and future participants.
*For me, it was quite personal. From finding out some things about my distant relative, Jimmie Rodgers, that I heard from my Father’s Mother, who was Jimmie’s second cousin, to remembering my Father’s stories of singing at the Ryman in his early years as a gospel quartet singer in the 1950’s and 60’s, there was a lot to bring back memories for me.
*With each successive night, I would see more and more people that I personally had a connection with. And like anyone who was around history making things, sporting events, National calamities, wars, or whatever, we never quite realize it until we see it from a broader perspective. Because at the time, we were just around things in a very small way. My entire relationship with this town and business is from a very small part, but it is a part nonetheless and it has been pretty fun to see a little larger picture.
*There was a lot of “Oh… so that’s who that was..” in this. I would see pictures or hear stories of people that I had connections or conversations with but never really knew it at the time. Billy Sherril, for instance, the producer who discovered Tammy Wynette and George Jones, who produced my first cut, “THAT’S WHERE IT HURTS” a song I wrote with Ron Muir and my Dad, Grady Ross Barnette, was featured prominently. He just happened to be walking down the hall going to the bathroom when he heard my song at Tree publishing and wanted to put it on the new project with Shelby. It was featured in a WILLIE NELSON/KRIS KRISTOFFERSON TV Movie of the week, “ANOTHER PAIR OF ACES” where Willie, Kris and Actress Sela Ward, two-stepped to the song. My Dad was one of the worlds biggest Willie fans, so seeing that was surely on his “bucket list” and getting our names in People magazine, had to be a lot of fun for him. And he used to rib me about “I don’t know what’s so hard about writing songs.” He had only written ONE. Pretty good track record.
*People like hit publishers Bob Beckam, who actually offered me a deal twice, but I was unable to do it because I was in another deal.
*Seeing the amazing Amy Kurland and the Bluebird featured so prominently and took me back to the days of my audition and then all the shows I did there. Standing outside the window to see an artist I was sent to see by my ASCAP rep TOM LONG. The guy was ASTOUNDING! And even more than that, I remembered the five minutes of conversation we had after his set when he talked to me outside.
And reminded me of a song of MINE that he had been interested in. That guy was GARTH BROOKS. And that was the night he got signed. I had told his manager I was “Holding on to the song, “CAN’T BLAME NOBODY” for myself as an artist! (OPEN MOUTH, INSERT BOTH FEET!) “Hey Garth, I’m still holding on to that song if you want to do it! LOL!”
*The “weird at the time” advice I got from TOWNES VAN ZANDT, who told me I needed some “WANK WANK” in my song after hearing me one night and complimenting me on the song. I thought he was just badly inebriated but would find out months later that “Wank Wank” is a noise you make running your hands up the strings and hitting it with a percussive effect. Gives a “PUSH” to the song. I use it to this day and pass it along to my students. Thanks Townes.
*The night I performed before this guy on a Steven Farmer writer’s night at the Commodore. He was pretty depressed, talking about his frustration with the business, having been known by everyone, played on everyone’s records but not being able to break through as a singer. He was going to give it one more try before giving up the artist thing. Then he played his “last ditch song.” “NOBODY ANSWERS WHEN I CALL YOUR NAME.” That was Vince Gill.
Being able to write, do shows with, hang out and become friends with Larry Butler, Grammy Producer, writer of “Hey Won’t You Play Another somebody done somebody wrong song.” Richard “Don’t it make my brown eyes blue” Leigh, Wood Newton, Jimbeau Hinson, Jon Imms, Chas Sandford, and on and on with people who had such a huge impact on music. Yeah we were all there too.
The night that I ran into Chuck Cannon, and Billy Dean, at Gibson Guitar Café’, and they were asking me to go to “SEANACES” a particularly popular Iris bar at the time, and I thought they said “SHONEYS”.I wasn’t hungry. They ended up writing a huge hit song that night. Forks in the road.
*Having back-up singers like Heather and Jennifer Kinley step up and become Superstars. Watching my friends like Chuck Cannon, Stephanie Smith, Jimmy Stewart, go on to have enormously successful careers. And watching Jimmie, as he got a cut with his dream artist, Keith Whitley, on his song, BROTHERLY LOVE, and being so excited, then being dashed when Keith battling demons, died before finishing it. Then being excited again ,when, they brought in Earl Thomas Conley a year later and finishing the song and taking it to number one, two years after Keith’s death. And when Jimmy brought in a new writer to sit in with us in a round at Douglas. That was Toby Keith.
*Seeing your friends succeed, and then many who moved home. Troy McConnel, Clint Bullard, who are as good as it gets as writers and artists, but ended up going other places and carrying on there. Being in so many places, and often being so close, yet not quite THERE, but still being able to have amazing experiences you can always look back fondly on and be grateful for being there.
The hundreds of shows, special events, thousands of songs, late night guitar pulls, parties, benefits, all the people I’ve met and had enormous fun and great experiences. That’s what we’ve all had. And seeing this documentary fuels a lot of our own memories. We’re all just very fortunate3 to have been able to play small parts in this drama we call COUNTRY and NASHVILLE. I guess we could all do our own documentaries. But I’m just glad we had this one.