Jay Hamilton is back with his thoughtful comments on Episodes 5 & 6 of the new PBS series “Country Music: A Film By Ken Burns.” We have had a great response, including Emails and comments at Puget Sound Media and Facebook, giving a big thumbs up to Jay’s summary of the first four shows. If you need to catch up on that post, read it here.
Let me recap Jay’s career. His life in radio began in the early sixties — playing pop/rock music. By the early ’70s, Jay was spinning country records — first in Bellingham (KBFW), and then in Portland (KPOK). In the mid-70s, Jay moved to Austin TX (the heart of Outlaw Country), where he worked as a songwriter and as a deejay at an AOR station. He returned to the PNW in the late ’70s and was hired as a DJ, and later as Promotion Director, at Country Giant KMPS-AM & FM in Seattle. for nearly a decade, Jay was the “in-house” Country Music “facts and history” guy. He produced and hosted two popular weekly Sunday night specialty programs: “Jay Hamilton’s Collector’s Items” and “The Old Time Country Music and Bluegrass Show.” Believe me, Jay knows his country music. Here’s what he has to say about Parts 5 and 6 of the Ken Burn’s series:
“I had two favorite moments in episode #5. The 1st provided by Dwight Yoakam. The 2nd was when they took time to acknowledge the great Nashville studio musicians. “For me, Dwight Yoakam provided the moment of the series, so far. Maybe it will be the moment of the entire series. It was a moment that, for me, emphasized why fans of the genre enjoy (love) Country Music. It came in the segment on Merle Haggard when Dwight was discussing the power in the lyrics of a Haggard penned song, “Holding Things Together”. As he slowly recited, from memory, the lyrics of one of Hag’s more poignant tunes, the emotion expressed in those amazingly crafted lyrics caused Yoakam’s voice to crack and tears appeared in the corners of his eyes. He needed to take several brief pauses to collect himself as he continued with his recitation. There was this great country music talent, in his own right, expressing his feelings about the wonderful song writing abilities of another country artist…and the beauty of the poetry and story-telling ability in those lyrics so touched him that he was unable to control his emotions. This is the power of Country Music and great Country Music songwriting. It touches us. We relate to these musical stories. Whether they’re poignant, funny, ironic, tragic, or historical. We may not be the characters in some of the songs, but we know them and we know their emotions. However, the real key is not so much the stories but how well the stories are told in amazingly crafted Country Music lyrics.
“Again, let me state emphatically that I am truly enjoying the series. However, there are still a few strange things missing from this film. It’s my feeling a series on the History Of Country Music should also be a teaching tool. Tell me something I might not know. Don’t just rehash things the average person knows about the genre, but teach us something about what many may not know. We’ve all seen the Academy award-winning biopics on Johnny Cash and Loretta Lynn (“I Walk the Line” and “Coal Miner’s Daughter”), so why spend nearly an entire segment retelling those movies? These stories, of course, make for good and perhaps engrossing television, but because they eat up so much valuable time they can become somewhat detrimental to a well-rounded and complete “history” of the genre. I’m assuming that some of this concentration, on a few major country names, is due to the availability of a tremendous amount of film and video on them, thus enhancing the “viewing” aspect of the show. Especially in the case of Johnny Cash.
“There’s still been little mention of my all-time favorite brother act in Nashville, the Louvin Brothers, influencing everyone from Emmylou Harris, Gail Davies to Country/Rocker Gram Parsons. Along with the Everly Brothers their sibling harmonies are unmatched. A quick look at a few of the other brother acts left by the wayside. The Osborne Brothers, Jim and Jesse, Delmore Brothers, and a couple who are not technically Brothers such as Johnny and Jack and the family act The Browns (2 sisters and a brother). Of all these performers perhaps the most startling omissions are The Browns (including Jim Ed Brown). Their recordings of “The Old Lamplighter”, “Scarlet Ribbon” and their signature song “The Three Bells”, were tremendous crossover hits in the late 50s, introducing many to Country music. For the life of me I cannot figure out why there was no mention, in any of the episodes so far, of The Browns.
“Again, I will say that I find the series fun television to watch and enjoy, but not always great “history”. In 1972 I was the Program Director/Music Director of “Back To The Country” KBFW in Bellingham, Washington…located in Whatcom County just a few miles from where Loretta Lynn began her singing career.