“Country Music” on PBS: Jay Hamilton’s Comments (Episode 7)

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Jay Hamilton is back with his thoughts about Episode 7 of the new PBS series “Country Music: A Film By Ken Burns.”  If you need a recap of what he has written so far, here are the links: Episode 1-4 recap (click here), recap of Episodes 5 & 6 (click here).

You have learned about Jay and his background in Country Music and Country Radio in his previous posts. So if you would like to be reminded of his credentials, check out the links above. However, based on recent photos, this editor is wondering how come Jay gets to pal around with all of the beautiful ladies of Country Music? Oh well, no sour grapes on my part! Let’s let Jay get into his comments right now:

“As I enjoyed installment #7 of Ken Burns’ History of Country Music, I couldn’t help but chuckle to myself and think, ” That’s NOT ‘History’ … that’s my life!”

 

“When I was very young growing up in a small town with the only physical radio station located seven miles away in a slightly larger town, the music they played ran the gamut…with Frank Sinatra’s singing “Love And Marriage” then back-to-back with Ray Price doing “Crazy Arms” and then The Platters with “Only You”. Small town radio stations were prone to play any record that was a free promotional copy from a record company. There wasn’t a budget to actually buy records, with most record companies concentrating their distribution of free promotional records to major cities. So, as a result I was exposed to a lot of Country Music at an early age. I was familiar with the fiddles, steel guitars and the nasal twang. But then, of course, along came Bill Haley & the Comets and Fats Domino and The Moonglows and my musical focus zeroed in on early rock and roll, eventually culminating into years as a Rock ‘n Roll deejay. Then in 1970, looking for a gig, I was hired by a Country radio station and my familiarity with the genre was revived. I’m not sure if those old Country tunes, from my childhood, were still in my head or, if it was the realization that these were really fine musicians and truly gifted and clever song crafters. It didn’t take me long to discard any Rock ‘n Roll prejudice I may have had about Country Music. I was back, headlong, into every aspect of Country.

“So, that brings us to episode #7. It was like visiting an old friend. They were right in my wheelhouse. I eventually became Program Dir./Music Dir. of that Country station and I felt fortunate (and even more so, in retrospect) to have gotten involved in Country during this particular period in its history. In my estimation, the 70s and 80s were among the finest moments, musically speaking, Country has had. Not to say that there weren’t some “musical down moments” in that time, but in general this was goooood stuff!

George Jones, of course!

“Ken Burns, in this segment, did everything he needed to do to make me a happy viewer.  He covered nearly every aspect of it I love. The truly phenomenal songwriters,  the influence that country was having on other genres, the so-called Outlaw movement and the interesting happenings in Austin. He also gave insight into aspects of Country Music that perhaps the average Country fan isn’t familiar with. (Aha! A teaching moment!). The George and Tammy story, which I can relate to because I ended up NOT emceeing two “No Show” Jones’ concerts. One with Tammy, at the Seattle Opera House, for which the promoter managed to bring in Phil Everly to open the show (at the last minute) and had me announce to the packed house that George was not going to be there and if they wanted their money back to exit now and receive vouchers at the door. No one left. My major memory of that concert was standing next to Tammy, in the wings just prior to announcing her on stage, and thinking that she was much more beautiful then she was in photographs. I still think George Jones and Merle Haggard had the best damn voices in country music.

“I do feel a little guilty about not including, in earlier remarks about great Country songwriters/singers, the truly gifted song writing skills of Dolly Parton featured in this episode. Does this make me a hopeless chauvinist? This woman has many talents (a great business sense at the top of the list), but for my money her way with words is her gift.

“I was a huge Townes Van Zandt fan even before Emmylou’s recording of “Pancho & Lefty”. Being a radio station Music Director I got a hold of his albums early on and loved his songwriting. “The same is true for Guy Clark and Rodney Crowell. With all the footage of Rodney I’m surprised they didn’t take a moment to mention some of the great songs he’s written for other artists and himself.

“I was lucky and had some personal encounters with Willie, Waylon, Emmylou, Dwight Yoakam, Merle, and others, not yet mentioned in this series, but they’re all stories for another time.

Jay with Emmylou

“I’m sure episode #7 lacked tons of memories from that era for tons of Country Music fans. I agree, there were a lot of things left out. But, for once, during the series I did not care! Because they covered my favorite stuff. So, perhaps in earlier episodes, when I was mystified about things they omitted, there must have been plenty of Country Music fans that felt they hit the nail squarely on the head. For them, a quick list of possible grievances.

“Wasn’t this the era of Truck Driving Songs and CBs? CW McCall and that “Breaker Breaker” stuff! What about Jerry Reed and Burt Reynolds and “Convoy”? What ABOUT Jerry Reed, he was a big Country Music star?! When they were talking about Austin, why no mention of Jerry Jeff Walker and the fact that Willie owned a concert hall called The Austin Opry House and a bar, the Backstage? For crying out loud, Dolly, Emmylou and Tammy weren’t the only girl singers during this time! What about Crystal Gayle, Janie Fricke, Melba Montgomery, Marie Osmond, Susan Raye, Lynn Anderson?!!  Also, they have Tom T. Hall on there all the time, why don’t they mention some of his big hits?

“Feel free to add your own! In the meantime enjoy episode #8. I know I will! I”m guessing they’ll have Crystal Gayle and I’m hoping they’ll at least mention Gail Davies, but I can’t imagine how they’ll even come close to mentioning all the artists they’ve left out or, will have to leave out, but when they’ve got a bunch of great concert footage to show us…who the hell wants details”?.…….Jay

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Author: Steven Smith

Presently editor and historical writer with Puget Sound Media in Seattle. Former radio broadcaster and radio station owner, 1970-1999. Journalism and speech communications degrees. I enjoy researching articles and online reporting that allows me to meld together words, audio and video. P.S. I appreciate and encourage reader comments and opinions.

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