“Country Music” on PBS: Jay Hamilton’s Comments (Episode 8)

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Jay Hamilton is wrapping things up with his final thoughts on Episode 8 of the new PBS series “Country Music: A Film By Ken Burns.”  If you need to review what he has written so far, here are the links: Episode 1-4 recap (click here), Episodes 5 & 6 recap (click here), Episode 7 recap (click here).

You have learned about Jay and his background in Country Music and Country Radio in his previous posts. To find out more about his credentials, check out the links above. I was giving Jay a hard time about all the gorgeous ladies of country music he has been posing with. This time he sent along a photo of a different sort. He is with a guy, who just happens to be that fiddle playin’ Devil from Georgia — Mr. Charlie Daniels himself. You will be hearing more from Jay in the future, but this is — we anticipate at least — his final post on the topic of Ken Burns’ PBS series. Now here’s Jay:

“All right, let me begin by emphatically stating, one final time, that I’ve enjoyed this series tremendously. When it comes around in reruns, I’m sure I will watch it all again.

Legendary “Father of Country Music” Jimmie Rodgers

“Prior to PBS airing the series, I had seen Ken Burns on a talk show or two doing promos for the upcoming series. Then PBS did a brief show on what to expect from the new Ken Burns documentary. From this I made an assumption and we all know the old line about what happens when you assume. It makes an “ass” out of “u” and “me”. I’m not willing to say it took me that far off course, but I must admit that in the deep recesses of my gray matter I was holding on to the idea that the documentary was “The HISTORY of Country Music”, but if you will take a moment to check your TV listings, you will note that the series is actually titled “Ken Burns’ Country Music”. The man never said it was going to be “the complete “History” of Country Music”, and it definitely is not. But engrossing, engaging, entertaining television it is!

“Back in the first installment of my thoughts on the series, I mentioned I thought the writers may have relied a little too much on the personal insights of Marty Stuart. Well, I also began to notice the much of the additional input came from Rosanne Cash, (Rosanne’s former husband and producer) Rodney Crowell, John Carter Cash (Johnny and June’s son), Carlene Carter (her step-dad is Johnny Cash), Kris Kristofferson and Emmylou Harris.

Rosanne Cash (L) & Carlene Carter (R)
The Man in Black

“I’m fairly sure this is not the case, but after watching the entire series I got the feeling that Ken Burns and his staff started out to do a documentary on Johnny Cash when, in the middle of the process, it was pointed out that there had already been a plethora of Johnny Cash documentaries, biographies and feature films on his life. The problem was, they already had all this wonderful film footage and interviews, so someone came up with a brilliant idea; “we’ll take what we got, flesh it out with some additional information about Country Music and presto you have a series called Country Music.”

“You must understand that my tongue is planted firmly in my cheek as I say this, but there is the remarkable coincidence that Marty Stuart played in Johnny Cash’s band, Rosanne and Carlene are his daughters, Rodney is his former son-in-law, John Carter is his son, Kris Kristofferson’s career was jump-started by John and Emmylou Harris had hired Rodney Crowell for her Hot Band and that connection brings us right back around to Rosanne. The series basically began with Jimmie Rodgers and the Carter Family, which gave the writers a direct line to Johnny Cash. Thank goodness Rosanne was married to Rodney, because while he was giving his input  they were forced to include all those great Texas songwriters that he was connected to…plus his connection to Emmylou took them to Gram Parsons and Dwight Yoakam.

“So, that brings us to the final episode in the series, which was wonderfully done, but was mainly devoted to the final years of the career of Johnny Cash…which offered them a conclusion to the series about Country Music, which in reality there’s no conclusion to…because the genre continues on.

“They did manage to include some additional information about country performers from the late 70s, 80s and early 90s. The first time I dropped a needle down on a Dwight Yoakam and Ricky Skaggs recording I knew they were going to be huge. But, of course, it didn’t take a genius to realize that. I personally enjoyed it when they pointed out how enormous Country Music radio was, particularly in the 80s…with a quick shot of a collage of Country Station logos and the logo in the lower right-hand corner was from my old alma mater, KMPS-AM & FM Seattle.

Kenny Rogers

“If you watch the finale you’re aware of the performers from that period they included…so let’s take a look at the ones I’m surprised they didn’t include. How did they not at least mention Brooks & Dunn, Faith Hill, Tim McGraw, Kenny Rogers (for crying out loud!), Dottie West, the great Don Williams, Johnny “Take This Job & Shove It” Paycheck and The Kendalls. And what about Steve Wariner, he had more than his share of #1 hits in the 80s!  When they were discussing parent-offspring successes in Country Music why didn’t they take a moment to mention Justin Tubb (Ernest’s son), Lorrie Morgan and her dad George “Candy Kisses” Morgan, Dottie West and her daughter Shelly (with her duets with David Frizzell) and what about the wonderful Pam Tillis? When they were discussing the emergence of strong female performers in Nashville  (gee, curiously they didn’t mention the Dixie Chicks here !!). I was thinking they have to include Gail Davies here. She was the first woman in Country Music to produce and arrange her own recordings. To quote the Encyclopedia of Country Music, compiled by the staff of the Country Music Hall of Fame, “Davies has exerted an influence well beyond the popularity she enjoyed during that period”. And besides that she has one amazing voice! Some other fine female vocalists not included were LeAnn Rimes and my personal all time favorite Country/Bluegrass female vocalist Alison Krauss. Kathy Mattea received a healthy portion of the final episode for her wonderful song “Where’ve You Been”. Talk about a well-crafted tune that should bring a tear to the eye of most of us. But I do think they miss the opportunity for another great song in that “tear inducing” category, (along with “He Stopped Loving Her Today”), when the show mentions briefly Keith Whitley and his wife Lorrie Morgan. Simply one of my all-time favorites in that category is Keith Whitley’s masterpiece “When You Say Nothing at All”…especially when it’s sung by Alison Krauss. The sheer beauty expressed in the sentiment of the lyrics, relating a  couple’s special relationship that many couples long for, is the “tear inducing” aspect of this song, which I suppose is the common thread with all three of these songs.

Alison Krauss

“So that’s it. I don’t know about you but I enjoyed the series enough that I am anticipating seeing the reruns of “The Life & Times of Johnny Cash “… er, I’m sorry… “Ken Burns’ – Country Music”.….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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