Showing posts with label bill monroe. Show all posts
Showing posts with label bill monroe. Show all posts

Thursday, September 26, 2019

What I Learned From The First Three Episodes of "Country Music"

Somebody in those first episodes uttered something like, "Country music is about looking a better time..." I thought, yes, that's very astute. I wasn't looking back in 1968 or 1974, but I have devoted an entire blog to looking back. Partly it's reminiscence, but it's also my attempt to ensure that certain artists and influences are not forgotten. Pop culture forges ahead, relentlessly; but to truly understand music, one should steep themselves in what came before. All music, whether artists realize it or not, is stirred by those who plowed the road.

I'm no expert ~ there's lots I learned from Ken Burns' series I didn't know. I knew how Ralph Peer ventured into Appalachia with his rudimentary equipment and found The Carter Family. And I know that country music had to start somewhere ~ thus The Carters. I didn't know, but I suspected The Carters didn't exactly write all those songs they recorded, and they didn't. Copyright was a foreign concept in the nineteen thirties. I also learned that melodies were exchanged like candy drops back then, and no one seemed to mind. It was just the way of music. Woody Guthrie stole the melody to This Land Is Your Land from The Carters' "When The World's On Fire", which was no doubt stolen from some unsuspecting hillbilly's lost-forever original composition. The Carters weren't "all that", except for Maybelle, who could definitely pick a mean acoustic guitar. They were, however, one of the very first.

I learned that hillbillies can call each other hillbillies, but otherwise it's an epithet. It's sort of how I feel when somebody says, "country and western music". It's like nails on a chalkboard.

I learned that Bob Wills had a keen eye for talent, but a bad eye for wives (which numbered about five). It would have been nice had Ken featured some of Bob's music. Whoever authored the episode, it seems, had a distinct preference for Gene Autry, and therefore, an inordinate number of minutes were devoted to this singing cowboy who was apparently as influential to kids in the thirties as Elvis movies were to me in the early sixties (that is to say, we just didn't know any better).

I gained a grudging respect for Roy Acuff, who I'd always viewed with a modicum of disdain. Turns out, Roy was a record-selling phenomenon; and even he admitted he wasn't the world's greatest singer. He was the best ambassador country music ever had, according to the series; and I now get that.

Ernest Tubb was bigger than I realized. I saw Tubb in concert; one of those one-offs that my best friend Alice and I bought tickets for sometime around 1967 because it was the only game in town.

I knew that Merle Haggard idolized Jimmie Rodgers ~ he did record a tribute album, after all. I was of a mind that all Rodgers' songs basically sounded the same (they did), but my husband pointed out that he was actually doing the blues. All the stars from that era, just like Merle, worshiped Rodgers. I do like California Blues (as performed by Merle), but all that yodeling can only be tolerated for so long. It was a different time.

I learned that Bill Monroe was a first-class asshole; but I rather respect that. He had high standards, but mostly he was just an asshole. There was a time I detested bluegrass music ~ now I like some. And Monroe invented it. How many people can claim to have invented a genre of music?

The Maddox Brothers and Rose were simply a name to me before I watched this series. I still don't get the attraction ~ I guess you had to be there ~ but if they helped to influence the Bakersfield Sound, many many kudos to them.

Kitty Wells got a mini-shout-out, even though she deserved more. She was the first mainstream female country star. (Alice and I also saw a Kitty Wells concert ~ again, we saw anyone who came to town, truly.)

The biggest impact for me of the first three episodes was the story of Hank Williams. I knew that Hank wrote some elegant country songs, plus some awesome up-tempo giddy ones, like "Settin' The Woods On Fire" and "Jambalaya". I knew that the end was tragic. I didn't know what a sad soul Hank was. When I watched the clips of Williams performing, all I saw was sorrow. Maybe the best songs are written from pain ~ if that's true, no wonder we have so many Williams classics. Hank was a "hillbilly" and a poet, even if that flummoxes certain culture snobs.

Hear that lonesome whippoorwill
He sounds too blue to fly
The midnight train is whining low
I'm so lonesome I could cry
I've never seen a night so long
When time goes crawling by
The moon just went behind the clouds
To hide its face and cry
Did you ever see a robin weep
When leaves begin to die
That means he's lost the will to live
I'm so lonesome I could cry
The silence of a falling star
Lights up a purple sky
And as I wonder where you are
I'm so lonesome I could cry

Yes, I'm watching somewhat out of order ~ I have watched half of Episode Five now and I'm anxious. I hope they got it right. That was my era; I'll know if they messed it up. I don't recall ever watching a series and being half-fascinated, half on-edge; hungry for new knowledge, ready to pounce when they botch it.

I forgive Ken for his obsession with Johnny Cash, as long as he gets the rest right.

Stay tuned (or, I guess I should. You've no doubt already watched it.)

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The CMA Awards - 1970 - At Last! - Something I Can Get Behind!

The 1970 CMA awards, I believe, marked a turning point in country music.

Why? Well, I got nothin' against Johnny Cash, and he's held up by many as the ultimate bright shiny symbol of country music, but let's face it, he's no Merle Haggard.

Let's just start this thing off right, shall we? With the:



Merle Haggard - Okie From Muscogee

Now, it took me almost 40 years to realize that this song was meant to be ironic. Maybe it was the delivery. He certainly presented it with a straight face. How were we supposed to know? I wasn't totally on board with the sentiments that Merle expressed here, although, speaking of irony, I am more on board with them now. Even though he, apparently, had the last laugh.

And, you know, I don't even really give a damn if he was making fun of us, or if he meant what he said at the time.

Yes, I know (now) that Merle is more a liberal than a conservative. But, you know, one can overlook the shortcomings of loved ones, and I love Merle Haggard.

You see, Merle and I go back a long time. Of course, Merle doesn't know this, and he probably wouldn't care. But, aside from Buck Owens, who was of another time, a time of my parents, Merle is the one person who made me love country music. The one who's allowed me to stick with it; to acknowledge that maybe all music doesn't suck. The one who has shown me that one can write about stuff that means something, and prevailing winds be damned, we're gonna write it anyway, because it's honest.

So, if Merle was just playing with us, and making us think one way, when he was leaning the opposite way, well, it's the one transgression in music that I will forgive. Cuz all I have to do is click on "Silver Wings" or "Sing Me Back Home", and all that political stuff goes out the window.

I guess it's the way that some people feel about Dylan. Merle is my Dylan. Merle is country music's Dylan.


Merle Haggard

Along with "Okie From Muscogee", Merle had some major hits leading up to the 1970 award season, including "Workin' Man Blues" and "Mama's Hungry Eyes", both recorded in 1969. Alas, couldn't find 'em on YouTube. So, let's go with this one, recorded in 1968, which is a sentimental favorite of mine.

You gotta feel bad for Merle, stuck on the fake front porch, in front of the lace-curtained window, singing about how he got life without parole. Now, I don't know what prison this is, but it's pretty nice! Each inmate has their own little cottage! If this is prison, sign me up! I don't know what they're bitchin' about. "Mama" probably drops by every week or so, to cook up some fried chicken and mashed potatoes. That's better than I eat! Better than my bowl of corn flakes and dry toast.

So, we've actually learned something here. Prison's not so bad. Thanks, Merle.


Sunday Morning Coming Down
- recorded by Johnny Cash, written by Kris Kristofferson

I like this version a lot. Kris'll be the first to admit that he's not the world's best singer, but he was in pretty good form here. He even handled the harmony parts quite nicely. It's always a treat, I think, to hear the writer sing his own songs, plus this version has a little more "get up and go" than the original recording. I think the original kind of dragged a bit, in comparison.

I wonder if Kris is still writing songs. Of course, he'd have to release them himself, considering that they don't have bridges and all the bells and whistles (which is basically, what you hear on recordings lately - a bunch of bells, a bunch of whistles). And, you know, his songs just wouldn't cut it nowadays. Too simple. They say too much. And they're not "ME-centric". I hate to break it to Kris, but that's the way the old ball bounces.


Tammy Wynette

Obviously, from perusing the pages upon pages of videos that fans have posted of Tammy, she is held in very high esteem. One note, though.....she did record other songs besides "Stand By Your Man". I mean, c'mon. I wonder if Tammy's up in heaven, wondering, "Is this the only song they remember me for? You know, I did have others. I think I'll just go back down there and set the record straight."

So, I couldn't find embeddable videos of any songs that helped Tammy win this award (again) in 1970, such as "Singing My Song" or "I'll See Him Through". So, since I've posted a bunch of Tammy videos already, I'm going to go with a recording from 1966, "Your Good Girl's Gonna Go Bad" (If you keep winning, Tammy, I'm afraid I'm going to run out of choices.)


Porter Wagoner & Dolly Parton

1970 was the first year that the CMA decided that two people do not make a "group", and therefore, they created the vocal duo category. A spin-off, shall we say. Porter & Dolly were previously the vocal "group" of the year, so now, in 1970, they have been downsized.

This single was released in 1969, so again, this probably put them over the top for the 1970 awards season:

Nice performance, on the old Porter Wagoner Show, or, as his guitar strap indicates, the "Goner" Show. I wonder if anyone looked back at the tape later and said, "Hey Porter, you might want to adjust that strap. Do you really want people referring to you as a 'goner'?" I do also wish that Porter & Dolly had coordinated their outfits better beforehand. Porter's green and yellow kind of clash with Dolly's powder blue. But that's sort of nitpicky, I guess.


Tompall & The Glaser Brothers
I don't blame you if you don't remember these guys. They definitely had their time, and that time was the early seventies. But they actually were around a lot earlier than that; apparently starting in the 1950's. As brothers do, these three guys had great harmonies. I don't think they had a lot of chart success, however. I do remember a recording they did of the Bob Wills song, "Faded Love", and I liked their version. "Tompall" is an unusual name, though, don't you think? I wonder if his parents quibbled over what to name their firstborn. "Tom!", Daddy said. "No, I like Paul!", Mama retorted. It was only after a 19-hour labor that Mom & Dad finally came to a consensus. And thus, "Tompall" came into the world.

Tompall, you may recall, was featured on the hit "Outlaws" album, along with Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings. The fact is, none of the three even knew that this album had been created. The producer slapped a bunch of tunes on an album and released it as "Wanted: The Outlaws". I bet Tompall didn't even know that he was an outlaw. But he reaped the benefits of the album's unexpected success.

Here's the only representation I could find of the group, and this is not a 1970 performance, but rather from 1985. And sadly, there's a fake Jim Glaser singing here, and I'm sure there's a logical explanation for this, but I have no idea what that might be.


Jerry Reed

Here's a "guitar duet", you might say, featuring Chet Atkins and Jerry Reed. I guess Chet is passing the torch (or the guitar pick), since Chet had owned this award in years prior.

I think they were both really good musicians. I say "I think", because what do I know? It all sounds really good to me, but I'm certainly no guitar connoisseur. I can barely hold a pick without dropping it inside the guitar hole (is that the technical term?) and then I have to hold the guitar upside-down and shake it to get the pick out, because I only own one pick.

So, take it from me, these guys are WAY better guitar players than me. God rest your soul, Jerry Reed.......and Chet.


Danny Davis and the Nashville Brass

As you know from my previous post, there are no videos available for Danny and his Brass, but I liked them, and there were a bunch of guys in this group, so they had to split the earnings several ways, which kept them relatively poor over the years, except for Danny, I'm sure, who got a bigger share of the pot.


Roy Clark

Thankfully, 1970 was the last year that this award was given out. And really, by then (after only four years), they were scraping to come up with a winner (not to mention five nominees).

I just don't think of Roy Clark as a "comedian". Great guitar player, yes. Decent "Hee Haw" co-host, okay. Had a nice recording called, "The Tips Of My Fingers", agreed. But I don't really know how he qualifies as a comedian.

But, you know, I could just be missing something. I know he made a lot of weird facial contortions when he was performing, so maybe that's it.

I was just thinking - what if you won an award for comedian of the year, and you were never trying to be funny? How embarrassing that would be! "What do you mean, comedian of the year?" And you'd slink up to the podium and say something serious, and everybody would be rolling in the aisles. I think ol' Roy probably just rolled with it....and that's how his career as a comedian began......


Merle Haggard

No surprise here, after the year that Merle had. And, fyi, I saw Merle Haggard in concert back in 1968, and yes, he deserved to be named Entertainer of the Year for 1970, and for a whole bunch of other years.

Strangely (ha!), Merle only had that one year in which he grabbed a whole bunch of awards. You'd think his career stopped in 1970 or something. Nothing could be further from the truth. But all things are cyclical, I guess. So, the CMA moved on to someone else.

And he didn't even get into the hall of fame until 1994. I don't know if there's a waiting period or what. They could have just slapped him in there in 1970, but I guess they wanted to give others a chance.

This is a nice video performance. Merle didn't actually release this single until 1970, but I've done a bunch of Merle videos, so I had to change things up a bit. So, even though he won the entertainer of the year award technically prior to releasing this song, I'm sure the CMA voters knew that he was going to come up with another great one, so they were ahead of the curve, let's say.


The Carter Family

There were a couple of true pioneers inducted into the hall of fame in 1970, the Carter Family, certainly fitting that bill. Hard to think that this is where country music originated, since it's nothing like this anymore (obviously), but without Ralph Peer traveling around the country to document the original American music of the day in 1927, maybe there would be no country music at all.

The original group consisted of A.P., Sara, and Maybelle. I can't find any early videos of the original Carter Family, but here is one with Maybelle and daughters Helen and Anita. (Note that June is not included here. Truth be told, June was by far the worst singer in the family, but that's really neither here nor there.)

Bill Monroe

Bill Monroe was the father of bluegrass music. I don't know exactly how that works. How do you invent a new genre of music? There's not too much precedence for that. Could that happen now? I really don't think so. What could be different enough from the established forms of music to be considered something new? So, that's quite an accomplishment. That'd be something to put on your resume: "I invented a new style of music". "Hey, you're hired then!"

Admittedly, before I knew anything about Bill Monroe, other than his name, I imagined his singing voice to sound quite different from how it actually sounded. I was taken aback by his high tenor. Now, of course, it seems natural. But one generally doesn't expect a guy to sing like that.

So, 1970 was a watershed year for country music.

I don't know exactly how it was a watershed year, but I like using the word "watershed".

Oh, wait. I know. It's when electric guitar-dominated music came to the fore. Because prior to 1970, it was that "string" thing that good old Chet advocated. And so, in 1970, country music got real.

If only that were to last. Country fans had to suffer through a bunch of crummy stuff in years to come, before the music "swung back" to what it was supposed to be. That was just before it finally took the fatal plunge into Crap Land.

So, it's nice to look back, isn't it?

You may be asking, how long can I keep going with this year-by-year recap? I don't know yet. I haven't gotten disillusioned yet, although I know that disillusionment is on the horizon. The seventies are upon us, and the seventies were brutal.

But we'll keep on keeping on........for now.