Country music documentary – a review

Ten days ago, I gave a quick heads-up about Ken Burns’ excellent eight-part documentary series on “Country Music.” We have now watched all eight shows and highly recommend the series, even if you are like us and not huge country music fans. For those unfamiliar with Burns, he has produced similar documentaries on the history of jazz, the Civil War, baseball, national parks, the Roosevelts, e.g.

I shared a few themes in my last post, but want to stay away from spoilers. The documentary takes us through 1996, so the more current artists are not delved into. What makes the documentary live are the stories told by several artists, writers, historians, musicians, producers, etc.

Some of the more frequent commenters included: Marty Stuart (a mandolin prodigy and long time performer), Vince Gill, Brenda Lee (who had several hits in her early teens), Rosanne Cash, Carlene Carter, Bill Malone (a historian), Merle Haggard (who passed away after filming), Kathy Mattea, Dwight Yoakam, Charley Pride, Willie Nelson, Darius Rucker, Wynton Marsalis (the jazz musician), Dolly Parton, Loretta Lynn, Kris Kristofferson, Ricky Skaggs and many others.

A few more take aways trying not to reveal too much, include:

– more than a few performers who made it big had doors closed in their faces, but kept at it;
– more than a few big artists held firm in playing songs and doing things their way (Johnny Cash, Loretta Lynn, Patsy Cline, Garth Brooks, etc.)
– country music thrived because the artists spent huge amounts of time being among their audiences at fairs, gatherings, rodeos, small venues;
– country music is not just Nashville based, with Bakersville, CA, Bristol, VA (and TN), and places in Oklahoma and Texas all playing a hand with different influences; and
– country music was and is influenced by multiple types of music and has an influence on other types.

On this last point, Ray Charles, the R&B star who grew up in Georgia was ridiculed for cutting a country album. The music was part of his roots, so his best selling album was his way of sharing.

Check out the series. I think it will be worth your while.

9 thoughts on “Country music documentary – a review

  1. I was so sad when the last episode ended. It was an amazing series! Willie Nelson will always be my favorite, but my husband and I were lucky enough to see (and dance to) Buck Owens and his band at his Crystal Palace in Bakersfield. It was after he had his surgery for oral cancer and he wasn’t in the best of health… but what a treat it was to see him.

    • Thanks Janis. I liked the parts on Willie. It is interesting he had to leave Nashville to make it big. I was also interested in the Vince Gill, Garth Brooks, Dolly Parton and Johnny Cash stories. The late albums of Cash’ produced by a hip hop and heavy metal producer was eye-opening.

      What are some of your highlights? Keith

      • Not to get all political on you but… just as somehow the flag and the bible have been hijacked by the right, country music has been somewhat also (we all remember the Dixie Chicks, right?). That was probably one reason I shied away from it (except for Willie, who I’ve always loved). It was interesting to find out that, even though many in the audiences might have been conservative, some of the performers were pretty progressive.

      • Janis, I knew Johnny Cash was, but to see him reach out to the Native Americans and prisoners is highly commendable. Plus, his relationship with Bob Dylan was special.

        Loretta Lynn was quite the trendsetter as well, ahead of many on “The Pill.” Keith

  2. Like you, I’m not a fan of country, but Ken Burns does everything well, and when you mentioned Ray Charles, that was the icing on the cake, so I will watch at least the first episode. Thanks for the review!

  3. Note to Readers: I mentioned to Jill on her blog, Tammy Wynette sang “Stand by your man,” but was married five times. Loretta Lynn sang “Don’t come home a drinkin’ with lovin’ on your mind,” but has remained married to one man. Keith

    • Note to Readers: Two quick vignettes on country music influence. Ringo Starr sang Buck Owen’s “Act Naturally” with The Beatles on a TV appearance. Acclaimed guitarist Duane Allman of The Allman Brothers was teaching his daughter the (Maybelle) Carter Scratch guitar technique where you play rhythm and melody at the same time.

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