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.

Only the good die young

One of Billy Joel’s biggest hits was called “Only the good die young.” It actually was controversial in the Catholic Church, when he sang “you Catholic girls start much too late.” But, taking the title a little differently, there is a long list of very talented performers who left us way to early. The following is by no means a complete list, but illustrates the loss of music never written or sung.

Ritchie Valens died at the age of 17 after the start of a bright future. He had three huge hits under his belt, including a rock-n-roll version of the Mexican song “La Bamba.” Valens’ real name was Ricky Valenueza.

Buddy Holly died at the age of 22 on the same plane crash with Valens and the Big Bopper. This spawned the song “American Pie” by Don McLean when he sang of the “day the music died.” Holly was a meteoric talent and some say would have been bigger than Elvis, primarily because he wrote his own music. Before he died, he had a solid dozen big hits.

The class of age 27 deaths is profound. Jim Morrison of The Doors died at that age. He was the enigmatic leader that wowed the female audience. The Doors had a significant number of hits with very interesting lyrics. Morrison, though, did his health no service with his excessive alcohol and drug use which led to some rocky stage performances.

Jimi Hendrix died at age 27 as well. Hendrix was regarded by many as the greatest rock-n-roll guitarist ever. He matched his unique abilities playing a right handed guitar upside down as a lefty, with lyrics that matched the psychedelic age. He also does the best cover of a Bob Dylan song called “All along the watchtower.”

Janis Joplin was another talent that died at age 27. Her voice was spectacular and she put every pound and inch of her body into belting out her songs. I remember Dick Cavett interviewing her after one of her songs and she was still catching her breath. She was influenced by Bessie Smith, Nina Simone, Etta James and Aretha Franklin.

Kurt Cobain also died at age 27. He led a grunge rock movement from the Northwest that was gaining huge footing. It would have been interesting to see where his music went in the future.

Hank Williams died mysteriously at age 29. He was one of the more prolific country song writers, with many of his songs crossing over into more national appeal. If you ever have a couple of hours, watch “The Hank Williams Story,” with George Hamilton playing Williams.

Patsy Cline died in a plane crash at the age of 30. Her voice and style took country music more mainstream. While there is a movie on her career, I love how Beverly D’Angelo played her in “Coal Miners Daugher” about her good friend Loretta Lynn. Her version of Willie Nelson’s “Crazy” is legendary.

Jim Croce also died in a plan crash at age 30. Croce was a prolific song writer and talent who wrote every day music for the every day person. His wordsmithing and guitar driven music was a classic match. It should be noted the great guitar work was played by Croce and Maury Meuhleisen, who also died in the crash. If you ever get a CD of Croce’s greatest hits, you need to get a package set, as it will need two.

Cass Elliott of The Mamas and the Papas died at age 32. She was the lead voice on most of their biggest hits and her vocal talents could blend with a variety of music. I saw her and legendary crooner Andy Williams sing two different songs in harmony on his show.

Stevie Ray Vaughan, the great blues guitarist, died at the age of 35. The story goes he and Eric Clapton switched places on a helicopter ride from a guitar festival. We would have lost a talent either way. Vaughan still does not get the notoriety he deserves as he could match Hendrix and other blues legends. It should be noted, he gave homage to these legends when he played with them.

Harry Chapin died in a car accident at age 38. He was on his way to a benefit concert. If you are not familiar with his work, he was one of the best storytellers in song. Plus, he would talk with the audience between songs making them live more. People know “Cats in the Cradle,” but do check out “Mr. Tanner” and “A Better Place to Be.”

The final three need no introduction and deserve their own post – John Lennon was killed at the age 40, Elvis Presley died at the age of 42 and Marvin Gaye died at age 44. Three of the most legendary talents could have offered so much more.

If I left off someone, please add them in a comment. If you are not familiar with any of these performers, please check them out. You will not be sorry. If you are familiar, please revisit your past. Only the good die young.

Do you know…


Do you know the following facts? They are all true, so feel free to verify them and use them as you deem appropriate.

The famous Chrysler CEO, Lee Iacocca, designed the first Ford Mustang using the underpinnings of a Ford Falcon, fulfilling an idea to have a sports car for the masses.

The auto industry sold more cars and light trucks in the US in 2015 than in any year previously, with 17.5 million total topping the previous high of 17.4 million in 2000, back when Bill Clinton was President.

The Beatles drummer Ringo Starr is left-handed and played drums on a right-handed drum kit giving him a unique sound.

The US has had 71 consecutive months of job growth, one of the longest periods ever and later this year, unless the economy turns as a result of China’s slowing economy, we will have the 4th longest economic growth period in US history.

The words to “A Natural Woman” sung by Aretha Franklin were written by a man, Gerry Goffin, who was married to and a partner of Carole King. They wrote the song in less than 24 hours after a chance meeting with a record producer on a New York City street. The producer rolled his car window down and asked if they could write a song for Aretha by tomorrow.

The President who was in office when the greatest number of jobs were created was Bill Clinton at 22.8 million jobs, even more than during FDR’s presidency. Ronald Reagan oversaw the third most job growth at 16.1 million according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The songwriter of “Crazy” made famous by the late Patsy Cline was none other than Willie Nelson. A great moment in the movie “Doc Hollywood,” with Michael J. Fox, is when this song is played at a dance, showing it remains a great love song many years later and no one could sing Willie’s song like Patsy.

The US stock market, as measured by the Dow Jones Industrial Average, has almost doubled in value since January 23, 2009, just after President Barack Obama was sworn in, even with the fall off the first few weeks of this year. On January 23, 2009, the DJIA was $8,078 and it closed yesterday at $15,883.

The late Glenn Frey of The Eagles had his first professional experience playing acoustic guitar and singing background on Bob Seger’s “Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Man.” Seger encourage Frey to have his own band and they remained friends until he died. Frey will be missed.

According to the US Department of Energy, in 2014 Iowa led the nation by producing 28 percent of its electricity from wind power, followed by South Dakota at 25 percent and Kansas at 22%. Wind energy provided more than 15 percent of electricity in a total of seven states, more than 10 percent in a total of nine states, and more than five percent in a total of 19 states. Texas and California are the largest producers in terms of Megawatts.

David Bowie and Bing Crosby once sang a Christmas carol duet on Crosby’s Christmas show that was stunningly poignant. They blended new lyrics which Bowie sang while Crosby sang “Lil’ Drummer Boy.” Bowie will be missed.

Martin Luther King did not intend to deliver his famous “I Have Dream Speech” as it was delivered. He had a different theme in mind. When MLK ad-libbed a line away from his prepared speech, the famous Gospel singer Mahalia Jackson cried out to him to “Tell them about the dream, Martin! Tell them about the dream!” as she had heard him speak of it before. MLK set aside his prepared remarks and gave one of the most famous speeches of our time or any time.

Steve Jobs biological parents immigrated from Syria to the US. Think about that for a while. Would we have Apple today, if he had not been born here?

Keep seeking the truth. We need more of it, especially with so many leaders, politicians and so-called news sources taking liberties with it.