Like many of you, I watched as much of the Ken Burns film documentary “Country Music” as I was able to and look forward to catching the episodes I missed in the very near future. Although I wasn’t around before the 1960s, I grew up listening to most of the music played by the musicians featured in the series.
My mom’s side of the family always played music when we got together for family gatherings. Uncle Jerry and Aunt Shirley often hosted jam sessions and they had a music room in their house.
Men and women with rhythm guitars, bass guitars, steel guitars, banjos, fiddles, drums, harmonicas, mandolins, dobros and once in a while a doghouse bass, would gather in the biggest open area in the house or on the front porch and play all afternoon and into the night.
My musical interests were not limited to that which I heard played at family gatherings, the local country-and-western radio station, “Hee Haw” or “Barbara Mandrell and the Mandrell Sisters” TV shows. I loved it all.
From Bread to Glen Campbell, Tanya Tucker to Billy Joel, Jackson Browne, Lynyrd Skynyrd, The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Patty Loveless, Tammy Wynette, The Outlaws, Buck Owens, Little Feat, David Allan Coe, Jerry Jeff Walker, Loretta Lynn, George Jones, Conway, Waylon, Willie, Charley Pride — and hundreds of others — the music moved me.
If I were to put together a soundtrack for my life, it would be diverse!
During my freshman year in high school, I remember discovering Charlie Daniels Band and Poco, Mason Proffit and Pure Prairie League. My uncle Jerry, who had always been a country-and-western purist, turned up his nose when I told him about my discoveries.
That all changed when I left my “Two Lane Highway” album with him. When I came back the next weekend, he was playing his steel guitar along with Pure Prairie League.
The final episode of the documentary by Burns was titled “Don’t Get Above Your Raising” and featured a piece about how Garth Brooks, Reba McEntire, Randy Travis, The Judds, Vince Gill and a handful of other musicians, didn’t forget where they — and their music — came from.
While listening to Peter Coyote narrate the program, my husband looked over at me and said, “It was these neo-traditional country artists that held us all together back in the ‘80s.”
And yet, some change is inevitable. The introduction of electric guitars, varying vocal styles and mixing and mastering in the production studio brought a cleaner and crisper sound. Being unique isn’t a bad thing.
I listened to Lateral Blue, a Bluegrass band from Nashville do a cover of Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition.” Mandolin, bass, banjo and fiddle are not the instruments I would associate with that song, but it was genius.
Singer, songwriter and accomplished producer Ray Benson, co-founder the Western swing band Asleep at the Wheel, wrote in one of his songs, “You got to dance with who brung you.”
How many times have we heard — and used — the cliché, “Think outside the box?” I think it is OK to slay a few sacred cows if you remember that the strongest stone in the structure is in the foundation. The result could be a thing of beauty.