I don’t know what could have more mass appeal than country music, but if you need a little arguments for your cocktail party, the fact that every one of the Beatles enters into music inspired by country music in another country that isn’t ours is pretty interesting – Ken Burns
By Valerie Milano and Judy Shields
Beverly Hills, CA (The Hollywood Times) 9/7/19 – Giddyup! The beautiful, All-American, and classic genre of country music will be celebrated with substantial documentary entitled Country Music! This project from none other than talented filmmaker Ken Burns, differs from its counterparts with more than 100 interviews from musicians, writers, and noteworthy individuals that have been deeply impacted by the rich storytelling culture that is Country! Burns, along with producers of this iconic serious discussed the many ins and outs of Country Music at the TCA Summer Press Tour!
It just happened to be Ken Burns birthday (July 29th) the day he was in town for the PBS Country Music at TCA Summer Press Tour and a special cake was brought in and everyone sung happy birthday to Ken.
PBS threw a great barbeque after the panel for the journalist with live country music and delicious food and desserts as well as the red velvet cake pictured above.
Country Music legends Marty Stuart, Roseanne Cash and Bakersfield Sound musician and movie star Dwight Yoakum were part of the panel and what a great panel indeed with all the great stories they each told about Roseanne Cash’s Father, Johnny Cash and how Marty Stuart worked with him and memories that Dwight had with her father. Priceless for any country music fan to have been part of.
Country Music Live at the Ryman
On September 8th, one week ahead of the premiere of Country Music, the eight-part historical documentary by filmmaker Ken Burns, PBS aired Country Music: Live at the Ryman, A Concert Celebrating the Film by Ken Burns, an all-star celebration of the genre featuring performances by Vince Gill, Dierks Bentley, Rosanne Cash, Rhiannon Giddens, Kathy Mattea, Marty Stuart, Dwight Yoakam and more. Hosted by the filmmaker, the concert touched on the many styles that have defined and propelled country music through the years, from old-time mountain melodies and bluegrass to outlaw country and the Nashville Sound.
Vince Gill, who sat in on guitar with the house band throughout the evening, also offered the most spine-chilling performance of the night with his take on Dolly Parton’s “I Will Always Love You.” Before Whitney Houston’s powerhouse 1992 version of the ballad launched it into the stratosphere, Parton’s original recording was a bittersweet goodbye letter to her mentor, producer and singing partner Porter Wagoner as she left his syndicated TV series to start her solo career. In his rendition, Gill captures the tangled emotions of Parton’s original, adding his special brand of high-lonesome heartache. In 1995, Gill and Parton made history when their duet version of the song reached the Top 20. It was the third time Parton had charted with a different version of the same song and was Parton’s highest-charting single in four years.
At the PBS COUNTRY MUSIC TCA panel was:
Ken Burns, Director
Rosanne Cash, featured musician
Dayton Duncan, writer and producer
Julie Dunfey, producer
Marty Stuart, featured musician
Dwight Yoakam, featured musician
The Hollywood Times spoke with Marty Stuart.
Marty Stuart: “Whether you know it or not as an American Citizen County Music is a part of your life. It is part of our atmosphere and it is music that touches your heart, entertains and educates you. The main thing is that it goes straight to your heart. If you are going through a divorce, we got you covered, tax problems, we got you covered, feel good about a victory and want to dance, we got you covered, name it and we got you covered! The same as rock and roll, jazz or classical music it is simply part of our lives.
The Hollywood Times: You were a part of this documentary, how did you feel once you saw the film?
Marty Stuart: I was absolutely proud of it. It’s a game changer for Country Music. I’m 48 years into this business and to have something like this magnitude with this much integrity and this much passion and thoughtfulness behind it, it is an awesome thing to be part of. ”
Dwight Yoakum said “All races, all cultures that gave birth to this country and are still being manifested to this country. From 1967 to 1972 there are no greater American musical poet than Merle Haggard in terms of his songs. Merle sang about adult issues and I just think his ability to articulate things comes across in his songs. He was able to tell his story as an Okie to work camps in California, and talk about it in “Momma’s Hungry Eyes” that song is an elegant piece of writing as Steinbeck. That is why Haggard is known as a poet.”
A couple of questions were asked by The Hollywood Times:
THT: Did you choose this subject because you’re a fan of the music or from an angle of a cultural anthropologist? Because nothing in your biography would seem to connect you to the culture.
KEN BURNS: “I am a child of rock and roll and R&B, and I knew a little bit. I worked at a record store in Ann Arbor, Michigan, in the late ’60s and early ’70s, and I sold a lot of country music and knew a lot of country music. And, of course, Johnny Cash had crossed over and was ubiquitous in our world and we loved him. But I’m interested in telling stories in American history and American history firing on all cylinders. And there’s not so much there’s a moment when Vince Gill in our film says, “I don’t know whether you write the songs or the songs write you.” You know, I feel in some ways the projects pick us.”
“And I had a dear friend in Texas. I was staying with him and his wife and he just said, “Have you ever thought about country music?” This was the end of 2010. And it was just it hit me like a ton of bricks. And I went back to Dayton and I said, you know, “What about country?” And he said yes and we’ve been plowing towards it. Because like all the other films we’d done, it’s an opportunity to understand who we are.”
THT: And then whoever would like to take it. Country music is sometimes referred to as the white man’s blues. Do you deal with the notion that country music has been a racially polarizing music or that it’s been unfairly represented as such?
KEN BURNS: Dayton?
DAYTON DUNCAN: “What we try to do is enter into the topic and learn what we can and let the story tell us. And so one of the things that we learned and I hope comes through in the film is that country music was never just one type of music. It’s been lots of types of music from the get go, and it branched into even more multiple types of music. And among those was about the blues and other sort of forms of if you want to call it black music, you can. But it’s this whole mix of different types of music. As Ketch Secor and Rhiannon Giddens who you saw say at the start of the film, it all begins when the fiddle from Europe met the banjo from Africa. And the collision of those two and the mix of those two instruments and the cultures that they grew out of is actually the chain reaction that came from that. Reverberates not just in country music but all of American music. And what we show in our film all the way through is the interaction of that. Jimmie Rodgers carried water to the principally black train crews in Mississippi, learned the blues from them. A. P. Carter going out to collect songs took a black musician, Lesley Riddle with him, learned some songs from them. Hank Williams said that all the music he ever learned was from Rufus “Tee Tot” Payne in Alabama, a black musician. Bill Monroe’s two musical mentors were his Uncle Pen and a black musician called Arnold Shultz. Rosanne’s father, when he came to Memphis, ended up spending time on the porch with Gus Cannon, a black musician from the old jug band era. Ray Charles, a black musician, decides when he has his final chance first chance, rather, to decide what music he wants to play on an album chooses an album of country music, because he grew up listening to that. He loved that music. And he said you take black music. You take country music. And you got same God damn thing exactly.”
“So I think that one of the things that there is there are a lot of people will be bringing to this film a lot of preconceptions and stereotypes, some that they because they love country music and some because they don’t think that they do. And we’re not didn’t set out to try to bust stereotypes. We set out as we do always to try to tell truthful the story, which in this case, I think, will bust a lot of stereotypes.”
The 16-Hour Documentary Chronicles History of Country Music — from the Carter Family, Jimmie Rodgers and Bob Wills to Hank Williams, Johnny Cash, Merle Haggard, Loretta Lynn, Charley Pride, Willie Nelson, Dolly Parton, Emmylou Harris, Garth Brooks and Many More
Step back in time and journey through the compelling history of a truly American art form when COUNTRY MUSIC, a new eight-part, 16-hour film directed by Ken Burns, and produced by Burns and his long-time collaborators Dayton Duncan and Julie Dunfey, premieres Sunday, September 15 through Wednesday, September 18, and Sunday, September 22 through Wednesday, September 25 at 8:00-10:00 p.m. ET.
Trailers for the film are available here.
The first four episodes will stream on station-branded PBS platforms, including PBS.org and PBS apps, timed to the Sunday, September 15 premiere and the second four timed to the broadcast of Episode 5 on Sunday, September 22 (each episode will stream for a period of three weeks). PBS Passport members will be able to stream the entire series for a period of six months beginning Sunday, September 15.
The documentary, written by Duncan, who also wrote the illustrated companion book (coming from Alfred A. Knopf on September 10), chronicles country music’s early days, from southern Appalachia’s songs of struggle, heartbreak and faith to the rollicking Western swing of Texas, California’s honky-tonks and Nashville’s “Grand Ole Opry.” The film follows the evolution of country music over the course of the 20th century as it eventually emerges to become “America’s music.”
Seemingly compelled to create this epic film, complete with over 700 hours of archival film, Burns suggests that country music chose him and everything else happened to follow. He illustrates, “ I am a child of rock and roll and R&B, and I knew a little bit. I worked at a record store in Ann Arbor, Michigan, in the late ’60s and early ’70s, and I sold a lot of country music and knew a lot of country music. And, of course, Johnny Cash had crossed over and was ubiquitous in our world and we loved him. But I’m interested in telling stories in American history and American history firing on all cylinders. And there’s not so much there’s a moment when Vince Gill in our film says, “I don’t know whether you write the songs or the songs write you.” You know, I feel in some ways the projects pick us.”
“At the heart of every great country music song is a story,” said Ken Burns. “As the songwriter Harlan Howard said, ‘It’s three chords and the truth.’ The common experiences and human emotions speak to each of us about love and loss, about hard times and the chance of redemption. As an art form, country music is also forever revisiting its history, sharing and updating old classics and celebrating its roots, which are, in many ways, foundational to our country itself.”
“We discovered that country music isn’t––and never was––one type of music; it actually is many styles,” said Dayton Duncan. “It sprang from diverse roots, and it sprouted many branches. What unites them all is the way the music connects personal stories and elemental experiences with universal themes that every person can relate to. And as it evolved, from the bottom up, it created a special bond between the artists and fans that is unique among all other musical genres.”
“As with so many of their films, Ken and Dayton guide us on a journey through history that educates and entertains, providing an intimate look into the creative lives of those women and men who came together to develop an authentic American art form,” said Perry Simon, PBS Chief Programming Executive and General Manager, General Audience Programming.
Many music enthusiasts are on different sides of the spectrum when it comes to country music. Some enjoy it with their entire being, others feel as the genre is only for a particular racial group, while others loathe any melody laid over the sound of fiddles, guitars, or accordions. Burns is very strong in his belief of what country music is, and what it is not however. Aiming to bring humanity together, Burns compassionately expresses, “And if you try to separate [music] and say this one music is a single thing, it never is. It’s always been a mutt. It’s always been a mongrel. And those who would trade on the notion of a distinct, original American have got it wrong. […] Wynton Marsalis, who’s in this film, says that we have an ethnic heritage, but we have a human heritage that’s much more important and that the art tells the tale of us coming together. And that’s this story of country music.”
What is so captivating about this particular genre is that it relies on very real, true, and raw human emotions in a way that brings people together in inexplicable ways. Burns, again, eloquently denotes, “What happens is when you participate in country music, you join a family. Sometimes it’s literally a family, right? Sometimes it’s a family you make because of the sympathy with Buck and Merle and with the Maddox Brothers and Rose and for all of the dispossess that they represent. Sometimes it’s because you are asked to participate to various families and that, as a result of that, you feel obligated to collect that history and be its unofficial historian of all of the things that he loves about it; or it’s just that you feel wanted, and you may not, as someone else said in our film, have a hit for 30 years, but you are still okay. You are not forgotten, and you are not tossed out. And that’s really, really different, and it represents another way kind of an American possibility that we have forgotten, and that’s community.”
Be sure to watch this groundbreaking series Country Music, on PBS September 15th!