Crimespree Reviews Ken Burns Country Music

Charlie Pride and Johnny Cash

The first Ken Burns movie/documentary I saw was Prohibition. It was so well done, I enjoyed it thoroughly and I watched it twice back to back. I had heard of some of hi others and I proceeded to seek them out and bought them all. And I love them all. His depth of research is amazing. They take subjects that are pure America and find tidbits that are little known or maybe even unknown. I thought I knew a lot about Jazz but after the first viewing I felt I had just taken a master class. Same with the Baseball movie.

Going into the Country Music set (16+ hour) I would have said I was a casual fan of country music. After the first viewing, I find that I have been more than casual in my fanboy-ness. I recognized a LOT of music I knew and loved. 

Waylon & Willie

I’d heard and enjoyed some country as a youngster, but I really started enjoying it just before high school. My friends were listening and of course that meant I was too. I very quickly bought a bunch of Waylon Jennings and Hank Williams Jr. ,Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard. David Allan Coe and Johnny Cash. My gateway was The Outlaws.  I would later buy a lot of Dwight Yoakum and Randy Travis.

But still, casual fan.

Then I watched Country Music over two sittings.

Not so casual as it turns out.

I had been anticipating this since we marathon watched Jazz. I bought it the day it came out and we planned out two night around it. And with the volume UP LOUD.

As Burns does with all his projects, he and his crew did their homework. And the format was also similar, start at a fixed point and watch the seeds grow into trees.

Hank Williams and Hank Williams, Jr

Episode one starts with the two main influences of country music; Jimmie Rodgers and The Carter Family. Two decidedly different forms of the music one being family and faith based the other a working man honky tonk sensibility. As the movie continues, we see that almost all of this music can be traced back to one or both of these origins. As they work their way from the 1920s up to the mis 1990s more and more I find myself drawn into the stories of where this music came from and the stories of the people making the music. And what was really nice is it wasn’t just the musicians but producers and engineers, song writers and even people running venues. I was exposed to a fair amount of music I didn’t know but immediately liked. And knowing about the people making I felt kind of invested in the music.

The sheer volume of material available for a project of this size means that some things won’t make the cut. They did do a great job of giving a pretty wide overview, including the move to Nashville, the origins of  “the Nashville sound”, divides which created more music hotspots. I also loved how interconnected so much of the music is and how so many of the players respect each other like a large extended family. I think that is part of what makes this a kind of American story. Like Baseball and Jazz Country music brings people together from different backgrounds and no matter what they don’t have in common they all love the music and the music overrides everything else.

Loretta Lynn

Loretta Lynn had a wonderful bio pic made of her life, Johnny Cash as well as did Hank Williams Jr. These and other stars have had their lives shared with the public pretty broadly. Rather than retread thins known they found things that maybe we didn’t know. And by not having to spend a lot of time on Loretta they were able to spend a little more time with Charlie Pride and others.

Like other projects from Ken Burns my favorite part of this was the interview snippets. Insights from Johnny Cash’s kids, from Marty Stuart and Wynton Marsalis. Ricky Skaggs and Dwight Yokum. Vince Gill and Emmylou Harris. These stories from people who lived it and where there or heard the stories from the source make it so much more personal.

The final episode cover the death of Johnny Cash. Like other parts, including the death of Patsy Cline, I teared up. But it also made me happy because of the love for these people.

It also covered some newer artists. I’m going to be honest, I will probably never own anything by Garth Brooks. I mean, he’s fine, just not my thing. But after watching this I have HUGE respect for the man. He truly loves what he does and truly loves his fans. And while listening to a story how he showed up at a fan fest day unannounced and proceeded to stay until EVERYONE got a picture and autograph (over 20 hours) it occurred to me that this is one of the things that makes country music special. Most of the players love their fans and show their fans respect and love.  Like and extension of the extended family. The only other place I’ve seen and experienced this to that degree is with mystery authors.

Dolly Parton and Burns

While the final credits were rolling I was putting together a list.  I pulled out some of the cds I already have, Dwight Yokum, Willie, Waylon, Patsy Cline and Loretta Lynn among others. My first trip for more cds had me coming home with 20 some discs. The same thing happened after I watched the Jazz documentary. 

This has left me with a warm feeling and a happy glow. Part of it’s the music, part of is the amazing people making the music and part of it is just Ken Burns and his team doing what they do best. I buy these even though there are other ways to watch because I want to support more being made, but watch this anyway you can, it’s a big warm hug.