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Ken Burns' Country Music #3007355 09/09/19 10:40 PM
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drawback Offline OP
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Say what you may about Ken Burns' documentaries (I'm mostly a fan) but watching the full pre-promotional concert Live At The Ryman on PBS last night, I cannot wait to see Country Music beginning September 15.

Backing the likes of Ricky Skaggs, Rosanne Cash, Kathy Mattea, Rodney Crowell, Marty Stuart, Dwight Yoakam, the house band – Vince Gill, Chad Cromwell, Stuart Duncan, Paul Franklin, Mike Rojas, Justin Mose, John Willis and Ken Worf – were exquisitely tight and appropriately understated. There were performances by Asleep At The Wheel & more; film cameos by an 11-year-old Brenda Lee, Merle Haggard, and many were missing from the concert stage (Union Station?) but really, the concert itself could have gone on for days.

Obviously Burns has to have a reference point somewhere (ie Wynton's personal POV throughout Jazz, etc) so expect some bias, but the archival footage and anecdotal evidence he presents is usually balanced, given the breadth of his undertakings. American Country music is so vast and layered (and derivative and controversial and... ) it will be impossible to please everyone, but no doubt the milestones will be there in the documentary series. As I said, I can't wait.

If anyone needs school on how to be a sideman, you can stream the aforementioned concert. https://kenburns.console.pbs.org/kenburns/country-music/live-at-the-ryman



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Re: Ken Burns' Country Music [Re: drawback] #3007361 09/09/19 11:30 PM
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I have a love/hate relationship with his movies, but am definitely excited to see how well/badly he does this one.

I kind of wish he had saved Wynton for this one, since I fear Burns will whitewash the actual history, but I am still going to give it a complete shot either way.


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Re: Ken Burns' Country Music [Re: drawback] #3007449 09/10/19 04:16 PM
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Having Wynton Marsalis narrate a documentary about country music would make about as much sense as Dwight Yoakam narrating a documentary about jazz.

Re: Ken Burns' Country Music [Re: drawback] #3007455 09/10/19 04:57 PM
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drawback Offline OP
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Yeah, I was wondering what MOI was referring to from my post, I thought my meaning was clear. idk

But then, one comment after all those views... I'll take it. wink


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Re: Ken Burns' Country Music [Re: MathOfInsects] #3007456 09/10/19 05:01 PM
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Originally Posted by MathOfInsects
I kind of wish he had saved Wynton for this one, since I fear Burns will whitewash the actual history
Hey, you never know -- it's not out of the realm of possibility for Burns to bring back one of his talking heads for a film that's not about that interviewee's primary subject of expertise. I'm thinking specifically of Shelby Foote's appearance in "Baseball" after being sort of the "Wynton" figure in "The Civil War."

Anyway, here's hoping for a non-whitewashed look into the history of American country music. You never know what to expect from the man who did a documentary about World War II that began with Pearl Harbor.


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Re: Ken Burns' Country Music [Re: samuelblupowitz] #3007459 09/10/19 05:21 PM
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Originally Posted by samuelblupowitz
You never know what to expect from the man who did a documentary about World War II that began with Pearl Harbor.


Or "The" Civil War which was neither the only one, nor the least bit civil.




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Re: Ken Burns' Country Music [Re: pinkfloydcramer] #3007467 09/10/19 05:46 PM
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Originally Posted by pinkfloydcramer
Having Wynton Marsalis narrate a documentary about country music would make about as much sense as Dwight Yoakam narrating a documentary about jazz.



Having Wynton talk about Jazz is just as bad his point of view is so narrow.

Re: Ken Burns' Country Music [Re: Docbop] #3007478 09/10/19 06:49 PM
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Originally Posted by Docbop
Having Wynton talk about Jazz is just as bad his point of view is so narrow.


...and ideally suited to draw out the raclialist narrative written into the origins of recorded country music, which exist literally because once you called black folks playing the same music "the blues," you had to call what the white folks were doing, SOMETHING, so you could record that too. (They called it "Old Time.")

And the Grand ole Opry is a whole separate conversation, literally banning drums for many decades, since that signaled the distinction between the blues they were playing there, and the stuff the black folks were doing.

(This is all on the public-facing end; behind the scenes everyone played together, and would just have called what they played, "music.")


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Re: Ken Burns' Country Music [Re: Docbop] #3007481 09/10/19 07:07 PM
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Originally Posted by Docbop
Originally Posted by pinkfloydcramer
Having Wynton Marsalis narrate a documentary about country music would make about as much sense as Dwight Yoakam narrating a documentary about jazz.



Having Wynton talk about Jazz is just as bad his point of view is so narrow.


First off, I like all of Ken Burns' documentaries. Even the one on Jazz. Although I felt they left out a huge chunk of what's been going on the last 40 years or so. And while I'm all for roots and lineage as any serious Jazz player/student / listener , too much time was spent on the early beginnings of the music.

Just to veer OT-- It's not only my opinion but many world class Trumpet players in LA feel that, Wynton is truly one of the all time greats on the instrument. In addition to being extremely intelligent, he's a very deep musical thinker. His playing and composing concepts are highly advanced, when he wants to go "there".

I'm sure I'm not alone in wishing he'd step down as the "Jazz spokesman/ ambassador ". wink

Re: Ken Burns' Country Music [Re: Dave Ferris] #3007487 09/10/19 07:33 PM
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Originally Posted by Dave Ferris
I'm sure I'm not alone in wishing he'd step down as the "Jazz spokesman/ ambassador ". wink


That was beautifully understated.


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Re: Ken Burns' Country Music [Re: drawback] #3007494 09/10/19 08:09 PM
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My main criticism of Burns is that he takes a limited number of perspectives and sort of beats them to death. It gets tiring even when you largely agree with the points he's making (as I tend to do). Saw him in person recently as part of a speaker series recently. Its funny and kind of startling how his extemporaneous thoughts spill out naturally sounding the script for one of his documentaries. Makes you realize how he's been so prodigious -- he's writing this stuff in his head constantly, and he's got a small army of documentarians working for him. Not to diminish the importance of his work, but after so many years and so many productions, can't we make room for a fresh voice and fresh perspective? Apparently not yet.


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Re: Ken Burns' Country Music [Re: Dave Ferris] #3007495 09/10/19 08:09 PM
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Originally Posted by Dave Ferris
Originally Posted by Docbop
[quote=pinkfloydcramer]Having Wynton Marsalis narrate a documentary about country music would make about as much sense as Dwight Yoakam narrating a documentary about jazz.

I'm sure I'm not alone in wishing he'd step down as the "Jazz spokesman/ ambassador ". wink


Ah huh...Ah huh! . .I have heard a lot of this. . .

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Re: Ken Burns' Country Music [Re: drawback] #3007531 09/11/19 02:22 AM
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Well, this devolved quickly into the usual hate on Wynton territory.

Let’s bring the conversation back on track.


Re: Ken Burns' Country Music [Re: MathOfInsects] #3007534 09/11/19 02:52 AM
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Originally Posted by MathOfInsects
Originally Posted by Docbop
Having Wynton talk about Jazz is just as bad his point of view is so narrow.


And the Grand ole Opry is a whole separate conversation, literally banning drums for many decades, since that signaled the distinction between the blues they were playing there, and the stuff the black folks were doing.


I have to admit I'm surprised to learn this, after having read numerous books, autobiographies, and articles on country music, and having played it for 30 years (so far, google isn't cooperating either). But I was also surprised to learn that the economic viability of classical music is due to racism.


I agree to withhold judgment on the upcoming documentary until I see it. But I will be disappointed if Burns thinks it's necessary to include gratuitous, over-reaching lectures on country music's racist beginnings.


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Re: Ken Burns' Country Music [Re: Mark Zeger] #3007609 09/11/19 03:58 PM
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Originally Posted by Mark Zeger
Well, this devolved quickly into the usual hate on Wynton territory.

Let’s bring the conversation back on track.



Loved it- your suggestion as well as the link, thanks. Tremendous playing from everybody- in particular it's the best I've heard Micky Raphael play. Put me in mind of the seminal blues instrumental "After Hours". .

Thanks to the OP for his link, also. So far I've only seen the first act, the fiddler with the lovely lady playing clawhammer banjo- stunning! Hoping there's more like that, will listen to the rest as time permits today.

Re: Ken Burns' Country Music [Re: pinkfloydcramer] #3007614 09/11/19 04:23 PM
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The drum ban at the Grand Ole Opry is widely known and much-discussed, pretty much everywhere.

Not racist; racialist. Similar letters, different meaning.

The capsule history is this: in the south at the turn of the last century, there was not country music or blues or anything else, there was just music as it was played there. Fiddles, guitars, banjos, sometimes diddly bows/single-string basses, some percussion sometimes.

There arose an interest among record labels and song collectors in marketing "black" music by and for black folks. So collectors would roll through the south signing black musicians to what became known as blues or "race" labels.

But that left all the white folks who where playing the same music, and a massive market for them too. The industry needed a way to distinguish these similar (same, really) - sounding practitioners from the "blues" artists--a way that signaled, basically, not black. This was a MARKETING decision, not a racist one. Racialist--meaning, aware of the race aspect, but not for or against.

Anyway, what we now call country music grew out of that need to market "the rest" of the musicians in the south, once you sliced off the black ones and called them "the blues."

There were lots of instances of record labels mistakenly releasing black artists on their old-time labels and white artists on their race labels, because the music was exactly the same. And the musicians all played together in real life. But from a business standpoint, there were two different worlds.

As blues because a bit more urbanized, the dance aspect was emphasized. (i.e., drums). This became something of a distinguishing characteristic between "black blues" and "white blues" (i.e., old time). So to keep the fingerprint of "countryness" and avoid sounding too "uptown," the Opry strictly forbade drums.

Lots of country artists used them live, most notably Bob Wills, who played almost entirely blues songs meant for dancing, and called it swing. So when he appeared at the Opry, he broke the rule. After that the lines became a bit more muddy.

It's inherent in the history of country--it's literally the reason the genre exists--and any documentary that didn't mention it, would be deeply flawed.


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Re: Ken Burns' Country Music [Re: pinkfloydcramer] #3007636 09/11/19 07:23 PM
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Originally Posted by pinkfloydcramer
the lovely lady playing clawhammer banjo

I recorded the program and haven’t yet watched but maybe you’re referring to Rhiannon Giddens? She’s an extraordinary talent, a multiple Grammy winner, and a MacArthur Fellowship recipient.

Re: Ken Burns' Country Music [Re: MathOfInsects] #3007681 09/11/19 11:26 PM
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Originally Posted by MathOfInsects
The drum ban at the Grand Ole Opry is widely known and much-discussed, pretty much everywhere.

Not racist; racialist. Similar letters, different meaning.

The capsule history is this: in the south at the turn of the last century, there was not country music or blues or anything else, there was just music as it was played there. Fiddles, guitars, banjos, sometimes diddly bows/single-string basses, some percussion sometimes.

There arose an interest among record labels and song collectors in marketing "black" music by and for black folks. So collectors would roll through the south signing black musicians to what became known as blues or "race" labels.

But that left all the white folks who where playing the same music, and a massive market for them too. The industry needed a way to distinguish these similar (same, really) - sounding practitioners from the "blues" artists--a way that signaled, basically, not black. This was a MARKETING decision, not a racist one. Racialist--meaning, aware of the race aspect, but not for or against.

Anyway, what we now call country music grew out of that need to market "the rest" of the musicians in the south, once you sliced off the black ones and called them "the blues."

There were lots of instances of record labels mistakenly releasing black artists on their old-time labels and white artists on their race labels, because the music was exactly the same. And the musicians all played together in real life. But from a business standpoint, there were two different worlds.

As blues because a bit more urbanized, the dance aspect was emphasized. (i.e., drums). This became something of a distinguishing characteristic between "black blues" and "white blues" (i.e., old time). So to keep the fingerprint of "countryness" and avoid sounding too "uptown," the Opry strictly forbade drums.

Lots of country artists used them live, most notably Bob Wills, who played almost entirely blues songs meant for dancing, and called it swing. So when he appeared at the Opry, he broke the rule. After that the lines became a bit more muddy.

It's inherent in the history of country--it's literally the reason the genre exists--and any documentary that didn't mention it, would be deeply flawed.



Nice review in the LA Times that covers some of this.....interesting read.

https://www.latimes.com/entertainment-arts/music/story/2019-09-04/ken-burns-country-music-lil-nas-x

Re: Ken Burns' Country Music [Re: zxcvbnm098] #3007692 09/12/19 12:49 AM
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Originally Posted by zxcvbnm098
Nice review in the LA Times that covers some of this.....interesting read.

https://www.latimes.com/entertainment-arts/music/story/2019-09-04/ken-burns-country-music-lil-nas-x


You're right, nice job. Thanks for that link. And I am heartened that the doc seems like it will cover this aspect; it's honestly unthinkable that they couldn't.


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Re: Ken Burns' Country Music [Re: MathOfInsects] #3007710 09/12/19 02:54 AM
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MOI, I have no problem with your post, or the LAT article, or this subject matter being covered in an exhaustive, lengthy documentary on country music. I have heard most of it before, the exception being Opry's banning drums to differentiate its music from blues, from "race" music. I'm still asking around on that one with no luck (although a couple of older musicians I gigged with tonight don't think it's so far- fetched). It seems misguided to make "uptown" or "danceable" one and the same with blues or "black" music, unless black, urban blues musicians were the early adopters of drums.

But evidently it was jumping the gun to think you were advocating for someone with no substantial connection to country music (Marsalis) to sermonize, in a moralizing way, to country fans about how their music began because of racism (excuse me, "racialism"). I'm still hopeful that the documentary is geared more to country music fans, and potential fans, than to academics who have no real fondness for country music, despite their encyclopedic knowledge of Pig Robbins licks.

I love hearing about the similarities between country music and blues and soul etc. I haven't met anyone who was offended by that.

FWIW, tonight I played a gig with a Willie Nelson tribute band that played in the lobby of a museum- the Civil Rights Museum- before an initial screening of the documentary in question. MS native Carl Davis played some solo numbers before, also. But I couldn't stay to watch it, though (family responsibilities).

Re: Ken Burns' Country Music [Re: pinkfloydcramer] #3007718 09/12/19 04:49 AM
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Originally Posted by pinkfloydcramer
[T]he exception being Opry's banning drums to differentiate its music from blues, from "race" music. I'm still asking around on that one with no luck (although a couple of older musicians I gigged with tonight don't think it's so far- fetched). It seems misguided to make "uptown" or "danceable" one and the same with blues or "black" music, unless black, urban blues musicians were the early adopters of drums.


To be sure though, even if your older guys thought it was far-fetched, it would still be true.

With the Great Migration, southern black folks began populating northern cities, and the blues--again, the same music the "country" artists were playing, often by artists who played with the "country" musicians live--became more closely associated with clubs and dancing. Dancing needs beats and beats need drums. So the "same" music began to be differentiated by the "uptown" or "urban" sound of a combo with drums, vs the "fiddle music" being played in the south, then mostly associated with 'old-time' artists. (Funny enough, the banjo was an African instrument, brought over on slave ships, that only much later became associated with the sound of old-time after the blues-country genre split.)

When the Opry began broadcasting, they had a commitment to the "traditional" sound of purist country music, which for them was distinguished by the lack of drums. Again, keep in mind that many country artists DID play with drums; it was just that to the purists, that was the destructive influence of that big bad city music (urban juke-joint blues) trying to destroy the innocent and pure sound of their fiddle music. So the Opry played to the "non-urbanized" aesthetic of drumless performances for decades, until it became essentially unsustainable (which happened ironically because of western swing's most blues-focused bandleader).


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Re: Ken Burns' Country Music [Re: MathOfInsects] #3007725 09/12/19 06:18 AM
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So once again, clubs and dancing, the whole "uptown" stigma these Grand Ole Racialist Opryteers wanted to differentiate from, was exclusively a black urban blues thing? Could the "uptown" African- American club scene have been parallel to, or even an imitation, of a similar white "uptown" scene (not denying this imitation didn't go both ways) and if so, is it possible the Opry people could have been motivated to differentiate from the "uptown" whites?

It's strange that what you frame as matter-of- fact is not only something I've never heard of, but doesn't show up on google, either.

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Re: Ken Burns' Country Music [Re: pinkfloydcramer] #3007775 09/12/19 04:10 PM
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Originally Posted by pinkfloydcramer
So once again, clubs and dancing, the whole "uptown" stigma these Grand Ole Racialist Opryteers wanted to differentiate from, was exclusively a black urban blues thing? Could the "uptown" African- American club scene have been parallel to, or even an imitation, of a similar white "uptown" scene (not denying this imitation didn't go both ways) and if so, is it possible the Opry people could have been motivated to differentiate from the "uptown" whites?

It's strange that what you frame as matter-of- fact is not only something I've never heard of, but doesn't show up on google, either.


You're asking a good question, though it's framed a little bit misleadingly.

A couple of things to keep in mind: First, remember that the distinction I am being careful to make is about recorded music--the kinds of music people would hear on the radio, and record companies would market to various audiences. Street level, musicians are musicians and music is music.

Then remember that the Grand Ole Opry was a radio show--that is, essentially recorded music, delivered on the same device as people's other music. So what we're talking about is signature sounds as curated by record companies and marketers, not necessarily as played street level. The genres we are discussing were attached as labels from above--by marketers--not by the practitioners themselves.*

(*At first. This becomes less true, of course, the longer the genre distinctions exist, since even musicians listen to radio and like to sign record contracts, so "blues" players hear recorded blues and "old time" players hear recorded old-time and so on, so they have names and sounds to attach to their practices.)

Finally, you have to pull the camera back on what else was in the musical landscape at the time the Opry was gaining popularity. At the beginning, they wouldn't have had drums simply because fiddle music tended not to, and also because they were a bear to make sound good on the radio and on records.

But as time went on, the country's most popular music forms increasingly had drums--particularly "the blues" (which was a broad name for almost any black-associated release, much of which had nothing to do with the blues as we think of it, but rather just used "....Blues" in the title to spark sales), and big-band swing. Both forms had a strong rhythmic component driven by drums and meant to prompt dancing, both were initially and enduringly black-associated, and at the time, that rhythmic component was considered "hot"--sexual. Not all practitioners were black, but the forms were black-associated, and the "hot" component in particular keyed off a general sense of black sexual primitiveness. There are mountains of articles and books about this aspect and if Google continues to fail you I can point you to some. (It actually sounds from that review like the doc might touch on this.)

On the flip side, there was a mostly white-associated crooner tradition, which specifically and strictly stripped away the "hot" component--the drums/rhythm.

What emerged from this, implicitly, was an association between drums/rhythm and "hot" forms, and the lack of them with more "pure" or pious forms.

Here is the key: remember that country and the blues were the same songs, played by the same players (street level), and just called something different by the marketers.

As those songs when called "the blues" developed a sound and reputation for "hotness," the means of distinguishing the music as performed at the Grand Ole Opry and throughout the south, became a preference for the "purer" sounds of drumless performances.

Again, one last reminder that these are marketing distinctions. Street level, loads of country players--who were just musicians like anyone else--had drums. Bob Wills was basically a big-band jazzer whose repertoire was almost strictly blues tunes, played for dancing. There were dozens or hundreds of other examples, because musicians don't like to go broke, and the most popular genres at the time all had drums and rhythmic components. But when it came to curating the sound of country for purposes of marketing a radio show, the preference was away from hotness, and toward piety.





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Re: Ken Burns' Country Music [Re: drawback] #3008034 09/14/19 03:29 PM
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Whenever I hear of a new Ken Burns doc my mind immediately turns to “I wonder what he will leave out/neglect to include?” For this one, I’m betting he doesn’t mention Hank Thompson, whom the public seems to have collective amnesia over.


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I remember Hank Thompson. He's best known for the song "The Wild Side Of Life." Even better known is Kitty Wells' answer song, "It Wasn't God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels." Country classics.

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I also have a love/hate Ken Burns perception, but I am looking forward to watching this.

The country music history in the region where Tennessee, Virginia and North Carolina converge is fascinating AND the scenery is beautiful. I drive through this region, when serving clients, and visit remote spots to chat with locals. When I retire, much time will be spent camping, visiting and learning.

Re: Ken Burns' Country Music [Re: SteveCoscia] #3008086 09/15/19 11:18 AM
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i highly reccomend watching it,..i did a few weeks back, i think its really good. the thing i got most out of it was the concept of realizing how much amazing music came from extreme situations of suffering, poverty, tragedy etc,..out of those experiences people had, when they channeled their stories through music,..the music is very powerful and moving.


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