Although Outlaw country was mainly the domain of men, there were some women that pursued musical careers in country music that considered themselves “Outlaws” as well. There are really only four women that became major outlaw stars in country music: TANYA TUCKER, SAMMi SMiTH, EMMYLOU HARRiS and JESSi COLTER, respectively. I’ve written about TUCKER several times before, as she’s a huge inspiration – and her contribution to music for me has certainly left a good impression for it’s truly unique grain of guts and fragility, but COLTER, HARRiS and SMiTH are also right up there.
JESSi COLTER was the wife of the Outlaw pioneer WAYLON JENNiNGS. She married JENNiNGS in 1968. In the mid-70s, she pursued a solo career, and immediately achieved Outlaw status after she scored a #1 country hit, that also reached #4 on the pop charts, titled ‘I’m Not Lisa’, which was penned by COLTER herself.
‘I’m Jessi Colter’ is the album that brought her to the masses in 1975. Prior to this album, her name was somewhat known in Country music, mainly as JENNiNGS’ wife as she had recorded some sides with him, including two top forty singles, “Suspicious Minds” and “Under Your Spell Again”. She had also released one previous album, 1970′s ‘A Country Star Is Born’, which ironically enough made virtually no impact on the market. But it was a completely different story when Capitol Records issued ‘I’m Jessi Colter’, her second album. It’s first single, “I’m Not Lisa”, became a massive hit, peaking at number one on the Country charts. That song was so huge that it seemed like whenever you turned on the radio, there it was. So huge was that song, that it’s often overlooked that the follow-up, “What’s Happened To Blue Eyes” didn’t do too shabby, peaking at number five on the Country side in the Fall of 1975. As for the album, it would peak at number four on the Country bestseller lists, while hitting a high of fifty on the Pop side. An interesting side note, this was the first of three solo top ten albums for JESSi, all peaking at number four.
On another note – COLTER was exceptionally beautiful as well – as one can see from the above photos; and as a fan I can’t help but make comparisons to RONSTADT and fellow outlaw female HARRiS (perhaps this is more attributed to COLTER being much less in the spotlight to either of these ladies). Without a doubt though, its easy to see and hear what JENNiNGS was captured by, as well as what endears her to country music fans to this day.
One of the most amazing experiences of my life involved taking a week-long road trip with my boyfriend to Tennessee – it was the summer of 2010 and the trip itself was all in the name of visiting DOLLYWOOD and Nashville. Ever since I was a little whipper-snapper I dreamed of going to DOLLYWOOD. I mean forget Disneyland/World – whatever: to me DOLLYWOOD seemed far more enchanting. Although I used to believe DOLLY herself resided somewhere in a pink castle among this beautiful land of whimsy and butterflies – I could not have imagined what was in store for us as we took that journey to finally explore this part of the United States.
I will say that by the time we arrived I had long since reconciled the fact that DOLLY would not be there (although she had been one week prior – dag nabbit!), and I was never more giddy and excited to experience it for myself. It was a dream come true and an entire novel could be written about the goings-on in those Smokey Mountains she calls home.
That said, there were several highlight moments for me in DOLLYWOOD: standing outside the replica of DOLLY’STENNESSEE MOUNTAiN HOME being one of them. DOLLY often laments about home and her childhood within her music and how the most meaningful things in her life often lie in her roots and those memories. ‘My Tennessee Mountain Home’ is a signature song of hers that captures this essence beautifully – and to be able to see and touch it rocked my soul. DOLLYWOOD covers a lot of ground but I could have sat hours in this small space dedicated to her home – just writing. I was very inspired. Also, the DOLLY museum, which contained decades of memorabilia and DOLLY artifacts kept me occupied well over half the day. I went camera happy (CLiCK CLiCK CLiCK)– and these photos represent only a fraction of what there was to see. I would say my favorite all-time moment came when my boyfriend and I tracked down the DOLLY statue erected in the courthouse yard in Sevierville (the statue was dedicated to her in 1987). I had only viewed photos of this monument while pouring over her autobiography MY LiFE & OTHER UNFiNiSHED BUSiNESS and to see it, touch it – was as close to a religious experience I’ve ever had (ok so that’s an over-exaggeration but I think you can understand). This is her effect on me!
After DOLLYWOOD we spent a couple of days in country music’s capital, NASHViLLE, Tennessee. Together we roamed the same streets that some of my most beloved country and western singers have walked and performed. There is an electric energy in NASHViLLE, and to know that legends like LORETTA LYNN, JOHNNY CASH and TANYA TUCKER (just to name a few) had all started their careers playing these venues gave my little Manitoban heart palpitations like never before. In and out of clothing and record stores – we had no shortage of things to do and talk about. A highlight of NASHViLLE was visiting the COUNTRY MUSiC HALL of FAME, where we literally spent most of one day taking in a lot of history and music. Once again, I’ve taken so many photos that what I’ve highlighted only reflects but a portion.
On that note – enjoy these photos and do tell me if any of you have your own DOLLYWOOD/NASHViLLE stories/experiences! I’d love to know your own highlights!
During the 1960′s when CONNiE SMiTH wore the gown pictured below onstage (this image was taken on a 2010 trip to NASHViLLE, TENNESEE where I visited the COUNTRY MUSiC HALL of FAME), she set a standard for deeply felt, powerfully delivered songs of heartache. Of the little woman with the enormous voice, DOLLY PARTON has said “There’s only three real female singers in the world. STREiSAND, RONSTADT and CONNiE SMiTH. The rest of us are only pretending.”
What the singers she’s been influencing for decades spot in CONNiE SMiTH’S performances—besides her genius for phrasing, perfect diction and a vocal range which have all long been envied—is her fervent joy in singing itself, her love for the emotional and physical act of letting loose a song, which is as evident on her recordings as it is in front of audiences at the Grand Ole Opry, on RFD TV’s weekly MARTY STEWART SHOW, or on the road.
“I feel so fortunate to have been introduced to Nashville in the early sixties. It was a magical time in country music; country artists were encouraged to bring their individuality and culture to the microphone, not to back away from them, and the songwriters of the era were just the best. But I feel that the music as it was has been slipping away—and much, much faster than I’m ready for. The only thing I know to do about it now is to keep singing what I’ve always loved.”
Thanks in part to JOHNNY CASH and JUNE CARTER there was a time in country music, particularly during the late 60’s and 1970’s where the trend was to pair a Country King and Country Queen together in vocal harmony. It was the golden age of country and western duets – resulting in two strong individual voices uniting together in holy melody.
Below I’ve outlined four of what are in my opinion, country music’s quintessential duet partnerships of our time. I’ve done this in effort to celebrate these partnerships as well remind people of their musical contribution in general – for this particular tradition of duets is a thing of the past – or is it? I would like to think not, but for today I suggest if you’re unfamiliar with any of the following musical pairings – you might wanna go right out and download them today!
Something I enjoyed about the partnership that was JUNE and JOHNNY CASH was the terrific sense of family and tradition they brought to their live shows and music. If the intent was to have a hoe-down throw-down of a good time – you got “Jackson” or “It Ain’t Me Babe”, two of this duo’s greatest hits and ones that they often played on the road in their hey-day. Yet, fast forward to JUNE’S 1991 ‘Press On’ and you’ll hear “Far Side Banks Of Jordan”, arguably the most utterly beautiful tale of love and dedication JUNE and JOHNNY ever recorded together period.
Written by schoolteacher TERRY SMiTH, ‘Far Side Banks of Jordan’ sounds as though it could very well be taken from the pages of their life story. Its simple message is one of devotion – even in afterlife. The delivery of this pledge is touching and beautiful particularly when you stop to appreciate how the sounds of time and age come out in each of their respective voices. Far more experienced than 1970’s ‘If I Were A Carpenter’ – yet no more or less significant in terms of musical genius. The combined experience they are able to draw from is very evident within the words of each line and the end result is heavy with commitment.
Another aspect about JUNE and JOHNNY CASH I found interesting was that JUNE had already been considered a pioneer of country music, having been born into THE CARTER FAMILY (aka. A.P, SARA, ‘MOTHER’ MAYBELLE). MAYBELLE had three daughters (THE CARTER SISTERS: ANiTA, HELEN & JUNE), all of whom appeared live on stage and television before JOHNNY CASH ever entered the picture. To me JUNE and JOHNNY’S music is grounded in THE CARTER FAMiLY’S epic history of tradition and song and it continues to live on.
“Honky Tonk Girl” LORETTA LYNN brought to country music a traditional sound with a candid, contemporary attitude, particularly in her own oft-humorous but straight-forward compositions. She had a determidly pro-woman point of view.
This point of view made for some incredible duets between LORETTA and CONWAY TWiTTY, singer of ‘Hello Darlin’’ and country star in his own right. TWiTTY had originally been pegged as a rock n’ roll singer at the beginning of his career, eventually embracing his country side. Together, CONWAY and LORETTA (as they were known in their act), won four consecutive Country Music Association awards for vocal duo (1972–75) and a host of other duo and duet awards from other organizations throughout the 1970s.
LORETTA and CONWAY were never actually married as were JUNE and JOHNNY CASH, yet their duets often implied as much, establishing another aspect of the country and western duet that I loved. When you think about it – it was easy for listeners to assume that LORETTA and CONWAY were indeed married. ‘After the Fire is Gone’, ‘Louisiana Woman/Mississippi Man’ and ‘Feelin’s’ typically played off the idea that they were either in marital heaven or – hell. Either way it’s clear that together they had a great deal of fun, making the music truly enjoyable to listen to. The duo of LORETTA LYNN and CONWAY TWiTTY was built on a foundation of friendship and mutual respect and therefore in the end it didn’t matter that both were happily married to other people – for the world enjoyed the fantasy.
DOLLY PARTON’S rags-to-riches story is by now one most people know and understand – however few people know the depth of the story behind her musical partnership with PORTER WAGONER. At a very early time in PARTON’S career her songwriting efforts and minor radio play grabbed the attention of WAGONER, a major country and western television star of THE PORTER WAGONER SHOW. He hired PARTON as his duet partner in 1967, charmed by her songwriting ability, unique voice, and sex-bomb appearance – sky high platinum wig, JAYNE MANSFiELD figure accentuated by skintight country-lass garb, and bubbly, down-home personality. WAGONER himself a blonde, rhinestone-bespangled dandy, helped PARTON wrangle a deal with RCA; and in return she breathed new life into his tired act, contributing her fresh, tradition-based country songs to his repertoire. In addition to the show, they recorded separately and together over the next seven years. Similar to LORETTA LYNN and CONWAY TWiTTY, their songs were often filled with comic fighting couples, tragic dying children, and old-timey country folks – and their onstage and recorded sparring was reflective of their real-life love-hate relationship.
History aside, it’s the music of WAGONER and PARTON that stands the test of time and I personally cherish the most of any duet partnership, primarily because every aspect and every ingredient brought together by these two separate entities makes for some of the finest harmonies ever put on record between man and woman. These two were also a major force to be reckoned with as they not only dominated the country music charts but garnered many CMA awards for their duets. Personally I think ‘Tomorrow Is Forever’ may just be the best example of this marriage of voices, yet over the span of their seven recording years together they have no shortage of breathtaking music.
Over the past 20 years GEORGE JONES has frequently been referred to as “the greatest living country singer”, while his counterpart TAMMY WYNETTE was known as the First Lady of Country Music – making for one dynamic duo in music history.
Throughout his long career, JONES made headlines often as much for his singing as for tales of his drinking, stormy relationships with women and violent rages as for his prolific career of making records and touring. To me he was an artist in the true sense of the word – because as rough as his personal life may have been, as a vocalist JONES had a distinct way of singing where you couldn’t help but become immersed in whatever he sang about; be it honkytonks or heartache.
Similarly WYNETTE’S signature way of singing showcased her ability to understand true loneliness and heartache – which were often reoccurring themes in her solo music. JONES and WYNETTE married in 1969, creating a country music ‘couple’ in the true sense of the word – eventually recording a series of duet albums and singles. These albums and singles charted throughout the 1970’s, concurrent to their respective solo hits. How often does this happen today?
As was his personal life prior to WYNETTE, JONES infamously battled addiction and therefore it was no surprise that this dynamic duo ended in D.I.V.O.R.C.E in 1975, yet any true fan of country and western music will most certainly remember them together as much as they will always be praised for their unique solo efforts. It’s not difficult to listen to songs like ‘We’re Gonna Hold On’ or ‘Golden Ring’ and understand that as much love as they shared, they were no strangers marital problems and further more any status of theirs didn’t make them above the most common problems that tear two lovers apart. In many ways I believe it was this dynamic between them that served the recordings so well – lending to the overall magic. Lyrics were often simple yet the vocals of each were anything but. Together it made for a big impact.
CHECK out these youtube links for more on the great duet partnerships: