My wife has been watching the Ken Burns Country Music documentary. She stays up past my bedtime. Sunday afternoon we drove to Renton to see a friend’s directorial debut in community theatre. Peg just mentioned a few of the greats that had been discussed as the roots of Country Western.
She mentioned Jimmie Rogers, and Hank Williams of course and then she said, “Jean Shepard.” I launched immediately into the song “I’d Rather Die Young.”
“I’d rather die young than grow old without you
So don’t ever leave me whatever you do
To see someone’s picture where my picture hung
Believe me my darling I’d rather die young”
When we moved from our old house four doors down the block to our current home in 1978 I found an old 78 of Jean Shepard singing that song. What a tear-jerker. I thought this was the only time I had heard the song, but I was wrong. As a teenager I bought a portable stereo record player for Sarge’s Pawn Shop in Ponders Corner, which was located maybe fifty yards from my parent’s motel. I initially purchased a number of used 45s from a special sale at Sear’s garage in downtown Tacoma. I remember going through a table full of loose records where I found a Buddy Holly and the Crickets singing “Oh, Boy” and “Not Fade Away,” along with an Ivory Joe Hunter singing “Since I Met You Baby,” and a four song 45 by Johnny Cash.
As I looked up “I’d Rather Die Young” on Youtube I saw that it was recorded on the album “The Fabulous Johnny Cash,” which was one of the first record albums I purchased when my cousin Lindy and I joined the Columbia Record Club together in 1960. I prefer the Jean Shepard version.
After a little more research I found that Gisele Mackenzie also recorded the song. I may have heard her sing it in the early fifties. As a youngster I had the hots for Gisele from the TV show, “Your Hit Parade.” Even as a child of the fifties I recognized the relationship of country, rhythm & blues, and rock. One of my favorite movie lines is from The Blues Brothers when they are advised at a local bar that the bar offers “both kinds of music. Country AND Western.”
Fox News interviewed Ken Burns about his eight-part country music documentary. I like his explanation of country music, “Country music is about elemental human experience…it’s about the joy of birth, sadness of death, falling in love, losing love, being lonely, or screwing up.” – Ken Burns
Next to my baby grand piano in our living room, I have a collection of music books (four drawers full and a stack): Broadway musicals, various country hits, rock and roll classics, blues, jazz, torch songs, and traditional Americana. They all have a place . . . in my heart.