Country Music Connections

By Anita Garner

We’re still talking about Ken Burns Country Music on PBS. People who know about The Glory Road asked, so I’m answering questions about my family’s music and how our history fits into the decades depicted in the show.

Early in the series Ralph Peer set up recording equipment in the South and pickers and singers came down from the hills to start a  country music revolution. Ralph Peer connects to our family in more than one way. (See  below.)

In the early episodes there’s shape-note singing, taught in small country churches and sponsored by sheet music salespeople. Daddy (Brother Ray) was there, sent with his brothers and sisters by his Mama, who insisted everyone in their house would carry a tune.

Governor Jimmie Davis, Louisiana’s Singing Governor, was already famous for You Are My Sunshine when  he recorded a song Mother (Sister Fern) wrote.  He was responsible for the earliest acknowledgement of her songwriting.

Johnny Cash heard Jimmie Davis sing I Was There When It Happened on the radio in the early 50’s and learned the song to please his mother.  When my Mother wrote it, the deal she was offered to get it published was to sell half the copyright to Governor Davis, whose publisher was Ralph Peer. Today our family still shares the copyright with Peer Music.  Johnny continued to record and perform the song throughout his career. (See link below.)

When Johnny auditioned for Sun Records, he and the Tennessee Two, Marshall and Luther, sang the song for Sam Phillips who, it turned out, didn’t want to record any gospel. This story appears in the movie, Walk The Line. Marshall Grant, one of the Tennessee Two, wrote a book about his time with Johnny and titled it with Mother’s song.  His book, I Was There When It Happened, is still available, I believe.  Through the movie I met Dan John Miller, talented actor/singer/musician, who played Marshall in Walk The Line.  Dan John was kind enough to play Brother Ray at a Los Angeles reading of my play.

Nashville’s A Team, fabulous studio musicians, played on Sister Fern’s recording sessions at Owen and Hal Bradley’s Quonset Hut in Nashville.  When I was writing my book and musical, Hal was still playing sessions, and was President of Nashville Musicians Union.  He was generous with his time and advice.

Mac Wiseman, bluegrass star, introduced Mother to Randy Wood, President of Dot Records, where she got her own recording contract.

The Joneses made their records later in the 50’s and their music mostly falls into the rockabilly/Southern Gospel sound, but Daddy kept his hill country/high lonesome tenor.  He married it with Mother’s blues wail and honky tonk attitude while they sang songs about Jesus.  When their music was re-mastered and released by Numero Group in 2005, some of the earliest fans came from progressive radio and college radio stations who’ve embraced roots music all over again.

I’m glad the series was produced during a time when so many of the people who played significant roles were still around to tell their stories in their own words.  Sadly, we’ve lost several of these pioneers since the show began filming.   Praise is due Ken Burns and co-producers, Julie Dunfey and Dayton Duncan.  I’m in awe of Dayton’s writing. He’s a beautiful storyteller.  And of course there’s no voice like narrator, Peter Coyote’s.

Park Hill is the mansion Ralph Peer owned in the Hollywood Hills.  My daughter, Cathleen, later worked for Peer Music (with Ralph Peer Jr. in charge) while I was on the air at KBIG radio just around the corner. Here’s one view of the Peer mansion.  Tucked away in and around the estate are guest houses, a grotto, and Monique Peer’s (Ralph Sr.’s widow) prize camellias.  Lots of camellias.  This magnificent estate housed the headquarters of the publishing company.

Here’s where Cath sat at her desk, inside the entryway, writing the company newsletter.

Peer Music represents all the works of the man who some say started it all – Jimmie Rodgers.  Daddy revered him and Cath arranged for her Grandpa Ray to have copies of all Jimmie Rodgers’ recordings.

Here’s Johnny Cash singing Mother’s song, I Was There When It Happened, at Town Hall Party in Los Angeles.  Click the picture for the video

Here’s Mother, singing, Keeps Me Busy, a song from the Numero Group album, Fern Jones The Glory Road recorded with Nashville’s A Team.  Click the picture to listen.I wrote a story, Hank Williams Was A Friend of Mine, which won several awards, including a Marin County Arts Grant.  The friendship in the title refers to Daddy, who prayed for Hank every day. I’ll post it here one day.

For years I was a voiceover (V/O) for KCET-TV, PBS for Southern California.  Once in a while I got to say things like “Coming up tonight, Ken Burns’ (fill in the name of any of his films.)”

And one almost-connection.  I lived in Mill Valley, California for years.  In that very small town I often spotted fellow Mill Valley resident, Peter Coyote, actor/narrator, and I always meant to say, “Nice job on the Ken Burns (fill in the name of the show)” but I never did.

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Men In Overcoats

By Anita Garner(Caption below)

Men in overcoats are one of the best parts of winter.  I live on the West Coast where overcoat sightings are rare, but when I’m East I’m living the life.  I’ll follow a good looking coat down the street. Extra points for grownup shoes.  And hats and scarves and gloves. Here in California we don’t see these often.

I wish it could be winter all year and I wish all men owned coats  – for warmth, of course, but mostly for my enjoyment.  Here’s a starter gallery.  I’ll be adding to it so if you send a picture, I’ll put it here for overcoat oglers to enjoy. After exhaustive research, which consisted of shopping at Target, it seems something more all-encompassing might be fair.  Maybe just Men In Coats.

This opens the subject to all kinds of coats. Men who work outside and need to bundle up.  Firemen. Cowboys in cowboy jackets. Basically all men in all coats. I am personally acquainted with men who own spiffy coats and I want them to know how much I appreciate looking at them.  Here are some of them.

(First photo above) Dan John Miller, you’re an inspiration.  That’s him in the middle.  I met him when he was in the movie, Walk The Line, which featured a song written by my mother.  Dan John played Luther Perkins, guitar player in Johnny Cash’s band, the Tennessee Two. Based in Detroit, he’s a busy actor and musician and lately picked up a nice award for voicing audio books.  Extra points for the hat.

Here’s Greg Zerkle (North) actor, director, singer, all around Broadway Baby, and my other brother.  

 

Onstage ensemble

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When The Daughter heard about this week’s topic, she suggested it wouldn’t be complete without John Cusack. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Then The Grand got involved, nominating Brendon Urie.  With The Grand, it’s always going to be Brendon Urie in any category.

I’m closing this first edition with Peter Coyote. Because it’s Peter Coyote.Oh and Peter also seems to own suits.