I spent two weeks last fall watching the Ken Burn’s documentary, “Country Music.” It was wonderful. One section of the presentation spent a lot of time on one artist, Emmylou Harris. I have always enjoyed her music, but the documentary really made me think about her and consider her music.
In 1971, Chris Hillman from “the Flying Burrito Brothers was impressed with Harris and suggested her as a possible duet partner to Graham Parsons, formerly of “the Byrds.” Emmylou Harris would connect the dots created by people like Guy Clark, Townes Van Zandt and Rodney Crowell that would shape country music, change it-yet keep it more traditional even as another generation of “Nashville Sound” rose up with the Urban Cowboy movement. She offered up a rendition of “Pancho and Lefty” several years before Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard made it so popular.
Charlie and Ira Louvin were brothers from Alabama and were known for “blood harmony.” Blood harmony is just another way of describing their tight harmony-made even closer by they fact they were brothers. The Louvins broke up in the mid 60’s because of substance abuse. They wrote and performed a favorite song of mine before I was even born; the son was “If I could only win your love.”
Emmylou Harris, also an Alabama native, did some covers in the seventies and one of them was the Louvin’s “If I could only win your love.” Although my favorite Harris song is “Born to Run,” I probably more closely associate the Louvin-written song with Harris. The harmony sounds like a bowstring pulled across a violin and just sounds so country to me.
I started hearing Emmylou Harris more as I left high school. Harris had joined with Linda Ronstadt and Dolly Parton in a group, named “The Trio.” These three made some very nice harmony in the late eighties even though they had considered this combination years before it finally happened. A few of their songs include “Those memories of you” and “To know him is to love him.”
Emmylou Harris had long been backed up by her group, the Hot Band but eventually dissolved this group and re-built a new one called the Nash Ramblers. In 1992, she and her band recorded a Grammy-award winning lp at the old Ryman auditorium which was the original home of the Grand Ole Opry. The auditorium was in bad shape at the time but the recording renewed interest in the old former church. This interest led to an 8-million-dollar renovation and even air-conditioning in the historic building.
The story of Emmylou Harris continues today on stage and off. It’s the off-stage stuff that makes me really like someone. In the case of Emmylou Harris, she likes animals. She even works at Bonaparte’s Retreat, which is an animal rescue group in Nashville. I think that makes me like her for her contribution as a person as much as I like her musical contributions to the character and strength of music.