Saturday, April 1, 2017
Patsy Cline: A Pioneer Voice
While the national media attention was focused on the passing of Chuck Berry, PBS was showcasing another music legend who changed the way we listen. "When Patsy Cline Was Crazy" is a combination of a traditional rags to riches story and some amazing video footage reminding us who paved the way for a generation of female performers.
Most of all, it brings back a voice that was powerful enough to cut through the static of AM radio, tinny jukeboxes and grainy television. If she had today's technology delivering her songs, the Sirens of Homer's Odyssey would have wilted with envy.
As Rhiannon Giddons reminds us, you always know that's a Patsy song. Most of us know of her and her music but few know about her. This documentary from The American Masters series (pbs.org) narrated by Roseanne Cash, goes a long way to fill in the picture.
She started singing in bars and clubs while in high school, endured jobs washing Greyhound buses and drug store clerking before she got gigs with Roy Clark and Jimmy Dean. Her first record contract paid a pittance and stuck her recording the lousy songs the boss had the rights for.
Her big break came in 1957 when she appeared on Arthur Godfrey's Talent Scouts debuting "Walking After Midnight." As Arthur drawled, "Don't go away Patsy honey...you done won this."
That earned her $10,000 and forced the company to rush the song into stores where it became her first hit.
By then, Patsy had given up the Dale Evans cowgirl outfits with lots of fringe (made by her mother) for the kind of cocktail dresses seen on television variety shows. She was Nashville's response to Elvis and rock and roll and the shift paid off.
Before videotape the only way to preserve live television was by filming the monitors to make kinescopes and these are the highlights of the documentary. "A Church, A Courtroom, Then Goodbye," "Three Cigarettes and an Ashtray," and "I Fall To Pieces" are priceless performances that still sound heart-wrenching half a century later. As Reba McIntire admits, no matter how hard others try, "you just can't do it like Patsy."
There are other interviews paying tribute to Patsy as a scrapper, a trailblazer and someone who could do six shows a day for weeks at time in Vegas. Everyone from Willie Nelson ("Crazy" was named the #1 jukebox hit of all time) to Leann Rimes and Kacey Musgraves acknowledges their debt to Patsy.
Just as she hit it big, it all ended tragically in a plane crash in Tennessee in 1963, a month before "Sweet Dreams (of you)" was released. Twenty-five thousand fans lined the streets of Winchester, Va., during her funeral. They have been buying her music ever since.
The "Greatest Hits" album is the longest charting record of all-time and has sold more than 10 million copies. Each song has become a standard. Patsy Cline set the musical bar very high.