I was telling a friend this week about one of the smallest, but for me, most significant items on display at the Patsy Cline Museum in Nashville. Not much larger than a post-it note I was drawn for a good while to stare at a set list from can early 60’s gig somewhere in Oklahoma or Texas or Ohio…miles from home. The interesting point wasn’t the choice of songs or the running order but the little key notes in brackets at the side of each title. What it revealed was how country gigs happened back in the day. The artist would arrive in town and give a running order to the house-band describing in which keys each song should be performed and, well…. they’d take it from there.
It was a this point I turned to Patsy’s daughter, Julie Fudge, what was showing us around the museum and expressed surprise that the system was as hap-hazzard as it seemed from the note. ‘It’s country music,’ she replied, ‘it’s pretty simple stuff.’ How right she is I thought. Simple yet never, ever simplistic. Perhaps that’s the key to the whole thing.
If that was the one moment I remember more clearly than any other it’s only because of the window it opened into how the world once was. It’s the little details of social history which often reveal the larger truths. That’s why I loved walking the floor that day with Julie around her mother’s museum. We were looking at how we all came to know and love one of the most enduring country artists of all time. A ground breaking woman who changed the way people heard country music and popular song and did it at a time when many women were still expected to spend most of their time attending to domestic issues of family and home. The interesting side of Patsy’s story is how she managed to pull off both of these tasks and still have world-wide success as a recording artist. It was the conflict of career and domesticity which proved to be the breaking point of her first marriage to Gerald Edward Cline leading to divorce in 1957.It really still needs to be stated how few women are still priority country acts (look at the charts) and how 60 odd years ago a young girl from Winchester Virginia took on and changed the entire perception of the genre.
My walk around the Patsy Cline Museum back in March was much more than a nostalgia trip. It was a living testament to a woman whose influence has spread far beyond her short lived recording career. A career, it’s estimated, that lasted only five and a half years.
Join me this Tuesday evening as Patsy’s daughter takes me round her mother’s beautifully curated exhibition and we talk about and listen to the songs which made the Nashville Sound.
That’s not all too. We’ll celebrate some of the people who have been influenced by Patsy and we’ll hear some great new music from Erin Rae, The Milk Carton Kids, Shannon Shaw and Jesse Dayton. There will be some charming reminders of the past from Vince Gill and Phosphorescent and some Lindsay Ell singing and playing John Mayer. Sound good? Join me from five past nine this Tuesday and repeated from seven on Friday on BBC Radio Scotland.