I like all sorts of music, having grown up in the sixties and seventies. My musical whims are all over the lot, which is probably why Drew and Cali never allow me to plug in my playlists on location.
News came this week that George Jones died. I never photographed him, and only know a few songs of his, but there was a beautiful, suffering quality to his voice. Anybody desperate enough to drive a lawnmower eight miles to town just to get a drink has got something to sing about, for sure.
I did photograph one of the women of his tumultuous life, Tammy Wynette, down at her home, First Lady Acres, in Nashville. Like George, her life was a roller coaster of love, loss, and the lyrics that sprang from it. We only spent a day, but even in that day, I picked up on a wistfulness, a certain ambient pain that lingered around her.
She of course famously wrote, “Stand by Your Man,” of which she once said, “I spent fifteen minutes writing it, and a lifetime explaining it.”
The great thing about being a photog is that you meet people like Tammy. I was working for People Magazine, and one of the smartest, most wonderfully down to earth editors ever, MC Marden. MC was a fan, so I brought Tammy’s Stand by Your Man album with me, and had her sign it to MC, with the alteration: “MC—Stand by Your Magazine.” I believe MC still has it on her wall.
I also made a location snap that still makes me smile, of myself and Tammy reflected in her vanity mirror. I remember saying to her that right then I was the envy of a lot of men, getting a picture made with her. Ever the lady of the house, she smiled knowingly, and fluttered her eyes at me. She knew it was a photo shoot, and she was being flattered, but she liked it, nonetheless.
Music intertwines readily, emotionally with life, and the lives of the musicians who play it. Music sees you through, and it opens your heart. Strains of certain songs are evocative of time and place. Others are a warp speed return to a specific event or memory.
This is certainly true of country music, which I don’t claim to be all that knowledgeable about, but certainly listen to. My life is richer because Johnny Cash, Lucinda Williams and Emmylou Harris picked up a guitar and stepped to a microphone. And I do remember that day with Tammy Wynette.