Tuesday, September 27, 2016

RIP, Jean Shepard

I once had a friend (really!) who paid me a wonderful compliment, saying that I "like people so much, some of them I like twice."  He meant that I love Jerry Lewis and Jerry Lee Lewis, and loved Jean Shepherd, and now, sadly, I have to use the past tense for Jean Shepard.  Jean Shepherd was a radio wit and writer.  You know him from writing "A Christmas Story" which you see every Christmas, but he did a lot more than that.  For years, he had a nightly talk show on WOR-AM in New York, where he would talk off the top of his head about childhood memories or adult concerns. 

Early days
The woman who just passed away this weekend, the lady with the homophonous name as the radio raconteur, was born Ollie Imogene Shepard in Dustbowl-era Oklahoma in 1933.  It's not wrong to say that both Jean Shepherd and Jean Shepard were radio stars; she sang on WSM-AM's Grand Ole Opry from 1955 until her recent illness.  But of course, she was known for recordings and concert appearances as well, singing with that clear, crisp twang that sounds just like country music ought to sound.

Middle days
She was married to fellow Opry great Hawkshaw Hawkins, who died in a plane crash along with Patsy Cline and Cowboy Copas in 1963.   She had one child with Hawkshaw and another due to be born in a month at the time of his death, and at first, she was unsure that she should continue performing, feeling the urge to raise her sons at home in a more 9-to-5 atmosphere.  We can be glad that she stopped by the Opry stage one Saturday night shortly after losing her husband, and decided then to keep singing for the people who loved her and her songs.

And what songs!  Second Fiddle to an Old Guitar! A Tear Dropped By! And Then He Touched Me! Someone's Gotta Cry! And this one - a Bill Anderson song, Slippin' Away. That last one is all the more wonderful because it shows Jean truly in her element, among a group known as the Grand Ladies of Country Music, and their hilarious reaction when the great guitarist Jimmy Capps misses a note.

Golden days
If you listen to those songs, you will hear vivid, heartfelt performances by a woman whose family scrimped and saved to buy a battery for their radio so they could hear the Grand Ole Opry when she was a kid...and she wound up starring on that show for over half a century. She vigorously defended the music she loved against all who knocked it...and that meant when the oafish drunken philanderer Blake Shelton, a current "country" star, said that classic country is for "old farts and jackasses," Jean replied that she loved country music and would not identify the loutish star of The Voice by any more than his initials..."BS...and he's full of it!"

I can't apologize for liking the real good old school country music, and I'm sorry to see the great performers, one by one, leaving us. But you'd better believe that tonight, Jean and her Hawkshaw are dueting again tonight up in Heaven, where no one has to hear Shelton.

No comments: