Music Finds Its Own Way: an essay by Connie Kuhns
Readers’ Choice 2022
Part 10

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Tammy Wynette is one of several women on contributor Connie Kuhns’ playlist


Contributors Connie Kuhns and Debbi Salmonsen both have long histories in music.

Kuhns’ 40-year career has focused on women’s music and includes broadcasting, writing and photography. She is well known for launching one of the first ever women’s music radio shows in the ’80s – Rubymusic on Vancouver’s Co-op Radio which she produced and hosted for 15 years. Salmonsen has a deep history working in the not-for-profit sector including art direction and management during the last decade with both the Vancouver Folk Music Festival and the Calgary Folk Music Festival. She’s also an active part-time musician.Today’s post features Kuhns’ wide-ranging essay on a year in music plus a five-song, country-flavoured playlist. Salmonsen features two artists who played at last summer’s Vancouver Festival.

It’s a Wrap!The 5th Annual Readers’ Choice

This is the final instalment of this year’s Readers’ Choice. Thanks to Kurated readers for your enthusiastic reception and to all the contributors who shared their favourite music.

Kris Sig Plastic V3

29 January 2023

Debbi Lynn Salmonsen Vancouver, BC

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Clerel is based in Montreal and originally from Cameroon

2-song Playlist

  1. What I Like About You by Clerel
  2. Waiting On the River by Richard Inman

Clerel was born in Cameroon and influenced both by singing with his grandmother and Cameroon artists Manu Dibango and Francis Bebey and also by singing along to pop radio favourites like Michael Jackson.

It was while studying chemistry in Montreal – and a trip to Memphis and visit to Stax Records – he deepened his connection to soul and the music he performs today.  Not only did he finish his chemistry degree but, within a few years of starting to perform, he had a breakthrough performance on Stephen Colbert. He writes, plays guitar and sings beautifully, with an unusual grace and elegance that is deeply moving.   

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Richard Inman is a musician and indigenous cowboy

Richard Inman writes about the complexities of troubled lives with an honesty and poetic flair that is rare and beautiful.  I am not alone in thinking he is one of the best current songwriters in Canada, and his 2021 release “Come Back Through” has received deserved critical praise.  His ballads are emotionally intuitive, balanced just on the edge of what’s bearable in life, with a small dash of hope to keep trying.  

Like many eloquent troubadours, he writes from his lived experience.  He’s a real hard-living, indigenous cowboy who grew up riding the range and wrangling cattle, and who still loves that as much as performing.   Richard performs solo and with Fortune Block – a lovely harmonic/lyric collaboration with Amber Nielsen of Sweet Alibi.

About Debbi: Debbi Salmonsen considers music as one of her two key passions in life. Professionally, she is a seasoned non-profit leader, with experience in various social service, indigenous law, and arts organizations.

Connie Kuhns Saltspring Island, BC

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Loretta Lynn and Willie Nelson sing Lay Me Down (David McClister Photo)

5-song Playlist

  1. Tennessee Whiskey by Chris Stapleton
  2. Nobody But You by Blake Shelton & Gwen Stefani
  3. Stand By Your Man by Tammy Wynette
  4. River of Time by The Judds
  5. Lay Me Down by Loretta Lynn (feat. Willie Nelson)

Music Finds Its Own Way
Reading. Watching. Listening

It was a big year for reading.

I continued to get my monthly MOJO magazine from my local Salt Spring (Island)Books, although because of high theft, MOJO has stopped including the CD which they have always attached to the cover. Oxford American had outstanding music issues, including their Southern Music Issue, and the recent Winter 2022 “Country Roots”, featuring an essay on the making of the album Trio with Dolly Parton, Linda Ronstadt, and Emmylou Harris. (The CD was safely packaged inside).

I followed up music journalist Lisa Robinson’s 2014 memoir There Goes Gravity: a life in rock and roll, with her excellent 2020 reassessment of music journalism Nobody Ever Asked Me About the Girls: Women, Music and Fame. I finally ordered Jessica Hopper’s book from 2015, The First Collection of Criticism by a Living Female Rock Critic, and I got a copy of Barney Hoskyns’ 2021 collection God is in the Radio, perhaps the greatest title for a book ever,and a sentiment shared by a particular generation of us.

There were other “women in rock” collections, ani difranco’s No Walls and the Recurring Dream, a book on Cilla Black and another on British Divas of the 1960s, and I found a copy of the late Naomi Judd’s 1993 autobiography Love Can Build a Bridge in a Value Village. Finally, I scored the recently published This Woman’s Work: Essays on Music edited by Kim Gordon and Sinead Gleason.

Watching Documentaries

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Peter Jackson’s documentary on the Beatles’ final studio session together was a streaming hit

It was also a year for documentaries. Peter Jackson’s 8-hour Beatles epic Get Back was how I spent a few opening nights in January 2022. It was also when I realized that the bootleg album I bought from under the counter in a head shop in Long Beach, California, back in the day, was recorded from tapes stolen during those sessions.

I was happy, for obvious reasons, to watch the very recent docu-series Women Who Rock,co-produced and directed by the aforementioned Jessica Hopper. She certainly covered a lot of territory with impressive first-person interviews; Fanny made a flash appearance, but she failed to mention the late guitarist Ellen McIlwaine. However, I had the chance to speak with filmmaker Alfonso Maiorana who has been travelling with his crew throughout the US, Canada,Japan and Australia working on his documentary Goddess of Slide: The Forgotten Story of Ellen McIlwaine co-produced with Agata De Santos. It will be released this year.

I watched a newer documentary (2021) on Eric Clapton, Standing at the Crossroads, butI also put in time with older documentaries on Lynyrd Skynrd, Duane Allman, Led Zeppelin, Fleetwood Mac, Stevie Nicks, and the songwriter Dean Dillon, whose 1981 song Tennessee Whiskey written with Linda Hargrove, became a favourite of mine this year. I was introduced to the song when someone used the line “sweet as strawberry wine” in a text, which sent me on a magical mystery tour into YouTube’s chambers where I ended up at the 2015 Country Music Association Awards watching Chris Stapleton and Justin Timberlake just slay this song.Understated but powerful, Morgane Stapleton completed the harmonies. That year, Chris Stapleton included the song, which had previously been recorded by David Allan Coe and George Jones, on his 2-album debut Traveller.

Steeped In Popular Culture

Confessing to a life lost in popular culture, I watched country singer Blake Shelton and pop-ska artist Gwen Stefani fall in love while working as coaches on the music competition show, The Voice. But my silliness aside, I was swept away by their intensity as partners when I watched them at the opening of the Grammys in 2020. After a sad Kobe Bryant tribute, who had died just hours before, Blake and Gwen sang their duet Nobody But You, at one point, discretely steadying the other. The song was included in Blake’s CD Fully Loaded: God’s Country. I’m currently playing it in my car.

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Gwen Stefani and Blake Shelton

I have just finished watching George and Tammy, a six-episode mini-series about the relationship between Tammy Wynette and George Jones, based on their daughter Georgette Jones’ book The Three of Us: Growing up with Tammy and George. Besides being a stellar production with great music, it is also a stark reminder of what some women had to do to survive. Tammy fled her second husband’s home when she was four months pregnant. However, she was captured, given electric shock treatments, and sent back. When she took her children and ran to safety with George Jones, it was another cruel shock to learn that her survival, as well as their music careers, would depend on his mental health and ability to get and stay sober. She wrote Stand by Your Man with her collaborator Billy Sherril, in the context of that survival. She had to hold on until he could. The women in her audience understood that. At the time, in my arrogance, I did not. Many women understand that still. It was at the request of their daughter, that Tammy not be portrayed as a victim in the series. Without giving too much away, she fought all the way. I believe she started fighting with this song.

Turning Toward Country Music

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Wynona and Naomi Judd

I’m not looking too deeply into why I’ve turned toward country music at this time; music finds its own way, but I love the cross-genre collaborations that create clean stories like Tennessee Whiskey and Nobody But You. It’s also important to look back at the circumstances during which art is created, and see it honestly in its own time. Stand by Your Man is what I’m talking about.

We lost Loretta Lynn and Naomi Judd this year. Tragically, Naomi’s battle with mental health issues, with roots in childhood sexual abuse, combined with the side effects of lithium prescribed to treat her, ended with a gun the night before she was to be inducted, with her daughter Wynona, into the Country Music Hall of Fame. Loretta’s story ended properly; although she had previously had a stroke, she was 90 years old when she died of natural causes. Loretta Lynn spoke to women in their homes and in their hearts while suffering personal and professional consequences. But as a strong female pioneer, she suffered those consequences with pride. Like Tammy, she was honest about what went on in her marriage and the seriousness of the compromises she made. She stood up for herself and the women in her tribe with her songs. “I didn’t write for the men”, she said in an interview with the AP in 2016. “I wrote for us women, and men loved it, too”.

I’m reassured that so many women are publishing books, telling their stories, and sharing their collections. It’s been a very long time coming. However, in a recent irony, the Brit Awards eliminated their Best Male and Best Female Artist awards last year in favour of gender-neutral prizes. (“We wanted to be even more inclusive, recognizing exceptional work rather than how artists identify”). However, when the nominations were announced for this year’s ceremony, the finalists were all men. To that I say, check out Joan Jett andCarrie Underwood performing together at the 2019 Country Music Awards. We honour our own.

——-About Connie: Connie Kuhns has a 40-year history as an essayist, journalist, photographer and broadcaster. A collection of her essays and interviews, Rubymusic: A Popular History of Women’s Music and Culture will be published by Caitlin Press in the spring. For 15 years she was the producer and host of the groundbreaking show Rubymusic on Vancouver Co-op Radio, specializing in music by women. Her essays have been finalists for a National Magazine Award, a Western Magazine Award, Best American Essay Series, Prism International, LA Review Literary Awards, the New York Times Modern Love column, and the Frank McCourt Memoir Prize. Her photographs have appeared in the Washington Post, Globe and Mail, Geist, and in individual exhibitions.

Video of Carrie Underwood and Joan Jett at the Country Music Awards – 2019