Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Honky Tonk tribe embraced country music

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COUNTRY music legend Kitty Wells died a few weeks ago. I took note because my grandma Noella was a big fan of hers. Ah, Kitty. I can still hear her voice in my head.

Her big hit It Wasn't God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels was heard in our household many times while I was growing up, along with those of the other old classic country crooners. Everyone talked about them on a first name basis, like they were family.

Along with Kitty Wells, there was George (or "Georgie"), Waylon, Hank, Johnny, Conway, Patsy, Loretta, and later Crystal Gayle -- whom I think one of my cousins is named after. And who could forget Kenny and Dolly.

Most of us knew the words to the songs, and would sing along -- not in a Partridge Family way, but to sing a few lines to someone nearby, and maybe dance around a bit if you really wanted to get everyone happy and giggling.

I'm sure it was my auntie Jean who sang the loudest of everyone, and even today she still sings along to her music while cleaning house. It didn't matter if it was a sad or happy country tune; we enjoyed them all the same.

Sometimes when I hear snippets of those old songs on those commercials for country classic CD sets, I sing along too. It's been a long time since I heard them, so it's amazing what your brain can remember.

I guess our family was a tribe of Honky Tonk Indians.

Back when I was a kid, there were a lot of Honky Tonk Indians around. I guess we loved the music so much some of us liked to dress like we were headed off to the Grand Ole Opry. It actually looked pretty cool.

Some men wore cowboy boots, or button-up shirts, jeans and silver and turquoise belt buckles. Some guys even wore cowboy hats.

Today you see the odd aboriginal person dressed up country-music style, but it's usually just for special occasions like a concert or a social. I still think there are a lot of country music fans kicking around every rural rez; they just aren't as easy to pick out.

Our attraction to country music makes sense if you think about it. Aboriginal people had it really rough back then, compared to the opportunities we have now. They probably got some comfort listening to the old country tunes that told simple stories of love, loss and redemption.

Something about that music just resonated with us, so much so that we took it and made it our own.

Maybe a song of woe made us all a little bit stronger once our time to cry came around.

When you're feeling depressed, it's nice to know someone else has been there too and knows how you feel. I guess that's why a lot of people love country music so much. At least that's what I get out of it.

Kitty Wells' passing reminded me how much has changed over the years. Or has it?

I don't listen to country music much anymore, and my son's generation is more into dance and hip-hop.

George Jones and Kitty Wells have long been replaced by Drake, Riahanna, and Justin Bieber -- who I've heard may have a treaty card but may not yet have a clue what it really means. That's OK, Justin. There's lots of time to figure out what it means to be aboriginal.

But take out the slick beats and you've still got songs of crying, loving and, yes, leaving. It's hard to imagine the words of Lady Gaga will be remembered as fondly as Kitty's, but it could happen.

Even country music has gotten a whole lot more sophisticated. They are still songs of love or heartbreak, but songs with catchy lyrics, fancy videos and glossy singers.

Music and its packaging is different but the message is still the same. Maybe some things never really change.


Colleen Simard is a Winnipeg writer.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 4, 2012 J6

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