Three Chords and the Truth: Surprising Facts About the Making of “Country Music: A Film by Ken Burns”

After traveling thousands upon thousands of miles the "Country Music" team racked up impressive stats. Here are a few fun factoids about the new show.

The team behind Ken Burns’ new documentary put their best cowboy boot-clad feet forward to create “Country Music.” After countless months of climbing in cars and traveling thousands upon thousands of miles — á la June Carter and Johnny Cash — the team racked up some impressive stats. Sorting through countless boxes pulled out of forgotten libraries, as well as attics and closets in the homes of artists’ families unearthed a treasure trove of history that reveal an insider’s look at the stars and the songs so many of us love.

Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash in a 1969 issue of LOOK magazine. | Wikimedia Commons/ Joel Baldwin
Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash in a 1969 issue of LOOK magazine. | Wikimedia Commons/ Joel Baldwin

So hold on to that cowboy hat. Here are a few fun factoids about the new show:

  • More than 100 interviews were conducted, 40 of which include Country Music Hall of Famers.
  • Filming took place in 10 states and (sometimes-strange) historic locations like Willie Nelson’s bus and Capitol Studios in Hollywood.
  • More than 700 hours of archival footage was collected. Less than 1% of it made it into the film.
  • Rare footage from shows like “Stars of the Grand Ole Opry,” “Austin City Limits” and the “Johnny Cash Show,” as well as the only known 35-millimeter footage of Jimmie Rodgers in a Long Beach warehouse were discovered.
  • Extraordinary footage doesn’t stop there. The film includes home movies of music parks, musicians on the road, as well as never-before-seen Cash Family home movies, plucked right from the Cash household, thanks to Cash’s daughters.
  • 76 publishing licenses from the likes of Dolly Parton and Willie Nelson were granted.
  • More than 100,000 photos were compiled after traveling coast-to-coast through 11 states, from New Hampshire to California. A little over 3% made it in the final film.
Dolly Parton signs Martin D-28 guitar. Parton is among the 76 of the 101 country music artists interviewed for the series who signed two Martin D-28 guitars. | Courtesy of Katy Haas
Dolly Parton signs Martin D-28 guitar. Parton is among the 76 of the 101 country music artists interviewed for the series who signed two Martin D-28 guitars. | Courtesy of Katy Haas

We also learned a few backstories that made us love country music a little more, like the reason we hear yodeling in country music and the unlikely friendships between country music stars and performers from other musical genres. If you’re looking to learn more about this truly American music genre from its deep roots in ballads, hymns and blues to its mainstream popularity, watch Ken Burns’ “Country Music.” Watch this PBS Preview below.