What Ken Burns’ Country Music Missed

Second-guessing Ken Burns documentaries has become a national pastime, especially when they focus on something close to viewers’ hearts, like music. When he tackled jazz years ago, naysayers ran rampant, and his 2019 PBS doc Country Music is similarly fodder for Monday-morning quarterbacks.

Even when you’re making an eight-part miniseries in which each episode runs about two hours, if you’re tackling a topic as monumental as country music, some things are bound to end up on the cutting-room floor. Burns did a bang-up job overall, but that doesn’t mean there weren’t some inevitable omissions.

You don’t have to go digging back through all eleventy-jillion hours of Country Music to figure out which important country artists didn’t make the final cut. We’ve done the heavy lifting for you with this playlist of the people who were left out. While some of the artists Country Music forgot might be familiar only to hardcore country fans, others are bound to induce a major amount of bemused head-scratching.

Let’s look at some of the legendary, enormously influential artists who fall into that latter camp, for starters. We’ve got the likes of Billy Joe Shaver, who’s as responsible for the outbreak of outlaw country in the ’70s as anybody. Then there’s rock ’n’ roll giant Jerry Lee Lewis, who managed a remarkable comeback as a country hitmaker in the ’60s and ’70s. And speaking of hitmakers, how about Don Williams, whose sonorous baritone brought him dozens of Top 10 country singles in the ’70s and ’80s? That’s saying nothing of country/pop crossover queen Linda Ronstadt, one of the biggest superstars of the ’70s.

Lesser known but equally important names like country-soul pioneer Tony Joe White, trucker-country hero Del Reeves, and bluegrass star Jimmy Martin are conspicuous in their absence from the series too, but you’ll find them right here. You’re bound to come away with a wider view of country than what Burns’ narrative encompasses.