‘Who’s Gonna Fill Their Shoes?’: Ken Burns reveals who’s missing in ‘Country Music’

PBSFilmmaker Ken Burns admits there’s one person noticeably missing from his sixteen-hour Country Music documentary on PBS.

“We were in negotiation with George Jones‘s people,” he tells ABC Radio. “We thought that our next trip — which was gonna be a week-long trip that would get us 10 or 12 interviews — George would be part of it. And he passed away.”

Still, Burns believes the film skillfully pays homage to the man many regard as the greatest country singer who ever lived.

“I’m really proud of the scenes on George,” he reflects. “I think we do justice to him, and particularly to what is arguably the best country song ever, ‘He Stopped Loving Her Today.'”

Burns is thankful so many of the genre’s legends — whom he compares to Greek gods and goddesses — are in Country Music — and that they voiced their opinions.

“We have Loretta [Lynn], and she’s unbelievable,” he explains. “We have Merle [Haggard], and we’ve lost Merle, and Merle is like Zeus in our film. We have Willie [Nelson].”

“Merle said ‘You’ve got to do Jimmie Rodgers,'” he continues. “You’ve got to do the Maddox Brothers and Rose. You’ve got to do Bob Wills.’ And Willie is saying, “You’ve got to do… Ernest Tubb.'”

Near the film’s beginning, Merle and Willie help bring the earlier legends to life. Toward the end, things come full circle.

“It’s so great that they populate the early episodes, and can make these people real,” Burns points out. “You’re curious about them because these people that are mythic figures in your life are curious about it. And then their own stories catch up.” 

The final four episodes of Country Music start Sunday at 8 p.m. ET on PBS. If you’ve missed any of the earlier episodes, they’re available on PBS.org or Amazon Prime Video.

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