With a voice that defined the sound of country music in the 1960’s and beyond, Virginia Pugh – or as Producer Billy Sherrill christened her Tammy Wynette – had a catch in her voice that always seemed to be holding back the tears. Whether in joyous acclamation or dark despair Wynette could take the listener on a two minute journey that turned even the most banal lyrics into a gripping narrative.
Seen through the prism of today’s social and moral attitudes, kitchen sink vignettes like ‘Ways To Love A Man’ and ‘Enough Of A Woman’ hark back to a time when the conservative values of Middle America still held sway. There was no question of burning your bra for many housewives during the Kennedy era though and these recordings unwittingly document a time of quiet desperation for many women. That said there’s a dignity in Wynette’s delivery that tells of the years she experienced poverty, hard work and the life of a single mother after her first marriage dissolved.
These recordings certainly struck a chord with her public; ‘The Ways to Love a Man’ and ‘Tammy’s Touch’ were amongst Tammy’s best-selling albums, both staying in the charts for more than half a year each. Her first number one ‘Elusive Dreams’ – a duet with country legend David Houston is also included along with her much underrated ‘Inspirations’ album which features a stupendous version of ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ a personal favourite of hers and to my mind packed with vocal performances she never bettered.
In a sense, though she had no social or political slant this was a period of emancipation for the girl from Alabama. In 2010, “Stand By Your Man” was chosen by the Library of Congress for inclusion in the National Recording Registry, for being a song that is “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.” ‘I guess I just enjoy being a woman,’ she once said. These songs demonstrate that she was one of a kind. Tragically she died at the age of just 55 and didn’t live to see it but her legacy lives on.