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Tammy Wynette: Tragic Country Queen Hardcover – March 4, 2010

4.2 out of 5 stars 72 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

A Conversation with Author Jimmy McDonough
Jimmy McDonough
Can we get a hamburger?

No, Jimmy, we have to discuss your new book.

Oh, right, this is where the author toots his own horn for a few pages. Well, I already tooted the horn for close to 400 pages. The horn is tired. The horn is flaccid.

Thank you for that lovely image, Jimmy, but let’s get to business: why Tammy Wynette?

Why Tammy? I’ll tell you why. Wynette’s one of the greatest singers this country has ever produced, yet you never hear about her. Tammy’s taken for granted. And if you do her about her, it’s because of her anthem, “Stand By Your Man.” Some people never got past that one. They assume Tammy is just some sort of one-dimensional anti-feminist mouthpiece. She’s much more complex than people give her credit for. Until illness and drug addiction sidelined her, Tammy was very, very independent. She sold millions of records and changed the game for female country singers. Madonna? Lady Gaga? Wynette created that kind of frenzy back in the sixties/seventies, only with a steel guitar. She sang for five presidents, and was known to smooch both Ronald Reagan and George Wallace on lips after belting one out for their benefit. Among her fans you’ll find diverse artists as Loretta Lynn, Elton John, Tanya Tucker, Sting, Faith Hill and James Taylor. “One of the greatest voices of all time,” says Dolly Parton.

This is a woman who overcame many obstacles. Nashville potentates told Tammy she’d never make it; door after door was slammed in her face. Her mother Mildred fought her every step of the way—only to wind up running her daughter’s fan club once Wynette became a star. Tammy came from out of nowhere, a divorcee with three kids, and absolutely conquered Music City. “She went from bein’ a beautician to the queen of country music,” notes Emmylou Harris.

I must admit, I have been a fan of Tammy’s most of my life. I always thought I’d write about her someday. I give all to my books—this isn’t just a gig for me—and I can only write about people I deeply admire. I like Tammy even more now than before I started the book—which isn’t always the case, heh heh. So this book was a labor of love.

Give us five words to describe Tammy Wynette.

Regal, single-minded, conflicted, elusive, haunted.

What did you come to admire about Wynette the most?

She was definitely a larger-than-life character, just as extreme as any of her male counterparts. As was her music. “I believe you have to live the songs,” insisted Wynette. Tammy took the romantic country ballad and just drove it into the ground. One sad song after another—after another! She was unrelenting. Even at the end of her life when she practically had to crawl onstage to sing, Tammy refused to give up. I love that.

Of course, there have been two books on Wynette already.

Yes, there have, but neither offer the complete story. The first was her autobiography, Stand By Your Man, in which author Joan Dew captures Tammy’s voice brilliantly. That book was one of the reasons I became a writer. But it’s only Tammy’s side of the story, and it ends in the seventies, before her life got truly weird. The other book was written directly after Tammy’s death by her daughter Jackie (with Tom Carter), and is basically an indictment of Wynette’s final husband, George Richey.

So Tammy’s never gotten a proper biography. Many of the people I interviewed—her friends, band members, hairdressers, childhood playmates—have never spoken publicly before. And some of them were so unsettled by her death it took until now for them to talk.

Tammy was much more eccentric than people think. She had a passion for clip-on earrings and a strong dislike for feminine hygiene commercials. She could be extremely generous and very vindictive. She had a wry, observant sense of humor and admitted to smoking the occasional joint. Tammy got to people—I’m talking as a person, not as a singer—on a very deep level, yet she wasn’t one to expose her feelings in any sort of direct way. There is many a riddle to this lady and, despite four years of intense research, still so much I can’t explain.

What’s the most surprising thing you learned researching her life?

Well, Tammy liked to embellish. Not maliciously, for the most part—she’d just get excited and add details to spice things up. She was a teller of tall tales. So much so that when her autobiography came out, co-author Joan Dew, to pass the time, would quiz her on the contents while out on the road. “She didn’t know the answers,” admitted Dew. “I don’t think she’d ever read the book.”

The other thing that was surprised me was how reticent Wynette was to spill the beans to friends and family. In interviews and performances Tammy seemed so open and forthcoming, but in private she wasn’t exactly an open book. That’s why this biography is important—you get a much fuller picture from those closest to her than she would ever revealed herself.

Read the full interview

From Publishers Weekly

There's no mistaking McDonough's take on Tammy Wynette's artistry: of her first single, Apartment No. 9, he writes, I don't know if there has ever been a more perfect debut. But his adulation is not uncritical—he concedes that the first country musician to go platinum also released plenty of clunkers; more importantly, he gives voice to both Wynette's closest friends and the families of those like her first husband, Euple Byrd, who were cast aside in the formation of her legend. McDonough (Shakey) brings a passionate flair to his language, describing Wynette and her third husband (and frequent collaborator) George Jones as a pair of walking haunted houses, but occasionally slips into sentimental excess, particularly in imaginary letters to his subject. Did anyone ever just let you be Wynette? ends a typical missive. Long detours covering the lives of Jones and Nashville producer Billy Sherrill provide valuable context, but the emphasis is squarely on Wynette and her personal tragedies, including a long slide into drug addiction and a mysterious death some still suspect may have been foul play. Combining pop musicology and tabloid gossip, McDonough has crafted a fitting tribute to a country music icon. Black-and-white photo insert not seen by PW. (Mar. 4)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Viking Adult; First Edition edition (March 4, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0670021539
  • ISBN-13: 978-0670021536
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.4 x 9.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (72 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #565,137 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
"Tammy Wynette: Tragic Country Queen" is an exceptional biography on one of music's most beloved singers and one of the most popular female country acts Nashville has ever produced. Jimmy McDonough documents Tammy's humble beginnings in Mississippi where her dream was to be as big a star as one of her idols, Patsy Cline. She was married five times in her life, often in tumultuous relationships, the most popular to George Jones in which the marriage produced a daughter. The marriage ended in 1975 due to Jone's severe bout with alcoholism. Tammy also had three other children. In this book McDonough details in articulate account how Tammy made it in Nashville, a man's world in the 1960's, and her ultimate encounter with record executive Billy Sherril who got her to record her first hit "Apartment #9". After that record Tammy suddenly became a household name, winning three consecutive Female Vocalist of the Year Awards starting in 1968 and winning two Grammy's. The highs and lows of Tammy's life are here, from the times she would perform for Presidents to her severe health problems to her untimely death in 1998 when the world was shattered by losing her. A better than average country music biography, Tammy's close friend and fellow artist Dolly Parton is interviewed and she offers personal insights into Tammy's life and career.
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Format: Hardcover
With a voice that cut through the noise of modern life as clearly as a champagne glass tapped with a silver knife at a wedding reception, Tammy Wynette touched the hearts of millions of Americans and left them better for having heard.

It's doubtful any American during the past half-century was not stirred by 'Stand By Your Man' which, like 'D-I-V-O-R-C-E' became her defining signature. These songs are an opera within themselves, a "sound bite" that defines the hopes and fears of millions. Wynette's crystal voice soared above the noisy chatter of everyday life with a clarity that could only be envied by everyone who wants to speak to the public.

Her voice was awesome. What then of the woman around that voice? This book says the answer was a ceaseless relentless merciless obsession for perfection, relevance and acceptance that eventually destroyed the mind and body that housed it all. If heartbreak and tragedy are the price of fame; then, Lord God, Wynette paid the price in full.

She sought too much from life. In so doing, she trusted too many erratic husbands and too many selfish advisors who placed their own interests first instead of Wynette's best interests. As Wynette said after one divorce, "If ever a home was broken up by outsiders, it was ours."

McDonough points out, "Contrary to the legend, Wynette did not crawl out of abject poverty . . ." As she said on one occasion, "I have always gotten everything I ever wanted, but I didn't get what I needed."

The "poverty" legend became poart of the glitter of her life. Dolly Parton once summed it up her own background nicely by telling an interviewer, "Well, you didn't live in the country and nearly starve to death.
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Format: Hardcover
Absolutely fantastic, marvellously written bio on larger than life but much overlooked country queen. Even if you have just a passing interest in C&W or Wynette this book will carry you away simply because it's so well written. Clearly a fan, the author is not afraid to pass some just critisism on some of her recordings or pass judgement on some of the stuff she pulled in life. Even better the book gives some great insight into how the Nashville industry worked in the 70's,growing up in the South and the way women were viewed (there was a whole lot more to Wynette than just a doormat who would stand by her man.)Even better the book will have you run to the nearest record store to buy and listen to what McDonough writes about.You'll be in for a surprise though because apart from the obligatory greatest hits selections there's very little there. Sony/Legacy has criminally overlooked Wynette's 70's albums.Check the second hand record stores instead or check Ebay.You won't be dissapointed there's tons and tons of fantastic songs to be found. And ofcourse those album covers. Read, listen and enjoy!
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Format: Hardcover
Those four words above describe the new book. The author has done his research extensively and backs up his claims with his resources.

Tammy Wynette was a very complicated woman, looking for the idealistic life. She did not find it in this life. Up to her death she was constantly looking for that "Elusive Dream"....that ideal "love".

The author is incredibly fair in his assessment of Wynette's character. He pulls no punches. She was not a perfect human being and he does not portray her as one. She says she embellished the truth to make it more exciting.

He has also conducted an extensive array of interviews with Don Chapel (Tammy's second husband), Tammy's close friend and pal growing up, Linda Cayson, Chapel's daughter, Donna, George and Nancy Jones, Wynette Biographer Joan Dew, Loretta Lynn (Tammy's best girlfriend in the music business), Jan Howard and many, many others. He also gave George Richey a chance to tell his story but he declined to be interviewed.

This book also contains a great career retrospective and a great chapter on Billy Sherrill, Tammy's long-time producer.

True, this book does not portray George Richey in a good light....but the author is fair as he gets quotes here from RIchey's defenders. Unfortunately, RIchey's defenders are in the minority. When all is said and done, the final analysis here is that Wynette was, like Judy Garland, an addictive personality who had to be under the control of a man....well she got what she wanted.....there was no one more controlling than George Richey. There are several testaments here to the fact that Tammy loved her daughters and her daughters loved her. No, their relationship wasn't ideal (what is???
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