Kenny Hess and daughter, Becca stopped in 100 Mile House for their ‘The Songs That Wrote Country Music’ tour at the 100 Mile House Community Hall on Saturday, June 1.
Becca opened the show at 7:20 p.m. with a variety of songs written and performed by an array of well-known female country musicians such as Patsy Cline and Dolly Parton. Becca is not only an international recording artist but is the CEO of Rockin’ River Country Music Fest and has a new album, titled Truth, out now.
Becca began her set with the songs “Jolene” and “9 to 5” by Parton, who she called an inspiration and personal mentor.
“I’m excited to honour [Dolly] and others tonight,” she said.
The first two songs Becca performed were easily linked to Parton, who made them famous. The next song, though, was actually made famous by Whitney Houston, but was originally penned by Parton in 1973. The country singer performed “I Will Always Love You” much differently than Houston, of course, but the story proves an important point that both Becca and her father sought to get across during their time on stage: listeners may not always remember the singer, or even the writer accurately, but they will almost always recognize the song, or at the very least, its tune.
Becca also performed a song she wrote with her dad called “I Don’t Do Love Songs.”
Each performance was not simply a song, but a story, as with Becca’s presentation of the song “Once a Day”, which was the first debut single recorded by American country artist Connie Smith. The song was actually written by Bill Anderson and was released in 1964, where it topped the Billboard Country Music Charts for eight weeks. It was the first debut single by a female artist to reach number one on the Billboard Hot Country Songs and kept Smith the record for nearly 50 years before a Taylor Swift song surpassed it in 2012.
When it came time to perform the most recorded country song of all time, Becca advised the crowd that they need not stick by their partner, regardless of what a country song advises. “Stand By Your Man” was released in 1968 and was performed by Tammy Wynette, who co-wrote the tune with the help of Billy Sherrill.
After a period of brief technical difficulties, Hess took the stage, performing music by Merle Haggard first, who Hess calls his favourite artist of all time.
“I started out singing with my dad at age three or four,” Hess told his audience between songs. “I started writing songs at age seven. I used to stand on the kitchen table and sing old country songs. By fifteen, I started my own band.”
Hess grew up on a little farm in Nesbitt, Manitoba, a town which had four telephone poles at the time, he said.
But his family had an a.m. radio in the grain truck that sat in their field. That’s where Hess found the music he grew to love.
In that grain truck, Hess first encountered “the most beautiful song [he] ever heard”. The song was called “Sing Me Back Home” and told the story of a death-row inmate wishing to return home through the sounds of the songs closest to his heart.
“How powerful is it that songs can do that?” Hess asked his audience. “That’s what tonight is about: songs and how wonderful they can be.”
In 1977, Hess was performing as a young man in a hotel in Lethbridge, Alta., when a stranger overheard his set from the hall and stopped him for a chat after the show. Charley Pride was the man in the hall, and before Hess knew it, he was embarking on the road alongside one of country music’s brightest stars. Naturally, Hess followed this story with one of Pride’s most famous songs, “Kiss an Angel Good Mornin”.
Hess said that many folks grow up with great music but often don’t consider how the songs came to be.
“Songs take you back to a place,” he said. Many of his favourites were written not by the voices that made them famous, but by staff writers. “A lot of writers don’t get credit, but we like to give it to them.”
Hess was a staff writer himself, working in Nashville. “I was blessed to be born a songwriter,” he said.
Hess went on to perform music by Willie Nelson, Kris Kristofferson, and Harlan Howard, his “personal songwriting hero”. Many songs had the audience singing along, and some of the crowd even got up to dance at the back of the Community Hall.
Hess has five children, of which Becca is the youngest. On Saturday, audience members got to see the two stars perform together in a duet of “All I Need is You”. Hess also performed a touching song he wrote about Becca when she was a child, titled “Becca Fly”.
Hess closed the show with a George Jones’ song he says is the greatest country song ever written, “He Stopped Loving Her Today”.
Guests were entered in a draw to win a new guitar autographed by Hess, which was won by Dave Johnson towards the end of the night.