Fourteen years ago today, Tammy Wynette died, leaving us--if nothing else--one of the greatest bridges of any song in existence. And one of the best country songs ever. The bridge in question is in "Stand By Your Man" and is accompanied by a remarkable steel guitar played by Pete Drake.
Drake played steel on other memorable recordings (Lynn Anderson's "Rose Garden," Charlie Rich's "Behind Closed Doors," Bob Dylan's "Lay Lady Lay") and there are those who claim Sonny Curtis actually did the steel on "Stand" (doesn't appear to be either of them on this recording.) Whoever did it etched himself into the annals of great music. The best version of the song (and it's not on video, unfortunately) is the record, produced and arranged by Tammy's long-time producer Billy Sherrill.
Tammy Wynette was the bouffant-haired wife of George Jones who defined an age in country and the woman "sophisticates" like to point to when ridiculing the genre. They have no clue. Her four-octave range (same as Dolly Parton's) is that of an upper-level opera diva and her voice was as much a weapon in its raw power as an instrument. Her final note in "Stand," sung with incredible ease, is astonishing. Most singers wouldn't even aspire to that note. (Compare Carrie Underwood's pitiful little version here. But remember, you're comparing an average country-pop singer with a goddess.)
It's the bridge in "Stand" that always slays me. If I'm in the truck, I turn the radio to full volume (which is substantial), crank up the windows and sing in full throat with her--though nowhere near her. It is a spine-tingling series of notes and vocal acrobatics that always leaves me near exhaustion. It's a damn three-minute country song and it is simply as emotional as anything I know.
Tammy spent the last 10 or so years of her life with a worn-out voice (here's her final Opry appearance and it's sad), I guess because she had no idea how to take care of it. Had she been a violin, people would have treated her as a Stradivarius. But she was just a country singer, expendable. Too bad we are so short-sighted.