Roundup: Duet Superstars

Emmylou Harris and Gram Parsons
Emmylou Harris and Gram Parsons

CMT has this new reality show called, “Can You Duet?”
As if we haven’t had enough American Idol, it’s coming to haunt us over in country music land as well.

Of course there are always those people that have a difficult time carrying a tune in a bucket, and there are the duos where each party thinks they’re holding the reins of the horse. It’s what makes the show even slightly interesting. And it’s better than watching celebrities reveal their “hidden talents.”

While Naomi Judd looks for the winners that make good television, we’ll take a look at some (not all) real vocal marriages made in musical heaven.


Gram Parsons and Emmylou Harris
As a member of the Fallen Angels (changed from the Turkeys because she didn’t want to be in a band called the Turkeys), Emmylou Harris brought a female dimension to Gram’s cosmic cowboy style. Unfortunately, Gram’s untimely death in 1973 means that there’s a limit to the music these two can create.

Listen to: In My Hour of Darkness, Streets Of Baltimore, The Angels Rejoiced Last Night and the quintessential Love Hurts.

The Complete Reprise Sessions set released a few years ago includes all of these tunes from “Grievous Angel” and “G.P.” as well as lots of alternate versions and some super interviews from Emmy and Gram.

Bonnie Raitt and Jackson Browne

Bonnie Raitt and Jackson Browne
Bonnie Raitt and Jackson Browne

Two peas in the proverbial political pod, both Bonnie Raitt and Jackson Browne balance their time between singing and protesting. They’ve been arrested at protests together but they’ve also spent some studio time together. Both have the California sound and when combined and stirred slightly they sound fantastic.

Listen to: Kisses Sweeter Than Wine, My Opening Farewell and Warren Zevon’s Poor, Poor Pitiful Me. If you can get your hands on a show with them and Bruce Springsteen or the Red Rocks, CO show that was broadcast on the internet in ’99 listen and bask in the fabulousness.

Tom Petty and Stevie Nicks

Stevie Nicks and Tom Petty
Stevie Nicks and Tom Petty

They’ve drifted in and out of each other’s lives. Stevie’s joined Tom on tour twice: once in ’86 when he was touring with Bob Dylan and more recently when she tagged along for a series of shows in ’06. Of course, they were on each other’s early ’80s albums as well.

For some reason, Tom’s nasal whine and Stevie’s distinctive sound blend unexpectedly well. Of course everyone knows about Stop Dragging My Heart Around so listen to Insider and the often overlooked I Will Run To You. Tom also put a great version of Apartment Song with Stevie on his box set.

John Prine and Iris Dement
If for no other reason than they can get away with singing lines like “He ain’t been laid in a month of Sundays / Caught him once he was sniffin’ my undies,” and “swears like a sailor when she shaves her legs” in a country song, without cracking up John and Iris deserve a spot on any list of great duet pairs.

Listen to: In Spite of Ourselves, We’re Not the Jet Set, and Let’s Invite Them Over.

While you’re at it, pretty much anyone John sings with makes a great duet. Speed at the Sound of Loneliness with Nanci Griffith and Angel From Montgomery with Bonnie Raitt are equally amazing. Finally, YouTube has a hilarious version of In Spite of Ourselves with John and Patty Griffin, though she lacks Iris’ ability to sing it with a straight face.

Johnny and June Cash

Johnny and June Cash
Johnny and June Cash

The only couple on this list that’s married, they made a name for themselves as a duet pair in concerts, TV shows and are now immortalized in Walk The Line. Perhaps one of the greatest love stories in all of music, they needed each other.

Musically speaking, listen to: Jackson (note – June’s dress in this video is cute!), Long-Legged Guitar Pickin’ Man and It Ain’t Me Babe. Also, remember that June wrote Ring of Fire.

Just for kicks and giggles, see this clip of Johnny and June being funny.

Conway Twitty and Loretta Lynn

Conway Twitty and Loretta Lynn
Conway Twitty and Loretta Lynn

There’s a reason they recorded multiple albums together and they’ve got whole “best of” albums devoted to their duets. They were nominated for 12 years straight for the best country duo.
They’re in a three-way tie with Tammy Wynette and George Jones and Dolly Parton and Porter Wagoner for country duet greatness.

Listen to: You’re The Reason Our Kids Are Ugly, Louisiana Woman, Mississippi Man and After the Fire Is Gone.

This clip isn’t Loretta and Conway singing, but it’s Kelly Hogan who’s got an equally beautiful set of pipes singing about ugly kids.

Dolly Parton, Linda Ronstadt and Emmylou Harris

Trio
Trio

Yes, technically this is a trio. That’s beside the point because the sound they make together is what plays in heaven. They did two albums, Trio and Trio 2 (creative name, right?) and they all floated in and out of each other’s albums over the past thirty years. Emmy and Linda also recorded an album, Western Wall in 1999.

Listen to: To Know Him Is To Love Him, Dear Companion, Lover’s Return, Do I Ever Cross Your Mind and Neil Young’s After The Goldrush.

Photos from respective artists’ sites, except of Bonnie and Jackson, which I took at the Cricket Pavilions.

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