Michael Shannon On Learning To Sing Country For ‘George & Tammy’: “Sing It Like You Are Sitting At A Bar Telling A Story”

George Jones country music
Dana Hawley/Showtime

I have to imagine that learning to sing like the greatest country singer of all time ain’t easy.

And of course, no one will ever really be able to impersonate the legend George Jones, but so far (based on one episode), the new George & Tammy series is off to a great start.

I’m already completely hooked after this week’s premiere, which I highly recommend you checking out in its entirety HERE if you haven’t seen it yet. I promise, it’s worth it.

Michael Shannon is starring as George Jones, with Academy Award winner Jessica Chastain as Tammy Wynette, and the docuseries is chronicling their careers in country music, as well as their tumultuous relationship.

And one of the things I was so impressed by, aside from the obviously great acting, was the music. Now I’m not saying they’re the second coming of either one, of course, but both actors are doing their own singing for the series.

Like I said, no small task, but it’s admirable that they were willing to take it on, and do a pretty decent job to boot. Personally, I think it makes the show so much more authentic and believable, as opposed to them just lip-syncing over old studio recordings.

But you know an insane amount of work went into getting them ready to hit the studio, with countless hours spent with some of the best vocal coaches around, as they learned everything there is to know about singin’ country music in order to full embrace their rolls as the most iconic country couple ever.

In a recent interview with Variety, the starring actors spilled a little bit about the details and what exactly they learned that helped them, and Michael Shannon says the best piece of advice was this:

“There’s a reason God put your nose in the middle of your face.”

He continued, saying Ron Browning, one of the premiere vocal coaches who was on set for this series and works with the likes of Alison Krauss, told them that all the time.

Michael added that it was somewhat of a learning curve, as George Jones had a bit of that nasal quality in his own vocals (though I’d venture to say a one Willie Nelson is most famous for that characteristic), and is almost the opposite of how most people think you’re “supposed” to sing:

“That’s what Ron Browning used to say all the time. Because he was trying to get us to use our nose horns, and get our voices in our nose, which is not something…

I don’t think, Jessica, when you were at Juilliard, there was anybody talking about the nose horn in voice class. I certainly was not familiar with the nose horn. I always thought you were supposed to just put it on the back of your teeth…

You always think, ‘Well, I’ve got this big high note I’ve gotta hit — I better take a big gulp of air.’ And Ron would say, ‘Don’t breathe at all. And as a matter of fact, push your stomach out.’

The opposite of taking a deep breath. There’s no way that it’s gonna work — and then it works. So it’s little tricks like that.”

He said that he came to learn that pretty quickly, and it actually allowed him to deliver the music with so much more authenticity and sincerity, which is a non-negotiable in this genre.

Ron also told him that the real key was, instead of belting out some sad song and giving it everything he had, to sing like he’s sitting at a bar telling a sad story he’d told a hundred times before:

“Well, and it’s not just George. I mean, a lot of country singers — it’s a style of singing in country, I think… It’s the honk — but it’s also a great resonator. Actually, you can sing much more quietly and be heard just as effectively, as opposed to trying to build, you know?

I’d be singing this song that is just full of passion or longing or loss or suffering, and he’d say, ‘Just sing it like me and you are sitting at a bar and you’re telling me a story, and that’s it. You’re just telling me a story. And just do it like you’re bored, like you’ve told this story a hundred times.’

And it would be at such odds with what you thought, you know: ‘Oh, I’m supposed to be making this amazing, dramatic moment happen.’ And he was like, ‘No, that do the opposite.'”

Country music is just three chords and the truth, after all, right?

Some solid advice, if I do say so myself… sad songs are the backbone of the genre, and George Jones had the saddest ones of all time, so that’s really the only way to approach it and go about trying to mimic him.

And if you wanna see some of Michael and Jessica’s singin’ chops on full display, their performance of Tammy’s 1967 hit “Your Good Girl’s Gonna Go Bad” is heart warming and fantastic:

A beer bottle on a dock



A beer bottle on a dock