If I were to tell you that there is a movie that includes all the following people:
President Jimmy Carter, Bob Dylan, Gregg Allman, Willie Nelson, Madeleine Albright, Garth Brooks, Rosanne Cash, Bono, Jimmy Buffett, Michael Curry, Chuck Leavel, Nile Rodgers, Paul Simon, George Wein, Jann Wenner, Trisha Yearwood, Andrew Young and Hunter S. Thompson.
And if I were to add that the movie’s score was written by Bill Wharton, and directed by his daughter, internationally known documentary director, Mary Wharton.
Would it help if I mentioned that Bill Wharton is also known as the Sauce Boss, a steamy-gumbo-cooking blues player who over the years has given new meaning to the phrase “a tasty performance” because he stirs up a big pot of gumbo while performing and then feeds the audience?
Well, if you put that all together, and then, having read the headline and seen the image at right, you’ll know I’m talking about “Jimmy Carter – Rock & Roll President,” the smart and lovingly-made film that documents Carter’s love of all kinds of music, his unlikely friendships with many musicians of his day, and how they all came together when he was running for the presidency in 1976. Some of you were probably even there when it happened.
This enjoyable 1 hour-36 minute effort doesn’t ignore, but doesn’t dive too deeply, into all the politics of the Carter years, instead focusing on his fondness for the music of Dylan, the Allman Brothers, Willie Nelson, and more. In fact, director Wharton has described this as a music documentary, and not a historical or political one. One of the the film’s major accomplishments here might have been in persuading the usually reticent Dylan into talking about his relationship with Carter.
Another major accomplishment is the film’s ability to convey the sharpness of Carter, who was nearing 94 when he was interviewed. It’s fun to watch him remember with obvious pleasure some of the musical memories involved, and to watch him interact with many of the artists during his campaign and his presidency.
And there are entertaining stories to tell: Nelson recalls smoking marijuana at the White House, provided, he says, by Carter’s son, who is also interviewed. Aides tell how musicians, such as Crosby, Still & Nash, would just show up at the gates, hoping to get to talk to him. Which they usually did.
And the film nicely documents how he astutely wove his musical favorites into campaigning with him, the better to draw out young voters. And they weren’t always rock performers. Carter often dipped into the world of jazz, where he seemed just as knowledgeable and comfortable.
The movie was rewarded at the Los Angeles Film Awards last August with Best Picture, Best Documentary Feature, Best Editing, and Best Score awards. It’s easy to see why. Director Wharton has pulled together archival news and music footage, added interviews with some of those remaining musicians, like Dylan, for a lively, interesting and informative piece of filmmaking.
Here’s an interview with Mary Wharton on some of the hows and whys of the film.
And here’s where you can find out how to watch the film. It doesn’t seem to be available yet on streaming services, so it will probably cost you a few dollars to rent or buy. I happily gave Amazon $9.99 to own it. (Alas, I don’t get anything from Amazon for that plug.)
“Rock & Roll President” trailer:
As I mentioned, Bill Wharton did the musical score for the movie (but there’s still a fair amount of fine music from the Friends of Jimmy). And he’s just recently released that score as an album called “Peanuts.”
The Sauce Boss is a fine singer-songwriter-guitarist on his own, and the album reflects that nicely.
“Smile in a Basket,” from the Sauce Boss “Peanuts” CD:
Hey Jim- I did happen to catch this warm little documentary. I did not know how much of blues/rock/jazz fan Carter was. He seemed at home amongst the great musicians of the time
and they seemed equally at home with him. It was kinda nice to watch.