The performance of Gwyneth Paltrow at the Country Music Association awards Wednesday was a big deal. So much so that ABC kept hyping her appearance to sing the title track of her forthcoming movie "Country Strong."
Paltrow is an actress, not a singer. Marriage to Coldplay lead singer Chris Martin apparently didn't boost her musical abilities either. Paltrow said in TV interviews that she had been nervous about making her first public performance, sleeping poorly. But over the past few days, she apparently was feeling better about it.
As well she should have. While appearing somewhat intense, a bit too mannered and perhaps nervous on the CMA stint, Paltrow grew stronger and stronger as the 3:24 length of the song wore on. Paltrow seemed to grow in confidence as the words flowed. Her voice soared (slightly pitchy at times), and she was in control throughout. One got the sense she felt the words also, sometimes closing her eyes. She was real serious though, not smiling until after it was over.
Paltrow also received help from Vince Gill on electric guitar, but more important on vocal harmonies. He's a great singer, of course, and was well suited to work with Paltrow.
In an interview with People, Paltrow said she did not even know how to play guitar. "[Faking it] is just not my style," said Paltrow, 38. "I was going into such another world, and I wanted it to be as authentic as possible."
"I had never played guitar, ever, ever," she said. Paltrow worked with Mark Jaimes, a British session guitarist. Starting last fall, he worked with Paltrow for four months.
"She didn't even know how to hold a guitar," said Jaimes, 43, who has played with Simply Red and Kylie Minogue.
Paltrow took more than 20 lessons from Jaimes, mainly in the kitchen of her London home. As for Martin teaching her, Paltrow said, "Like he has time to be my guitar teacher. I think he's doing okay with his day job. I'm not sure he's going to take up guitar teaching. But he was encouraging."
"I played all the time, and my hands were bleeding and cramping," she said. "It sucked. I cried, like, five times at various points over the four months. It's really f--ing hard. It's much harder than it looks. But at the same time, it was kind of exhilarating to be learning chords and putting them together."
As for playing in the film, "it was actually fun. If I had to do it as myself, I would s-- myself. But I was playing this country star, and I just let loose and went for it."
"I'm not going to make a guitar-band album or anything like that," Paltrow said. "But it's useful for kids' birthday parties."
Paltrow sings three songs on the soundtrack plus one with fellow actor Tim McGraw.
Paltrow apparently has no intention of switching careers, but she acquitted herself quite well in an extremely high profile performance before thousands of people.