Wednesday, April 1, 2020
Carlene Carter Wept Through Family Stories
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Carlene Carter, daughter of country music singers Carl Smith and June Carter, collaborated with John Mellencamp on his album “Sad Clowns & Hillbillies.”
 
Thursday, March 5, 2020
 

BY KAREN BOSSICK

Americans know “Mother” Mabelle Carter as part of the country’s first commercial country music groups. Her granddaughter Carlene Carter remembers granny for her lead foot.

“I remember stopping on the side of the road with grandma and throwing up. She was an excellent driver, but she drove like a crazy person,” she said.

Carter won’t say whether she inherited a propensity for fast driving from “Mother” Maybelle Carter. But she did definitely tap into her grandmother’s DNA, inheriting cells infused with the scratchy twang of a country guitar, the staccato of banjo picking and the lushness of three-part harmony.

And she will share that gift when she performs at 7:30 p.m. Sunday, March 8, at the Argyros Performing Arts Center in Ketchum. The concert is being presented by the Sun Valley Museum of Art.

“I spent a week in Sun Valley six years ago and had a great time,” said Carter, who received a key to the city of Sun Valley while here. “I stayed at the Sun Valley Lodge and I skied the foothills of Baldy. I skied  when I was younger, then took some time off. So, I think all the youngsters were pointing, ‘Look at this little old lady on the conveyer belt. She’s a grandma and learning to ski!’ ”

Carter has had a long career during which she has written countless songs, recorded 12 albums and had three No. 3 hit songs on the Bill Board Hot Country Songs.

It started as a little girl when her mother and grandmother would ask her to join them on stage.

“Of course, I wanted to make music of my own. That was my heart of heart,” she recounted.

Her first solo recording was “Friendly Gates,” which Johnny Cash included on his 1974 album “The Junkie and the Juicehead Minus Me.”

She released her first album—a blend of country and rock-- in 1978. After spending a year on London’s West End stage in the musical “Pump Boys and Dinettes,” she filled in for her aunt Anita one night when The Carter Sisters played Wembley Arena with the Johnny Cash show and ended up touring with the group for the next two years.

Her solo career took off in 1990 with the release of “I Fell in Love,” which zoomed to the top of the country music charts and earned a Grammy nomination for Best Female Country Vocal Performance. She followed that up with another smash hit, “Every Little Thing,” one of the top-rated music videos in 1994.

After portraying her mother in a Nashville stage musical titled “Wildwood Flower: The June Carter Story,” she recorded the album “Carter Girl.” It featured 12 tracks written or co-written by the members of The Carter Family, with collaborations by family members and such family friends as Willie Nelson, Vince Gill and Kris Kristofferson.

“I’ve had a long career with lots of different types of music. In the early days, there was rock music but predominantly it’s been country,” said Carter, who has been credited with pioneering the Neo-traditionalist movement in country.

 Carter said she will tell stories about her famous family during Sunday’s concert, offering a glimpse at the human factor of being a member of the Carter family..

She said she wept through parts of Ken Burns’ acclaimed “Country Music” documentary series, which featured a large amount of material about the Carter family and Johnny Cash, Carter’s stepfather.

“It wasn’t that I didn’t know about my family’s history,” she said. “But I look back and think how incredible it was that my grandmother and her brother-in-law A.P. Carter and cousin Sara went down from the hills of Virginia to Bristol, Tenn., and made a record. They had no idea what was going to happen—how naïve they were. They just thought they were making $50 a pop, and that was a lot of money to help them get through the Depression.”

Carter’s pride in what her family has done prompted her to join with her half-brother John Carter Cash in recording a recently released album titled “The Carter Family: Across Generations.” They used old tapes featuring her grandmother and other relatives that had never been released, allowing five generations to be featured on the album. And they ended the album with A.P. Carter’s seminal 1935 song “Will the Circle Be Unbroken?”

The album has been praised by Audiophile Audition as “more than a country music album—it is a historical document.”

“It was quite the undertaking. But we’re really proud of it. It wasn’t made as a commercial release but as a tribute,” she said. “And the songs are pretty timeless. Some of the lyrics are maybe a little flowery, but the songs are still alive because they’re just too good to die.”

Tickets for Sunday’s concert range from $25 to $75, available at www.svmoa.org or by calling 208-726-9491.

 

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