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January 24 2006 

Janette Carter 

Eighty-two year old Jeanette Carter died at a Kingsport hospital Sunday morning. She was the last surviving child of A.P. and Sarah Carter. Her father and mother, along with her mother`s cousin Maybelle, formed the musical group "The Carter Family" in the 1920`s. The Scott County Funeral Home will open Wednesday at 1:00 pm. The family will receive friends from 4:00 to 8:00. The Thursday service and burial will be private. A public memorial will be held Sunday at 2:00 pm in the carter fold auditorium.

August 23, 2004

Maybelle Carter's guitar is back on permanent display at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, thanks to a Murfreesboro, Tenn., philanthropist. The announcement was made Monday (Aug. 23) during a ceremony at the museum in downtown  Nashville.

Bob McLean seemed a bit uncomfortable with the attention he received from artists such as Vince Gill and Marty Stuart, but his donation allowed the Hall of Fame to write a $575,000 check for the purchase of the instrument that's acknowledged as one of the most historically significant instruments in American music.

The guitar -- a Gibson L-5 arch top acoustic built in 1928 -- was purchased by Carter shortly after she, cousin Sara and brother-in-law A.P. recorded their first music in Bristol, Tenn., in 1927. In addition to the Carter Family, Jimmie Rodgers and the Stoneman Family also participated in the recordings now known as the Bristol Sessions. The recordings first signaled country music's commercial viability and were, as Johnny Cash once said, "the single most important event in country music." Carter also revolutionized guitar playing by using her thumb and fingers to simultaneously perform melodies with rhythm chords.

Carter used the L-5 guitar on virtually all of her recordings until her death in 1978. The guitar was loaned to the museum in 1998 and remained there until May when the owner consigned it to Gruhn Guitars, a vintage instrument shop in Nashville, which placed it on sale at $575,000. Although the owner was never specifically identified, instrument expert George Gruhn confirmed that the guitar was being sold by one of Maybelle Carter's heirs.

Another of her heirs, John Carter Cash, is happy the guitar has returned to the Hall of Fame.

"I'm overwhelmed with joy," said Cash, who is the son of Johnny and June Carter Cash. "I had sort of been watching from the sidelines. I talked to George off and on about it. I'm so grateful that it's back here right where it should be. I'm very excited."

Gruhn said his intention all along was for the guitar to be purchased by a benefactor for donation to the Hall of Fame. "It's what I wanted," he said. "It's also what the owner wanted. I'm just inexpressibly proud to have been able to play a role in bringing it home."

Monday's event at the museum's Ford Theater was also attended by June Carter Cash's daughter, Carlene Carter, and several Hall of Fame members, including Earl Scruggs, Eddy Arnold, Brenda Lee, Charlie Louvin and Gordon Stoker of the Jordanaires. The presentation began with an audio recording of the Carter Family's "Keep on the Sunnyside," followed by a video of Maybelle Carter performing "Wildwood Flower" many years ago on Flatt & Scruggs' television program.

Scruggs was just one of the musicians who played the famous guitar Monday. Others include Gill, Stuart, Sharon White of the Whites and John Carter Cash's wife, Laura.

"Where it all started is on this instrument," Gill told the gathering. "That's a rarity. For us to have this guitar in our possession, to have this guitar to play once in a while, is priceless." Alluding to the tape of Maybelle Carter performing, he said, "As I watched that video, it made me want to take every single knucklehead on Music Row and make them watch that and just see how beautiful music can be in its simplest form."

After learning that McLean played guitar in a folk band during the early '60s, Gill invited him onstage to play "Wildwood Flower" on Carter's guitar. When McLean tried to decline the invitation, Gill pointed out that he would assist him with the other musicians onstage -- Cheryl White of the Whites on bass, Stuart on guitar and Stuart's bandmate, Kenny Vaughan, also on guitar. Gill joked, "We'll make you sound pretty damn good." And they did.

McLean, executive producer of the upcoming film Our Very Own learned of the museum's challenge in May while visiting the complex with actor Jason Ritter, the son of actor John Ritter and the grandson of Tex Ritter. McLean said Kyle Young, the Hall of Fame's executive director, and the museum staff "convinced me that rescuing the guitar was not only important, but absolutely essential."

McLean, who actively supports a number of non-profit organizations, made a restricted gift of approximately $1 million to enable the museum to purchase the Carter guitar.

"If there are any heroes here today," McLean said, "it's the musicians -- some of them in this room -- for taking Mother Maybelle's legacy to heart as they create their own legacy. … It's also the fans outside these doors and all over the world who continue to be comforted, inspired and informed by the music of country music's pioneers. If no one cared, the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum wouldn't need Mother Maybelle's guitar. Fortunately for us, though, people do care. They care about the past. The past helps us deal with the present. The past helps us make decisions that impact our lives and our descendents' lives."

The Hall of Fame's inability to immediately purchase the guitar underscores a larger problem, McLean said. "Some people collect for fun, others for investments," he explained. "This trend, coupled with theme restaurants, high profile public auctions and e-commerce, has driven the cost of popular cultural artifacts beyond the ability of any not-for-profit cultural institution's ability to compete. The museum couldn't have bought this guitar. It can't purchase Bill Monroe's … mandolin, either. But this is where they both belong, not because they're fancy, expensive instruments, but because the world was changed by the music created with them." (Monroe's Gibson F-5 mandolin is currently for sale at an asking price of $1 million.)

McLean's gift and his remarks won him plenty of new admirers within the country music community. Not the least was Stuart, who pointed out, "It's good to know guardian angels have Southern accents."

August 21, 2004

There is a fantastic four-part documentary on CMT this month titled "Lost Highway: The History of American Country."

From watching the show to looking back through the history of the genre, I believe that, in one way or another, the Carter Family has influenced more country artists and songwriters than any other group.

The first recordings of the Carter Family and Jimmie Rodgers brought the mountain music of Kentucky and Virginia from those rural communities and exposed it to the rest of the world.

On Tuesday, Aug. 24, Dualtone Music Group releases "The Unbroken Circle: A Tribute to the Musical Heritage of the Carter Family." The CD is 15 tracks from a who's who of country music and artists from other genres covering a group whose style has been mimicked and covered over the years, but none could come close to the originals. Dualtone made the right choice for producer of this project when it chose Johnny and June's boy John Carter Cash.

The entire CD is fantastic; here are a few of my favorites:

The late great June Carter Cash on "Hold Fast To The Right" with Johhny Cash harmonizing. Another treasure is Johnny himself doing the haunting "Eighty One-Forty-Three" and his daughter Roseanne lending her wonderful voice on "The Winding Stream."

Willie Nelson and his amazing guitar styling are perfect for "You Are My Flower," John Prine's unmistakable vocals on "Bear Creek Blues" are wonderful, and the voice of George Jones sounds as good as ever on "Worried Man Blues."

The two that are surprisingly refreshing are Sheryl Crow with an incredible rendition of "No Depression in Heaven" and Shawn Colvin with Earl and Randy Scruggs on the laid-back melody "Single Girl, Married Girl."

Marty Stuart and His Fabulous Superlatives paint a dark picture on "Never Let the Devil Get the Upper Hand On You."

Of course, any tribute to the Carter Family would not be complete without family members such as Janette and Joe Carter on "Little Moses."

As important as the music of the Carter Family is, I think it is equally important to keep this music alive for future generations. From the documentary on CMT and the efforts of Dualtone, this collection should help keep the musical heritage of the Carter Family going strong for years to come. However, with only 15 songs on this CD, here's hoping Dualtone will release a second volume.

You can and will experience a wide range of emotions from listening to this captivating collection, which deserves to enjoy the same popularity as the soundtrack to "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" and go to the top of the charts.


The Daily Sentine

                                            Sunday August 08, 2004 08:15 PM ET

NEW YORK (Billboard) - Dualtone Music Group's "The Unbroken Circle -- The Musical Heritage of the Carter Family" continues the label's relationship with the surviving Carter kin and furthers its move into historically themed tribute recordings. 

The set features 15 Carter Family classics. Among the artists singing the tunes are George Jones, Sheryl Crow, Emmylou Harris with the Peasall Sisters, Johnny Cash, Janette and Joe Carter, Willie Nelson, Shawn Colvin with Earl and Randy Scruggs, the Whites with Ricky Skaggs, Rosanne Cash, June Carter Cash, and the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band with Kris Kristofferson. 

Due Aug. 24, the set was produced by John Carter Cash. He also produced "Wildwood Flower," the acclaimed set by his mother, June Carter Cash, which harked back to her Carter Family roots. Dualtone released it last year shortly after her death. 

"We were working with John Carter Cash and sharing ideas, and this came out of what we've been doing the last year or two in going into more historical-type projects," said Dualtone co-president Scott Robinson, citing the label's previous tribute discs "Dressed in Black -- A Tribute to Johnny Cash" and "Lonesome, On'ry and Mean -- A Tribute to Waylon Jennings." 

                                              CORE MATERIAL 

"This was the perfect transition because ... it represents the core of American music," Robinson added. 

Indeed, Carter Family songs like "Worried Man Blues," "Wildwood Flower" and "Lonesome Valley" "should be etched on tablets," according to the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band's Jeff Hanna. "Their catalog is ground zero for country and pop music." 

Hanna, who sings "Gold Watch and Chain" with his band and Kristofferson, recalls buying a Pete Seeger guitar instruction album as a teenager and learning the "fundamental Carter scratch" melody/rhythm guitar style "that's still a wonderful way to play guitar." 

But a personal association with the Carter Family came with the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band's 1971 landmark album, "Will the Circle Be Unbroken," which featured Mother Maybelle Carter and other old-time country stars on vintage material. 

"Our association with the Cash family was just terrific, and continues to a new generation with John Carter Cash," Hanna said. "Plus we got to do a duet with Kris Kristofferson and record at the Cash Cabin Studio where Johnny did a lot of his later recordings and where June recorded a lot, too. It really felt like they were there." 

Hanna says the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band picked "Gold Watch and Chain" because it jibed so well with the band's melodic and harmonic sense. 

Rosanne Cash offers a more personal reason for selecting "The Winding Stream." 

"Helen Carter taught it to me when I was 19 years old, backstage in a cold dressing room when we were both on tour with my dad in the late '70s," she recalled. "I had never heard it before, and immediately it riveted my attention. It was one of the more obscure songs from the Carter Family catalog, but it was a particular favorite of the family, and it became my favorite as well. I played it to myself for the next 29 years and to any musician who I knew would appreciate it, and it was my semi-private jewel." 

Recording the tune for "The Unbroken Circle," Cash said, "was thrilling -- and heartbreaking. Helen, June, Anita and Maybelle are all gone. I would have loved for them to know that I honored them -- and this song -- by contributing it to this record. It was a beautiful experience to have my brother produce my version of it and to have Randy Scruggs, my old friend and one of the bearers of the flame, record it with me." 


John Carter Cash, of course, also shared a deep family connection with the music. "But even though it was my heritage, I listened to over 300 recordings that I'd basically only touched on before," he said. 

His mother had given him Bear Family's 12-CD Carter Family boxed set "In the Shadow of Clinch Mountain" a few years ago. 

"It was my bible," he said. "I realized that I'd only approached the tip of the iceberg and began to see what it was all about." 

Several spinoffs from the project are in the works. "We're creating a one-hour radio special about the making of the record and what the Carter Family meant historically -- and what the record meant to the artists on it," said Robinson, who will take the finished program to public radio. 

Also planned is a "musical/literary presentation" for colleges and a concert event starring the album's artists at Nashville's Ryman Auditorium. Proceeds from the show will go to either the historic Carter Fold in the Clinch Mountains, where Joe and Janette Carter perform every Saturday night, or the "rescue" of Mother Maybelle's guitar, which is currently on the auction block. 

"The Carter Family's lexicon helped shape our national cultural identity," Rosanne Cash says. "They gave us raw depth and stark honesty. Their songs form the structural underpinning of American folk music without them we are dilettantes

By Jim Bessman 

New Again
Noteworthy Disc-Overies

In The Shadow Of The Clinch Mountain, This is unquestionable the most important country reissue recording of the year – and possibly of any year. Bear Family has done nothing less than bring us every commercial recording ever released by the original Carter Family, compiling the trio’s enormously influential sides for Victor, ATC, Bluebird and Decca of 1927-41. These 292 performances provided country music with a bedrock repertoire-“keep On The Sunny Side” “Will The Circle Be Unbroken” “Wabash Cannonball” “Wildwood Flower” “Foggy Mountain Top” “Gold Watch And Chain” ”I’m Thinking Tonight Of My Blues Eyes” all entered our musical vocabulary from this fountainhead act. Maybelle Carter’s guitar playing helped elevate the instrument to country’s front rank, and her style is still the standard for folk players everywhere.

Sara’s lonesome alto and the homemade quality of the Carter arrangements are light years away from what country music sounds like today. For novices, this music will seem almost as foreign as Slovenian folk dances. But there is something so haunting, so profoundly soulful about the Carter Family that it is easy to become addicted it’s sound once you’ve immersed yourself in it. That’s why tunes like “Hello Stranger” “lovers Return” “Over The Garden Wall” keep bubbling up in revival, year after year. This is a set to treasure. In addition to the complete music, it includes a splendid hardcover biography by outstanding country historian Charles Wolfe. And in an embarrassment of riches, it also includes every known photograph of A.P. Sara, and Maybelle Carter, the parents of us all. In a word, Essential 


Revised: September 03, 2007

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