Interview: Carlene Carter’s New Album Pays Tribute to Her Carter Family Heritage
By Kurt Wolff
Country music would not be what it is today without the Carter Family, the most legendary group in the genre’s 92-year history.
When the original Carter Family (A.P., Sara and Maybelle Carter) recorded their first tracks at the famous Bristol Sessions in 1927, they brought with them heavenly harmonies, superb musicianship and a huge collection of folk and traditional songs that have become standards in modern music.
On her brand-new album Carter Girl, which hit stores this week, third-generation Carter Family member Carlene Carter pays tribute to that legacy. Her album includes classics that were recorded by the original Carter Family (A.P., Sara and Maybelle Carter), some well known and others less so; in addition, the album features songs written by Carlene, her mother June Carter Cash and her aunt Helen Carter.
“In all the musical paths I’ve followed, I’ve always tried to include something of the Carter Family,” Carlene Carter told Radio.com. “Whether it was a song collected by A.P., or one that my mother or grandmother wrote. It was always instilled in me from a very young age, that I would carry on the music of the Carter Family and keep it alive.”
“Now that it’s been 11 years since my mother passed away, I felt it was time to do my tribute to the music.”
In Radio.com‘s in-depth interview, Carlene told stories behind some of the album’s stand-out tracks, such as original Carter Family classics “Gold Watch and Chain” and “Black Jack David” (which features Kris Kristofferson as guest vocalist), June’s song “Tall Lover Man” and Carlene’s composition “Lonesome Valley 2003.”
The latter song is a powerful piece that captures the pain of losing her mother June and her mother’s husband Johnny Cash in the same year.
Carter also shares first-hand accounts of her interactions with her uncle A.P. Carter, her aunt Sara Carter, and her grandmother Maybelle Carter. She talks about the music that was everywhere in the house as she was growing up, thanks in large part to the passion of her mother and grandmother.
“I remember [June Carter] playing ‘Ring of Fire’ to me, I was only 4 or 5 years old. She said, ‘this is going to be a big song.'”
She also talks fondly of her father Carl Smith (June Carter’s first husband), a legendary honky-tonk singer in his own right and a member of the Country Music Hall of Fame. Carlene explains why he walked away from his music career and never looked back — as did the woman Smith later married, Goldie Hill.