Archive for November, 2008

Carlene Carter

November 30, 2008

Carlene is a third-generation Carter, daughter of June Carter and Country Music Hall of Famer Carl Smith, granddaughter of Mother Maybelle. She was brought up in the family business, tagging along on tour with Mother Maybelle and the Carter Sisters (mother June and aunts Helen and Anita). She started her own musical career in 1978 with an eponymous debut album that set the tone for much of her career: an ecstatic critical reception accompanied by lackluster sales. Her music, a rambunctious mix of rock and country, was many years ahead of its time, and she never gave time a chance to catch up.

Personal problems, including an arrest for heroin possession, grounded her for a while around the turn of the century, and she struggled with the loss of her mother, sister, and stepfather Johnny Cash, all of whom passed in 2003. But Carlene has always had a rock and roll soul, and she’s returned, clean and sober, with a new CD whose title tells us how she feels: Stronger.

I can’t imagine why I left Carlene off the Week 9 CD, but I did – let me make it up to you by giving you this 1994 video of Carlene from the PBS show Austin City Limits. It’s a lovely tribute to her musical legacy. Please enjoy.


The Ballad of A. P. and Sara

November 27, 2008

You may recall that Bob Kinerk thought my description of A. P. and Sara’s separation, and her subsequent remarriage, sounded like a ballad. Well, now it is a ballad – Bob has written the definitive musical account of the Carter Family’s domestic history, and here it is. Bob is open to suggestions for the melody (are you listening, Dan?) – I suggested that poetic justice would be served if he just stole one from A. P., but I know someone will come up with something.

The Ballad of A.P. and Sara
By Robert Kinerk


My wandering boy.
You wander for business.
You squander my joy.
I ain’t gonna take it.
I’m going away.
I’m going away
To Californay
I’m going away with Coy.

Apple trees.
Peach trees.
You sold ‘em when young.
You came to Clinch Mountain
With your silver tongue.
You came to Clinch Mountain
When I was sixteen
And called me the prettiest girl you had seen.


Words that you
Flew straight to my heart.
You said while we’re living
We never would part.
I dreamed on Clinch Mountain
When I was your bride
We’d be two together till both of us died.


Sing to me,
The songs that we love.
The wind in the pine trees.
The sky blue above.
You sung them so sweetly
Till I heard you say
That you had to travel; that you couldn’t stay.


Apple trees.
Peach trees.
And youngsters to raise.
I waited and waited
For days and for days.
My days were no pleasure.
My nights were no joy.
Then up to Clinch Mountain came handsome, young Coy.

I dreamed on Clinch Mountain
When I was your bride
We’d be two together till both of us died.
We’d be two together.
We’d be man and wife.
We’d sing and be happy
The rest of our life.


Week 10 Music Notes

November 26, 2008

This week Judy Uhl’s husband David will lead the group and aims to have us all singing by the time we’re done. So instead of talking about the music, we’ll be doing it! The song David plans to teach us is Idumea, and it’s on the CD, so you’ll hear it before class. There are two versions of Idumea on the disc, one by a shape note group, the second by Doc Watson with Gaither Carlton accompanying on fiddle.

The CD begins with the three shape note selections Harry included on the Anthology (song numbers 44-46). Rocky Road and Present Joys are sung by the Alabama Sacred Harp Singers, a group led by Whit Denson, who recorded with a number of other groups around this time. Present Joys is a fuguing tune: all four parts (tenors, altos, sopranos, basses) start together and stay together for the first four measures. After this opening statement, the four parts rejoin the music one at a time, one measure apart, singing material that is always closely related, and often identical, to that of each of the other parts. Present Joys was first published in 1909. I couldn’t find any information about the Middle Georgia Singing Convention. They are apparently an African-American group, and Harry thinks they reflect an earlier performance style than the Alabama Sacred Harp Singers.

The next three songs are taken from the CD I Belong to This Band: Eighty-Five Years of Sacred Harp Recordings. The number attached to each of the songs represents the page of The Sacred Harp on which the song appears (“b” is bottom, “t” is top). Save, Lord, or We Perish was recorded at the Henagar Union Convention in 2006. The Roswell Sacred Harp Quartet were from Roswell, Georgia, and they recorded Weeping Mary in 1940. The Original Sacred Harp Choir were the first sacred harp group to record, in 1922. The makeshift studio arrangements under which most of the early Sacred Harp recordings were made would have made it impossible for the choirs to assume their usual seating arrangement, with the singers of each part forming one side of a square and the leader standing in the center. In 1922, when acoustical recording was the only method available, they would all have been gathered around a giant horn that transferred their sound directly to disc.

Lover of the Lord, by the Huggins and Phillips Sacred Harp Singers appears on the stunning 6-CD set, Goodbye, Babylon, issued by Dust-to-Digital, about whom Dan Watt posted way back in August. Dust-to-Digital also did the I Belong to This Band CD.

Before David takes over on Tuesday, we’ll see a ten-minute student film that grew into the feature length Awake, My Soul. In an October post, I wrote a little about the film, and attached the trailer. The rest of the music on our Week 10 CD is from a 2-CD set inspired by the film. The first CD is a film soundtrack, and Jordan, Idumea, Corinth, and New Britain (which you’ll recognize as Amazing Grace) are from this CD. Jordan was recorded at the Holly Springs Primitive Baptist Church in Bremen, Georgia, the others at Liberty Baptist Church in Henagar, Alabama.

The second CD of the set, Help Me to Sing, gives us what the CD’s liner notes call “the first ever popular music adaptations of Sacred Harp songs.” I’ve chosen three of the twenty to round out this disc. Doc Watson provides a heartfelt version of Idumea, recorded in 1964 by Ralph Rinzler, who fortuitously discovered Doc while he was in the process of rediscovering Tom Ashley. This is the song we’ll sing on Tuesday, but we won’t sound this good. Singer-songwriter Liz Janes’s Abbeville is spare and almost empty compared to the big sound of a choir, revealing, I think a different kind of beauty in the song. And yes, one of the instruments is a saw.

Innocence Mission is Karen Perls, Don Perls, and Mike Bitts. They make beautiful music to which I am unable to assign a genre. Visit their homepage here. Karen Perls wrote about recording this song, “it would be impossible to sing those words and not be swept up in decisive joy and feel that this is just what you most want to express.” May we all feel that same decisive joy on Tuesday when we hear and sing these wonderful songs. Enjoy the music and see you then!

Movie Poll and Party Thread

November 25, 2008

First, the December 16 party – feel free to use the comments section for party planning purposes. Of course, other comments are welcome, as always.

About the movie – I couldn’t find a trailer online, and there’s none on the DVD, so the best I can do is to link to the page for it. It’s called Festival, and it’s a documentary with clips from the 1963-1965 Newport Folk Festivals: lots of Dylan, Baez, and Peter, Paul and Mary, and some very good stuff by older musicians like John Hurt and Son House. It runs 97 minutes and it doesn’t lend itself to editing of any kind by me. I think it’s either all or nothing, but I’ve put a “cut it in half” choice on the poll. I’ll split anything we watch over the last two weeks, so if we see the whole thing, it’ll be the first hour of each of our last two classes.

Arguing for the “all” side: it’s exactly on topic for our last two weeks (we were going to talk about rediscovered musicians in week 11 and the revival in week 12), and the music is great. It’s beautifully photographed, the sound is excellent, and it says a lot about the question we asked on day one: what is folk music? On the “none” side: it’ll take up one and a half of our last four hours. You make the call!

His Uncle Sam

November 24, 2008

Erik Greene, nephew of Sam Cooke, left a gracious comment on our last post, Another Saturday Night. Mr. Greene is the author of Our Uncle Sam: The Sam Cooke Story From His Family’s Perspective, and you can find out more about him and the book at his website (which I’m adding to our link collection). I’m glad to have been able to widen Sam’s audience, and no doubt Mr. Greene feels that same pride, albeit on a larger scale. This post provides a reason for one more Sam Cooke video. This one is – no kidding! – Sam Cooke and Muhammad Ali, just having fun. Ali, as always, refers to himself as the greatest, but I’m sure he understood the exalted company he was keeping.

Another Saturday Night

November 22, 2008

Saturday night and Sunday morning – that’s the battle that brings the blues to life. Those Delta crossroads could leave you wondering which way to go – the Devil’s music always sounds good late at night, but come the clear light and you’ll know you missed the path to glory.

It’s a battle that started before the blues and hasn’t been settled yet. Last week we listened to Rosetta Tharpe, who lived on the border between gospel and the blues, and we’ve been talking about Sam Cooke, who pitched his tent on the Saturday night side of the line early on.

Here’s a sample of the young Sam Cooke, who replaced the legendary R. H. Harris as lead singer of the Soul Stirrers when he was only 19. Sam left gospel six years later for a lucrative pop career, and died tragically at the age of 33. For more on his post-gospel work, look here: Rolling Stone magazine has just named him the 4th best singer of all time, and Van Morrison tells you why that’s a pretty good pick – lots of music, too.

Week 9 Music Notes

November 20, 2008

Robert Cantwell, in his Bluegrass Breakdown, describes the Carter Family’s recordings as representing “the essential spirit of Southern rural music.” Even now, the Carters’ music, and the values it embodies, define much of what we still recognize as a southern ethos. Home and hearth, mother and family, God and His church (with the promise of heaven as a release from the world’s cares): these were the foundations of the Carters’ world view in the 1930s and ’40s, and remain so for many Americans, especially those with a southern connection. So although the Carters don’t sell too many CDs these days, plenty of current country music artists reflect the Carters’ values, and they are more popular than ever. Last week, sixteen million people watched George Strait accept the Country Music Association single of the year award for his hit I Saw God Today. Nothing in it would embarrass or surprise A. P., Sara, or Maybelle.

The Carter influence persists, and in many forms: on this CD we have singing Carter relatives, covers of Carter songs, and contemporary artists whose music retains the old-time feel the Carters made famous.

Keep On the Sunny Side was the Carter Family’s theme song during their time at the border radio station XERA, and remains the song most associated with them. This version was at the Carters’ first ARC Records session on May 8, 1935, and all the Carter Family performances on this CD were recorded during that same week, as they remade many early Victor hits for their new label. A. P. Carter took writing credit for this song, as he did for most of the songs the Carters recorded, but most of them were either collected by him or, as here, were his own arrangements of already copyrighted songs. On the Rock Where Moses Stood is a traditional black gospel song that had been recorded by at least one black quartet during the 1920s.

Bill Monroe is rightly honored as the father of bluegrass music, but his debt to the Carter Family is clear. Cryin’ Holy Unto My Lord gives us a perfect view of how Monroe reworked traditional material and turned old time music like that of the Carters into something very different, something much more modern. It’s hard to believe that his and the Carters’ versions of the old spiritual were recorded only five years apart.

The Carter Family first recorded The Storms Are on the Ocean at the historic Bristol Sessions in 1927. Here they take it more slowly, and Sara’s voice seems to have deepened a good deal.  June Carter Cash performed with her mother Maybelle and sisters Anita and June for many years, and no doubt sang all the Carter songs hundreds of times. She never sang them more movingly than on her final CD, June Carter Cash: Wildwood Flower, which she completed only weeks before her death in 2003.

Emmylou Harris is one of the giants of American music, and her work deserves a study group of its own. For this week, we must content ourselves with her 1980 recording (from the excellent Roses in the Snow) of the Carter’s Gold Watch and Chain. The song was copyrighted as Is There No Kiss for Me Tonight, Love?, by Thomas Westendorf, and is a typical example of the parlor song genre which survived in the South long after its extinction elsewhere.

Gillian Welch is featured on the PBS Website you were assigned to visit this week. I hope you’ll spend some time listening to her take on the Carter’s work. Welch has called her own musical style “American Primitive,” and it’s hard to disagree. Orphan Girl appears on her 1996 debut CD, Revival.

Let the Mystery Be is from Iris Dement’s wonderful first CD, Infamous Angel. She was born in Arkansas, the youngest of fourteen children, and grew up singing gospel music. Her songs deal with those old familiar Carter family topics, but updated and with a woman’s point of view. I think Sara Carter would have loved singing them.

Wildwood Flower is another of the Carters’ most beloved songs, and has long been considered the best example of Maybelle Carter’s distinctive guitar style. Ed Kahn and Mike Seeger interviewed Mother Maybelle, as she came to be known, in 1963, and the Wildwood Flower discussion is drawn from that interview. Next, of course, the song itself. Maybelle’s guitar solo here is perhaps the most imitated in American music. Maybelle plays autoharp and sings lead on the next Wildwood Flower, recorded as part of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band’s groundbreaking Will the Circle Be Unbroken, recorded in 1971. That’s Earl Scruggs on guitar (!), and the Dirt Band recruited Roy Acuff, Merle Travis, Doc Watson and many more to sing and play on this project.

Rosanne Cash, John’s daughter and June Carter’s stepdaughter, closes the CD with the beautiful Wildwood Flower she contributed to Charlie Haden’s new CD, Rambling Boy. Rosanne is, of course, a singer, songwriter and prose writer of deserved renown in her own right.

Enjoy the music and I’ll see you on Tuesday!

Week 8 Open Thread

November 18, 2008

Thanks for a great discussion today – I’m glad we got a chance to hear Sister Rosetta Tharpe and spend a little time talking about Sam Cooke. Ellie asked a question about how it could be that so few people had heard of Sister Rosetta, and I neglected to give the obvious answer, which I think is also the true one: African-American gospel music is very unlikely to be heard by white people. Sam Cooke’s pop breakthrough sent a few of us back to his earlier records, but it wasn’t easy to find those records in white America. Sister Rosetta achieved great fame in the black community: in 1951, twenty thousand people paid to attend her wedding. But in a year when the most popular white singers were Patti Page and Perry Como, there wasn’t much of a chance that Sister Tharpe would hit the charts.

Ellie also mentioned the movie Songcatcher today, but we never got around to talking about it. I haven’t seen it, but have a CD of songs from the movie which is quite good. Your video treat this evening is the Songcatcher trailer. Some music, some violence, a little kissing – all in two minutes and thirty-one seconds! By the way, that’s Iris Dement singing Pretty Saro near the end. She does Let the Mystery Be on your CD this week.

Welcome, HILR Members!

November 16, 2008

If you got here by following the link on the HILR home page, welcome to the official blog of the Anthology of American Folk Music study group. Please feel free to wander around: visit our archives, check out a few of the links, and just generally make yourself at home.

Most of the blog posts have a video or song attached – right below this post is a post featuring a video of Mrs. Etta Baker, the Piedmont folk and blues guitarist. She is guaranteed to charm you with her wit and wisdom as well as with her playing, so please take a look before you leave.

You should also know that there’s a copy of the Anthology in the Dunlop Library, and a folder of all the course readings, too, and I hope you’ll take a look. The Anthology is a six CD set that, when originally issued in 1952, became the founding document of the ’60s folk revival. Our May archive will give you some more information. The readings are also available here on the blog as PDF files.

Please leave a comment (just click the comments link at the bottom of this post) and let us know what you think. You’ll find a new post every couple of days, so stop by when you’re in the neighborhood or subscribe to our RSS feed.

This week is blues week in our study group, so here, for your viewing pleasure, is one in a series of Blues Minutes. little films made by filmaker Robert Mugge (we’re watching his Deep Blues in class this week) for Mississippi Public Broadcasting.This one is a one-minute tour of blues highways. Please enjoy, and don’t be a stranger!

Etta Baker’s Piedmont Blues

November 14, 2008

Writing about Elizabeth Cotten (see post below) the other day, I couldn’t help but think about the great Piedmont guitarist Mrs. Etta Baker, since their stories have so much in common. Both started young: Mrs. Baker, as she tells it in the attached video, was only three when she started copying her father’s playing. Both were discovered as a result of chance meetings. Mrs. Baker’s was in 1956 with the folklorist Paul Clayton, who was in the area doing field recordings, and Clayton, once he heard her play, recorded her the next day.

Mrs. Baker (and her father!) appeared on the resulting LP, Instrumental Music of the Southern Appalachians, and her influence, both as a guitarist and as a great human being, continued until her death in 2006 at the age of 93.

The video was made in 2004, when Mrs. Baker was 91. Her playing has lost just a bit, but her spirit shines bright. Please watch!