In conversation: Carlene Carter
Hey Carlene, how’re you doing?
I am very well and so excited about the tour! [Ed - Carlene embarks on a UK tour in June]
Your latest record has been talked about as a return to your roots, do you view Carter Girl in that way?
I have always drawn inspiration from my musical heritage. I have made it a point to embrace it from the start :-) And having made albums geared more to rock, etc, I experimented with combining my Carter roots as much as I could at this time in my life. I really set out to claim the mantle Carter Girl! These songs were written to last and to sing them is a great honor for me. It’s what my Grandma Maybelle, Aunt Helen and Anita and of course my Momma June wanted me to do. To keep the music alive and to add to the catalogue with my own songs:-)
What made you want to look into the past in the way you have?
It felt like the right time in my life and it was very enlightening as well. I challenged myself to also carry on the style of guitar my Grandma was so known for “the Carter Scratch”, so I had to practice a lot but I am still working on it and I learn something new everyday! I had wanted to wait until the making of the album wasn't so grief filled but more if a celebration. I miss them all still so much but I feel close to them when I'm playing this music so it’s wonderful!
How did you go about getting in touch with your history?
I made lists of stories I had heard and the songs I knew from being around the music. I also re-read the book Will You Miss Me When I'm Gone. And listened constantly to the box set of In The Shadow Of Clinch Mountain.
What was the process that you went through to choose the songs for the record?
That box set became my discography of the music, it was all at my finger tips. And again I made lists of all the songs I had sang with the Carter Family; all the songs I had heard them sing, then began looking to the Carter Sisters songs. I tried to do at least one that was for Momma ('Tall Lover Man'), one for Helen ('Poor Old Heartsick Me'), and one for Grandma ('Troublesome Waters'), and one that Aunt Nita was known for singing ('I'll Be All Smiles Tonight'). Then I wrote one that used the chorus words to 'Lonesome Valley' and told the story of my mom and Big John’s passing; that one was Lonesome Valley 2003. I felt strongly that 'Me and the Wildwood Rose' needed to be on this CD, so myself and Don Was, who produced Carter Girl, began narrowing down the ones that worked. It was an amazing learning experience as I didn't want this to be all the most known songs but at least a few surprises, I had so many to chose from it was like WOW!!!
And was that any different from how you’ve approached it previously?
Not really, except I usually write 99% of the albums I've done and do.
You recorded the beautiful ‘Troublesome Waters’ with Willie Nelson; is there anyone else that’d you’d love to record with?
I've just completed a CD with John Mellencamp that is coming out next year (2017). I'm very excited about that! I would love to record with Dolly Parton. If you know her please tell her for me!!
Speaking of John Mellencamp, you’ve been touring with him, how has that been?
Fantastic! We've played about 100. Shows together so far, and I've met a lot of new fans because of his loyal audience. Also it got me out touring again and playing solo has been a gift in the freedom i'ts brought me and I've “had to” become a better musician all around, so it's been a blast!
I would love to record with Dolly Parton. If you know her please tell her for me!!
What do you love about touring?
Sharing my life through music, and meeting new people and fans.
Hate? I miss my husband when he's not able to be with me, but I'm thrilled he'll be on this tour and I adore singing with him! His name is Joe Breen ! We have fun on stage and off!
Where’s the strangest place you’ve played live?
In Denmark at a hog farm, and then the other one was when I opened for Bozo the Clown and the Amazing Kreskin somewhere in Northern CA years ago on and it was at a dog racing track.
You’re playing the UK soon, what are you looking forward?
Just being back in my old stomping grounds and seeing my old friends.
Can you give us an insider tip; who should we be listening our for that we might not have heard?
I can't keep up with what's happening it all comes and goes so fast but I love Elizabeth Cook, she's on my Carter Girl CD a lot. She has a new CD coming out now. So check her out if you haven't heard her before.
If you could only listen to one song this week, what would it be?
'Hurt'by my step daddy Johnny Cash; it kills me every time.
Thanks so much for your time Carlene; I hope you have a great time in the UK.
Oh I guarantee I will!!! See you there!