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Tuesday, September 15, 2009


jean with janette carter
The end of summer, an overcast, still evening, after a sunny day of big voluminous clouds everywhere. Forecast is a possibility of rain tomorrow. Glad to have it. Mtn Heritage Fest coming up this Saturday with a fair chance of rain that day. There's no knowing until the day itself. Summer people must be going back to winter quarters, according to the gradually diminished traffic in Sparta. I've somehow become attached to watching the cars, trucks, motorcycles, tractors traveling Hwy 18, it's become something I enjoy. It's something like sitting on the bank of a river watching the water go by.

Brings to mind Banks of the River, sung by Carter Stanley. One of the things in this lifetime I'm glad found a way into my life is the music of the Stanley Brothers, Carter and Ralph. And then the music of Ralph Stanley. I don't know what it is about Carter's singing. But every time I hear him, I hear the reasons why. Same with Bill Monroe. Every time I hear him I understand again that he is the man. Jr doesn't like Carter Stanley, because he's mean spirited. Jr was in his world where they knew about each other's temperaments. Jr doesn't respect somebody with a mean spirit, and a drunk too, a mean drunk. Jr doesn't like Ralph because he knew somebody who played mandolin in his band when he was younger, who left the band after awhile saying he'd had all he could take of Ralph up and down the aisle in the tour bus preaching one Sunday and the next Sunday up and down the aisle drunk and cussing everybody on the bus. Popped his Ralph Stanley bubble. That's a sad bubble to pop.

But I don't care, because I don't have to deal with them personally. All I have to go by where Carter is concerned is his singing voice, songs he wrote, and what I take for a very respectable guitar. I don't care if he was a problem child all his life. It's a shame for him and the people around him, but it made him a great bluegrass singer. And that's all we have left til the end of time. A lot of artists are tormented souls who wring out some extremely beautiful works of art. All the years Ralph and Carter were together, Ralph had to take care of Carter, who couldn't take care of himself. Ralph didn't believe he could go on without Carter, but Carter told him to keep on singing the old songs. You can do it. And he did.

The Stanley Brothers and the Carter Family made the Clinch Mountains of SW Virginia legends like Wordsworth and Coleridge did the Lake Country in GB. The image I carry in my mind of the Clinch Mountains comes from the time I was there for an Alternate Roots show at the Carter Fold. During a break, Jean and I were outside blowing smoke into the atmosphere with other smokers. The sky was dark blue, the mountain nearly black and a quarter moon just above the ridge. Jean and I both were in awe the entire time there. It was our own awe from such a deep love for the Carter Family that we shared.

AP Carter's country store is there as a Carter Family museum. 50 cents admission. A whole lot of photographs. A lot of paintings people made from photographs over the years. Items of clothing. One thing and another. Most special that I carried away from the place was seeing AP's shoes. Never polished. Walked hundreds of miles in, the time before pavement. That pair of shoes seemed to still have AP in them with his scuffs all over them.
I love this picture of Jean with Janette. It's not quite my thing to take pictures of celebrities or pictures of self or friends with celebrities. Like asking for autographs, it's not something I do, with exceptions. I have Bo Diddley's autograph. I like having that. Jean wanted me to get her picture with Janette. When she asked me to get it, I was tripping on how cheesy it was to bother people wanting to take their picture because I heard about them somewhere. At the same time, when Jean struck that pose, there it was, had to do it. Janette is the daughter of AP and Sara Carter and Maybelle's niece. They're just folks. When they quit recording, they went back to being plain folks. Maybelle went to Nashville with her daughters and carried on the Carter Family. They were good too.
Jean told me later that Janette kept saying to her, 'I want to go home.' She said she knew Janette meant she wanted to go home like she wanted to go to her heavenly home, when everybody else was thinking she just wanted to get back to the house, which she did. She died about a month after this moment. AP raised Janette and asked her to keep the Carter Family music alive. She gave her life to that, and the Carter Fold is the result. Now that it's been discovered as a Crooked Road (Hwy 58) attraction, they have so much more business than they want, they've had to rethink about everything.
If you want a good read that tells a beautiful story about some wonderful people, find WILL YOU MISS ME WHEN I'M GONE, the story of the Carter Family. The author's name starts with a Z and is unpronounceable. After reading that account of their lives, I came to love them so much my eyes get wet when I think about them and hear their music. probably has several 2nd hand copies for very little. It's one of those books you read that you don't forget.

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