Friday, September 5, 2014

The Carter Family: The First Family of Country Music

The Carter Family and Jimmie Rodgers are the two artists most responsible for the early development of the country music industry. Before them, the folk music of the Appalachian region of the United States was folk music played by locals for their own amusement, and it remained a regional art form. The music was casually referred to as just “Hillbilly Music.” The Carter Family and Jimmie Rodgers were not the first country artists to record, Charlie Poole, Ernest Stoneman, Eck Robertson and others had made recordings before them, but Rodgers and the Carters turned hillbilly music into pop music.

The original Carter Family consisted of the sisters, guitarist Maybelle, and lead singer Sara, and occasional back-up singer A.P., Sara’s husband. The family hailed from Clinch Mountain, Virginia.

The Carter Family first recorded in Bristol, Tennessee for record producer, Ralph Peer, in 1927. They were paid 50 dollars for each song they recorded. Among those songs were, “Wandering Boy” and “Poor Orphan Child” which Victor released as a single in the fall of 1927.

The next year, 1928, saw the Carter Family in the Victor studios in Camden, New Jersey, where they recorded their classics, “Keep on the Sunny Side,” “Can the Circle be Unbroken,” “Wildwood Flower,” “River of Jordan,” and many others. They were not paid for these recordings, but were promised royalties based on sales. By 1930, the Carter Family had sold over 300, 000 records in the United States.

Not only are these recordings historically significant, they are aesthetically pleasing, too. The Carters were a great string band that displayed technical brilliance and perfectly sung harmonies. Mother Maybelle was a brilliant guitarist who invented a guitar picking technique that was adopted by scads of country guitarists in subsequent years.

The Carter Family is one of the most important artists of the 20th century, and they must be heard by anyone who wishes to understand the development of American popular music. The best compilations of the Carter Family’s classic sides include the following releases: The Original and Great Carter Family” (1962), “In the Shadow of Clinch Mountain” (2000), “Wildwood Flower” (2000), and “1927-1934” (2002).

The Carter Family (from left, A.P., Maybelle and Sara)