Victor V-40089 – Carter Family – 1929

The Carter Family—Maybelle, Sara, and A.P.—in the late 1920s, pictured in the Victor catalog.

I have written of the illustrious Carter Family before, more than once, but nothing I’ve so far published has done justice to their tremendous impact and legacy.  In fact, I doubt whether I would be able to write anything that could honor their legend sufficiently.  Nonetheless, I will do my best to pay them a worthy tribute, and I cannot think of a better record to accompany that attempt than the one herein.  Not only is it without question among their finest works, but it contains, according to legend, the song that brought the Carters together, and the song that tore them apart.

The saga of the original Carter Family begins with the birth of Alvin Pleasant Delaney Carter in Maces Spring, Virginia, on December 15, 1891.  The son of Robert C. Carter and Mollie Arvelle Bays, growing up ‘midst the Blue Ridge Mountaintops fostered in the young Carter a love for music, and he took up the fiddle, but never achieved much note for his musicianship on the instrument.  Music making did not put food on the table however, and so Carter found work as a traveling salesman, peddling fruit trees.  It was in this line of work that he encountered the youthful Sara Elizabeth Dougherty, sitting on her porch and strumming her auto-harp.  Far A.P. Carter, it was love at first sight, and they were married on June 18, 1915.  In the following decade, Sara’s cousin Maybelle (who was also married to Carter’s brother Ezra) joined the couple and they formed a music group—the Carter Family.

Come the summer of 1927, A.P. got word of a record session to be held in Bristol, Tennessee, about twenty-five miles away from their homeplace in Maces Spring.  He convinced Sara and Maybelle to make the journey, and they arrived late on the night of August first, and auditioned for Mr. Ralph S. Peer of the Victor Talking Machine Company.  That day and the next, the Carter Family cut six sides: “Bury Me Under the Weeping Willow”, “Little Log Cabin By the Sea”, “The Poor Orphan Child”, “The Storms are On the Ocean”, “Single Girl, Married Girl”, and “The Wandering Boy”.  Their first records were released that November, and proved successful enough to bring the Carters back to the Victor studio for further recordings, and they did so prolifically.  Between then and the end of 1934, they waxed over one-hundred-fifty sides for the Victor company.  To ensure that the group had enough material to ensure continued financial success, A.P. set out to canvas the mountains in search of good songs, which he then copyrighted in his own name.  In one such travel, Carter encountered the black musician Lesley Riddle, and the two became friends.  Riddle impressed both his folk repertoire and his method of guitar playing upon the Carters.

In 1935, the Carter Family began recording for the American Record Corporation, but all was not well behind the microphone, for A.P.’s long song-hunting stretches away from his family drove Sara into the arms of A.P.’s cousin Coy Bayes.  Sara and A.P.’s marriage dissolved in 1936, but the Carter Family stuck together as a music group for the time being.  From 1936 until 1938, they recorded for Decca, before returning to the ARC for a string of records on their Okeh label in 1940.  In the meantime, the Carter Family had relocated to Del Rio, Texas, from where they commuted to Mexico to perform on “border blaster” radio station XERA in Villa Acuña, Coahuila.  The 500,000 watt station could be heard across most of the United States, and put the sounds of the Carters on the hearth of countless American homes, inspiring a wave of up-and-coming musicians.  In some of these radio appearances, they were joined by the Carter children: Janette, Joe, Helen, June, and Anita.  In October of 1941, the original Carter Family traveled to New York City to record one final session with the RCA Victor Company, for their Bluebird label.  Around that time, they were photographed for a spread in Life magazine, scheduled to be published on December 8, 1941.  With the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor occurring the very day before, needless to say it was bumped from the publication.  And thus, as the war broke out, the original Carter Family broke apart; Sara moved to California with her new husband, A.P. and Maybelle returned to Maces Spring, where he opened a general store.

That was not the end of their story however, Maybelle Carter continued the musical tradition with her children—Helen, Anita, and June—performing as “Mother Maybelle and the Carter Sisters” in the years to come, landing a place on the Grand Ole Opry in 1950 and remaining active until the 1970s.  The original member reunited occasionally, as well, resulting in several sessions for Acme Records in the 1950s.  A.P. Carter died on November 7, 1960, his dying wish to keep the music alive.  Maybelle passed on October 23, 1978.  The last surviving member of the original trio, Sara Carter Bayes died on January 8, 1979.  A.P. Carter’s last wishes were fulfilled with the establishment of the Carter Family Fold in Maces Spring, Virginia, founded by his daughter Janette in 1979 and devoted to the preservation of old-time Appalachian folk music.  The beloved legacy of music put forth by the Carter Family remains indelibly attached to the American experience, and shows no sign of faltering as the years go by.

Victor V-40089 was recorded on February 15th and 14th of 1929, respectively, at Victor’s home in Camden, New Jersey.  The Carter Family consists of Sara on auto-harp and Maybelle on guitar, both of course singing.  A.P. joins in singing on side “B”.

The story goes that when A.P. Carter met Sara while traveling door-to-door peddling fruit trees, she was sitting out on her porch singing “Engine One-Forty-Three” and playing her auto-harp, and he fell in love at first sight and approached with matrimonial intentions.  The song tells the true story of a wreck on the C & O line on October 23, 1890 near Hinton, West Virginia.  This recording also bears the distinction of being one of the five songs by the Carter Family that were included by Harry Smith in his seminal Anthology of American Folk Music.

Engine One-Forty-Three, recorded February 15, 1929 by the Carter Family.

While the previous is said to be the song that birthed the Carter Family, the following is said to have eventually broken them up.  After her divorce, Sara Carter wasn’t happy performing on border radio with her ex-husband, while her lover Coy Bayes was in California.  One show, she dedicated a performance of “I’m Thinking To-Night of My Blue Eyes” to Bayes, and he rushed down to Del Rio to sweep her off her feet and back west, leaving A.P., Maybelle, and the children to return home to Maces Spring, and thus bringing the story of the original Carter Family to its close.  A standard of the Carters’ repertoire, they recorded it twice, and many other artists covered it subsequently.

I’m Thinking To-Night of My Blue Eyes, recorded February 14, 1929 by the Carter Family.

Victor 20877 – The Carter Family – 1927

In an effort to capitalize on the success of the popular “mountaineer songs” by the likes of Vernon Dalhart and Kelly Harrell, talent scout and record producer Ralph S. Peer arranged for the Victor Talking Machine Company to make a series of field trips in an effort to discover and record marketable new artists for the burgeoning “hillbilly” market.  Arriving in Bristol, Tennessee in late July of 1927, Peer got the word out about the sessions through local radio stations and newspapers, and soon musicians began coming to Bristol in droves to record for Victor.  Among the many noted artists who recorded in those sessions were Ernest Stoneman and Blind Alfred Reed.  It was in early August, however, when came the artists who were to make the biggest fame for themselves and for the Bristol sessions: the Carter Family and Jimmie Rodgers.

The Carter Family in the late 1920s. Left to right: Sara, A.P., Maybelle.

The Carter Family around the time of the Bristol Sessions. Left to right: Maybelle, A.P., Sara.  Pictured in the Victor Catalog

When A.P. Carter of Maces Spring, Virginia—not far from Bristol—learned of the sessions, he persuaded his wife Sara and sister-in-law Maybelle to make the short journey from their home to audition for Ralph Peer.  Though the trio had made music together since their meeting, only A.P. had inclinations to try and make a career out of it.  There in Bristol, on the night of August 1, 1927, A.P., Sara, and Maybelle—as the “Carter Family”—recorded four songs: Bury Me Under the Weeping Willow”, “Little Log Cabin By the Sea”, “The Poor Orphan Child”, and “The Storms are On the Ocean”.  Their audition went well.  Peer was impressed by the Carters, and invited them to return the following morning to record again.  They obliged, this time cutting “”Single Girl, Married Girl” and “The Wandering Boy”.  In return for these recordings, they were paid fifty dollars per song, and half-a-cent royalties on each record sold.  Their second issued record, “Single Girl, Married Girl” and “The Storms are On the Ocean” on Victor 20937, made quite a hit, and the Carters’ path to success as recording stars thus opened.  The following May, they traveled to Camden, New Jersey to record again, anticipating the many sessions to come for Victor, Decca, and the American Record Corporation between then and the early 1940s.  Thus, the Carter Family’s decades long, multi-generation legacy as one of country music’s most legendary acts of all time began.

Victor 20877 was recorded on August 1 and 2, 1927 in Bristol, Tennessee by the Carter Family, Sara, Maybelle, and A.P.  Released on November 4, 1927, it was the first issued record, but not the first recorded sides, by the Carter Family.

Firstly the Carters sing “The Poor Orphan Child”, the third side recorded at the Carter Family’s first session.

The Poor Orphan Child, recorded August 1, 1927 by the Carter Family.

The Poor Orphan Child, recorded August 1, 1927 by the Carter Family.

On the “B” side, they sing the third title cut at their second session, “The Wandering Boy”.

The Wandering Boy, recorded August 2 , 1927 by the Carter Family.

The Wandering Boy, recorded August 2 , 1927 by the Carter Family.

Updated on June 1, 2018.

Montgomery Ward M-4225 – The Carter Family – 1932/1928

With all due apologies for Old Time Blues unintended ten day hiatus, we hope now to return to regular posting. And what better a note to return on than these great classics by the one and only Carter Family, in honor of Sara Carter, born on this day 118 years ago.

Sara Elizabeth Dougherty was born in Copper Creek, Virginia on July 21, 1898 to William and Nancy Dougherty.  In 1915, she married Alvin Pleasant (A.P.) Carter, with whom she had three children, Gladys, Janette, and Joe.  In the 1920s, Sara began performing traditional folk songs with her husband and cousin Maybelle as the Carter Family.  In August of 1927, they came to Bristol, Tennessee to record for the first time in a series of sessions organized by Ralph S. Peer for the Victor Talking Machine Company.  At the Bristol Sessions, the Carter Family recorded six sides, four on the first and two on the second of August.  Their first record, “Poor Orphan Child” and “The Wandering Boy” was issued on Victor 20877 in December of 1927, with considerable success, and their second, “Single Girl, Married Girl” and “The Storms are On the Ocean” on Victor 20937, found even greater popularity.  In May of 1928, they ventured to Victor’s facilities in Camden, New Jersey for another session, with many more coming thereafter.  As the group reached their peak, Sara’s powerful singing—initially quite high, and later maturing into the deep, low voice for which she was known—provided a heart and soul to their music, perfectly complimented by Maybelle’s guitar playing.

In 1932, the Carters experienced marital strife, when Sara began having an affair with her A.P.’s cousin Coy Bayes while her husband was away on one of his many long trips to “discover” new material for the family, separating him from Sara for weeks or months at a time.  They divorced in 1936, but the original Carter Family stuck together until 1943, after which Sara married A.P.’s cousin and moved to California, where she retired from music.  A.P., Maybelle, and the kids returned home to Maces Spring, Virginia, where he opened a store, and she continued to pursue a musical career.  Sara later made a small comeback during the folk revival of the 1960s with Maybelle, but she never regained what she had in the old days, and indeed she probably never wanted to.  Sara Carter died in California at the age of 80 on January 8, 1979.

Montgomery Ward M-4225 was recorded in two separate sessions, the first on May 9, 1928, and the second on October 14, 1932, both in Camden, New Jersey.  The trio sings while Sara plays autoharp and Maybelle plays guitar.  They were originally issued on Victor 21434 and 23776.  This Montgomery Ward issue was pressed from the original masters.

The Carter Family’s classic rendition of the old standard “Keep On the Sunny Side” could be compared to Jimmie Rodgers’ “Blue Yodel” as a song that became indelibly associated with them, serving as their theme song when they performed on border blaster radio, and later inscribed as the epitaph on both Sara and A.P. Carter’s gravestones. Also like Rodgers’ “Blue Yodel”, it was recorded at the Carters’ first session after the Bristol Sessions.

Keep On the Sunny Side

Keep On the Sunny Side, recorded May 9, 1928 by the Carter Family.

“The Church in the Wildwood” is a song that I recollect fondly from my own childhood, and unsurprisingly the Carters’ rendition is a pleasure to hear.  Fittingly, this side was recorded in Victor’s Camden, New Jersey church studio.

The Church in the Wildwood

The Church in the Wildwood, recorded October 14, 1932 by the Carter Family.

Updated on June 1, 2018.