Author: Poling, Chuck

Family Values

I hope everyone enjoyed the Thanksgiving weekend as much as I did. Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday because it’s the one day a year that the whole country sits down to dinner with the family (except for the wingnuts camping in line at Walmart). And speaking of family, here’s a little something I wrote about a very important family in the history and development of bluegrass music.

Yes, it was on August 1, 1927, that Ralph Peer of Victor Records tracked into Bristol, Virginia, to record some local "hill-billy" talent. Seems that the suits back in New York took notice when these primitive novelty records actually sold – bushels and bushels of them – to rural audiences. Peer had earlier recorded Georgia's Fiddlin' John Carson playing "Little Old Log Cabin In The Lane" and "That Old Hen Cackled and The Rooster's Goin' To Crow" and demonstrated there was a market for the stuff.

When Peer arrived in Bristol, he advertised that acts would be recorded and, get this, paid cash money for it. Fifty bucks a song if the city slicker liked it. Well, the hills being alive with the sound of music and all, droves of local folk headed to Bristol to get a crack at, if not stardom, at least fifty dollars. Kind of like American Idol, only…not. And talk about hitting paydirt. Peer bags Rodgers and the Carter family on the same day.

Sara and Maybelle were the first popular female lead singers in country music. And behind them, ocassionally "bassin in," was the visionary and eccentric A.P. Carter. He was an odd one all right, roaming around the countryside searching for songs, starting building projects and then wandering away from them halfway through and frequently just staring off into space for extended periods of time. Of course, as Carters went, A.P. was about average. Let's take a little look at the family history here.

P.U. Carter – a younger brother of A.P.'s. He was also talented musician, equally adept at fiddle and banjo. Alas, for all his skill he was never allowed in the family band because of his, how should we say, cavalier attitude toward personal hygiene. Sure enough, everytime he'd show up at a family jam session somewhat would cry out, "P.U.! What is that smell?" The only friend he had was a boy named B.O. Johnson from down in Poor Valley.

C.D. Carter – Like his cousin A.P. he was a visionary, but just way too far ahead of his time. When A.P. returned from the Bristol sessions he told the family about the new-fangled recording contraption and the wax discs and the weights and pulleys required to turn the turntable around and around. When C.D. predicted that, some 60 years hence, music would be digitally stored on a thin plastic disc about the size of a pancake, a grave silence descended on the room. Shortly thereafter, poor C.D. was committed to the Virginia State Hospital for the Not Quite Right.

F.U. Carter – Ornery! Just as ornery as the day is long! The name says it all.

P.O. Carter – Hey, if you had an older brother like F.U., you'd be P.O'd too.

F.M. Carter – Unfortunately, the primitive broadcast technology of the day just couldn't capture the low mellow tone of F.M.'s smooth banter and emphasis on light jazz hits to help you through your busy workday. Also, Spyro Gyra, Pat Methany and Weather Report weren't around yet, so his playlist was pretty limited.

P.D.Q. Carter – A real oddball in a clan of oddballs. Ole P.D.Q. never did cotton to the old songs, preferring even older music. You know, that long-hair stuff by Frenchmen and Germans and such. Though you have to admire the pluck, so to speak, of someone who can play Beethoven's Fifth on an autoharp.

T.H.C. Carter – Another one of those "distracted" Carters, Uncle T always seemed a bit drowsy and, for a little feller, had a heck of an appetite. Awful forgetful though. One time he plowed the same field once in the morning and then again in the afternoon and just giggled like a schoolgirl, ate four biscuits and went to sleep for hours.

Posted:  11/26/2012

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