Saturday, November 15, 2008

Carter Family- A.P. Carter


Alvin Pleasant Delaney ("A. P." or called "Doc" by his family) Carter was born December 15, 1893 in Maces Springs (Scott County), Virginia. The map (middle photo above shows Scott County).

The area called Poor Valley (photo below) is known today as Hiltons, Va. He lived in small one room log cabin with his parents and seven other siblings (see top photo).

By all accounts A.P., the eldest child, was a strange and complicated boy. According to his daughter Janette Carter, "Daddy always had more than one idea in his head. You never knew what he was thinking."

A.P. suffered from a physical tremor, as well as constitutional restlessness (now attributed to ADD: Attention Deficit Disorder along with a host of other maladies). From the day he was born until the day he died, he was possessed of a slight tremor, most noticeable in his hands. The family called it "palsy." His mother believed it was caused from a bolt of lightning that hit a tree she was standing under when she was pregnant with Pleasant. She reckoned it "shot such a bolt of fright into her swollen belly that the baby inside would be afflicted with that very nervous energy for each and all of his days."

A.P.’s father Robert Carter played the fiddle and he met his future wife, Mollie, at a square dance. "It was love at first sight," she recalled. After returning from a railroad job in Richmond, Indiana the twenty-three year old Carter married Mollie Bays in 1889, two years before A.P. the eldest child was born.

As a boy A.P. and his brother were taught to play the fiddle by his father who stopped playing the fiddle at dances at Mollie’s request. Despite his trembling hands, A.P. showed some talent. But it was his singing voice that won him the most praise. As a young man A.P. continued to play fiddle and sang bass in a quartet with two uncles and his eldest sister in the local church. Mollie’s brother Flanders Bays, who served the church as musical director, had handpicked him for that quartet. By the time A.P. was twenty, Flanders Bays was teaching singing schools all over southwestern Virginia. Sometimes, if A.P. could get free of his farm chores, he'd go to his uncle's singing schools to help out.

He had tried his hand at working at sawmills, farming, and as a blacksmith. Wanting to earn enough money to buy himself a piece of land, A.P. left his home in 1911 and set out for Richmond, Indiana (as his father had done), to work on the railroad but came down with typhoid fever and quickly returned home.
Family members recall that he wrote his first song while he rode the train back to Virginia, "My Clinch Mountain Home," a nostalgic ode to the place of his birth that would become one of the Carter’s hits:

Carry me back to old Virginie,
Back to my Clinch Mountain home;
Carry me back to old Virginie,
Back to my old mountain home.

Nursed back to health by his mother, A.P. went to work for Flanders Bays selling fruit trees and shrubs for his nursery. The job gave him the chance to exercise his restlessness, traveling around Scott County, staying with the locals and playing music on the porch after dinner.

Next we'll look some songs then Sara and how Sara met A.P.


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