In today's blog we're back looking at the history of great Country Music pioneers: the Carter Family. On the left is an early PR photo done in the late 1920s.
The last installment looked at the 1927 Bristol sessions, the Carters first recordings.
First Records Released
That November 1927, Victor finally released the Carter Family’s first 78rpm record with "Poor Orphan Child" on one side and "Wandering Boy" on the other, followed a few months later by "The Storms Are on the Ocean" and "Single Girl, Married Girl." Despite Peer's uncertainty about the Carters' music the records sold so well that Peer wrote to the Carters asking them to come to Camden, New Jersey, for a second recording session in 1928.
Ralph Peer's enthusiasm, brisk record sales, and some cash in hand were like gas on the flames for A.P.'s burning desire to take his family and their music as far as they could go. Always a song collector, A.P. now became a man obsessed. According to Charles Hirshberg: "He began carrying pieces of yellow paper with him wherever he went and he went everywhere. All through the mountains he roamed, selling fruit trees, but always with another end in mind: songs. And he seemed to have an uncanny ability to find them.
Says (daughter) Gladys: "When I was a little girl, he'd take me with him sometimes. We'd walk along till he seen a house up on a hill or on some riverbank, and he'd say, 'Well, I'm going up to that house. They'll know some songs. 'There'd be some old song they knew the tune to, or the chorus. Daddy'd write down the words, take it home and work it up. Write some more verses, change it around. He usually had to have something to get him started."
Maybelle’s Guitar 1928
With royalty money from the Carter Family's successful first recordings, Eck bought young Maybelle Carter the finest guitar he could find in a music store in Kingsport, a 1928 Gibson L-5 arch top, for $275 (approx. $4,000 today). Until her death in 1978, "Mother Maybelle" used it on hundreds of recordings, radio and television programs, and live appearances. As the first f-hole, arch-top guitar, the L-5 was designed to be twice as loud as any flattop guitar of the period. Carter used it to revolutionize the role of the guitar, transforming the rhythm instrument into a distinctive lead voice.
Maybelle’s guitar was played by Elvis Presley one night when he broke a string. It was used in all the original Carter family recordings after the Bristol Session and played duets with Chet Atkins. It was the guitar that was featured in the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band’s homage to Maybelle, the "Circle Be Unbroken" album in the early 70s that became Maybelle’s first certified gold album in 1973.
It was the guitar that Maybelle one time loaned to Cowboy Slim Rinehart in the late 1930s when the Carters were playing on radio XERA in Texas. Slim got drunk and lost the guitar to a local army airman in a poker game. "Maybelle had to get the base commander to help find it," said her grandson, "but she got it back."
The story goes that a slightly inebriated Tom Pall Glazer, and Hank Thompson were in a battle of wits in Las Vegas over the greatest guitar player in the business. Tom Pall yelling Chet Atkins, and Hank Thompson the champion for Merle Travis. After much debate, a phone call was placed to Travis to settle the argument. When asked "Who's the greatest guitar player?" Travis replied, "Mother Maybelle Carter." There were no more questions.
In 2004 the Maybelle’s guitar was up for sale by Gruhn Guitars in Nashville with a $575,000 price tag. It was on loan to the Country Hall of Fame when the owner, who wished to remain anonymous, decided to sell it. Murfreesboro businessman Bob McLean provided the donation for the Hall of Fame to acquire the guitar, and he was among the celebrities on hand as the guitar was transferred from Gruhn Guitars to the Hall of Fame on August 22, 2004.
Second Recording Session 1928
The following spring, Ralph Peer gave the Carter Family expense money to travel to the company studios in Camden, New Jersey and cut twelve more songs on May 9 and 10, 1928 including their theme song, "Keep on the Sunny Side" and perhaps their most widely known song, "Wildwood Flower."
At $50 per song, the total take amounted to $600 for the twelve songs they recorded, as much as they could make in a whole year on the farm. They split the money three ways, and with their winnings A.P. bought 70 acres of land and moved Sara and their three children into a larger farmhouse.
The songs recorded included some of their best: "Meet me by the Moonlight Alone," "Keep on the Sunny Side," "Little Darling, Pal of Mine," "Forsaken Love," "Anchored in Love," "I Ain't Goin' to Work Tomorrow," "Will You Miss Me when I'm Gone," "Wildwood Flower," "River of Jordan," "Chewing Gum," and "John Hardy Was a Desperate Little Man."
That's all for now. Next post we'll look at some more Carter Family songs.