Sunday, December 28, 2008

Caeter Family 1933-1936 Married Life, Single Life


Today we'll examine one of the difficult periods of the Carters' career. On the left is a photo of Coy Bays, A.P.'s cousin.

Married Life, Single Life- A.P. and Sara Separate- 1933
Like his father before him, A.P. was a rambler. He would often spend days and weeks at a time on the road collecting songs. When he was home, he did precious little to help around the house, and when he went, he seldom left enough money to provide for Sara and the children. "She'd be cutting down wood, pulling mining timbers out of the mountains and Daddy out somewhere trying to learn a song," their son Joe recalled. "He never stopped to think what effect it might have on his family."

A.P. asked his cousin Coy Bays to help out by driving Sara around while he was away. Two of Coy’s sisters and one brother had contracted TB and Sara started making regular visits to check on them. Sara and Coy became close, and eventually they fell in love. According to biographer Mark Zwonitzer, "Sometimes they’d leave and be gone for two or three days at a time."
"I fell in love with Coy the first time I laid eyes on him," Sara said later. After a while A.P. knew and he was furious. When the affair became known, Coy's parents, Charlie and Mary Bays, decided that it would be best if they got Coy out of the valley, and the Bays family set out for California.

"Mama and Papa were opposed to it," said Coy’s sister Stella. "They loved Sara but…this was a very sad thing in our life. This was a very embarrassing thing because it was their nephew (A.P.) and their son. And both loved the same woman."

Crushed by Coy's departure and unable to live with A.P., Sara left the house and moved back to Rich Valley, leaving the children with their father. After the separation Ralph Peer and his wife, Anita, convinced the estranged couple that while their domestic life might be in shambles, there was no reason they should not continue to play music together on a professional basis, and so the Original Carter Family continued to perform and record new songs.

June Carter Cash: "But down in the valley, things weren't so good at A.P. and Sara's house. They were separated, but they continued to sing together and work together. As far as I can remember it was the first separation that ever occurred in the valley so we never talked about it. Their songs seemed to mean more, and their records sold more, and more but they were both good people and life went on."

Carter Family Continue Performing
During this time Maybelle and Ezra were busy raising their talented daughters in the Carter singing tradition. A.P. and Sara reportedly got along better after their separation. A.P. still booked concerts as June Carter Cash recalled:

"Uncle "Doc" booked the school houses all through Virginia, North and South Carolina, West Virginia and Kentucky and the Carter Family played the old stages without the benefit of sound. I remember the concerts as if they were yesterday. The old coal oil lamps lined the front of the stage, and the stage was set with just two chairs. All the songs that they sang had a reason. A.P. Carter became A.P. Carter to me after I saw their first show. It was somewhere in North Carolina, and I felt very small. My mother and Aunt Sara sat down in the two chairs, mother with her guitar and Aunt Sara with her autoharp. A.P. stood alone. He walked slow stood with his eyes just over you, and demanded your attention without saying one word. You could hear a pin drop. They sang the songs of the "Wabash Cannon Ball," "Thinking Tonight Of My Blue Eyes," "The Worried Man Blues," "Jimmy Brown The News Boy," "Homestead on the Farm," "Wildwood Flower," and "You Are My Flower," "Jealous Hearted Me," and "On The Rock Where Moses Stood."A.P. told a story with every song, why it was written, where it came from or the reason for its being. He talked with authority and he knew what he was saying. They sang of love, of their love for the mountains and Virginia, war songs, slave songs, songs from the coalfields, and the old gospel story songs such as "Little Moses."

Carters Change Labels: Under Peer’s guidance they changed record labels in 1935, re-recording much of their material for the American Recording Company (ARC) and the hit, "Can the Circle Be Unbroken." At $75 a side the Carters made a lot of money re-recording their old hits.

A.P and Sara Divorce 1936
In September 1936, after three years of trying to reconcile with her husband, she finally sued A.P. for divorce. A.P. Carter was to appear at the circuit court the following Monday "to answer a bill in Chancery in our said court against him by Sara E. Carter. He did not even show up at court to defend himself. In a separate filing at the Gate City courthouse that same week, AP Carter agreed to pay Sara $1200 for a farm she had bought in the Little Valley.

After the divorce The Carter Family began a two-year association with Decca during which they waxed 60 more songs, and were at a performance peak. Unlike ARC, Decca insisted on fresh material. A.P. was never short on songs and these two years of recording (1936-1938) produced an impressive body of work. MCA has recently reissued many of these recordings on a new CD produced by the Country Music Foundation called "The Carter Family: Country Music Hall of Fame Series" (MCAD-10088), with programming and informative notes by Bob Pinson.

1 comment:

zzapper said...

Thanks so much for this research about the heartbreak at the center of the Carter Family.