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View Full Version : "Will You Miss Me When I'm Gone"....The Carter Family



Duane Graves
Mar-25-2011, 5:49am
I just finished one of the best books I have ever read. It is a biography of the Carter Family called “Will You Miss Me When I’m Gone” superbly researched and written by Mark Zwonitzer and Charles Hirshberg. The book is so filled with annecdotes and history that you just litteraly cannot set it down. Such facts as for instance, Sara Carter being the first "woman lead" singer in a band or the fact that "event songs" (songs written about events or catastrophes) were the best sellers in the 20's and 30's or the fact that in a 2-year period ending in 1930 the original Carter Family sold 700,000 records.

It takes you from the original group of A.P. Carter, Sara Carter (AP’s wife) and Maybelle Carter (wife of AP’s brother Ezra) up through into Maybelle and her daughters era and more. I’ve read two significant books within a month now, this one and “Can’t You Hear Me Callin’” by RD Smith, and I must admit it has left me in a calm nostalgic kind of state of mind. I mean both of these works have there roots in the foothills in the mountain ranges of the southern States and lend to such a curious combination of the unusual and highly entertaining course of events as Hillbilly meets City folk.

Of course, I don’t have the experience in BG or Country music either, for that matter, to comment on people I’ve heard or shows I have attended but there is something about the “Oldtimers” that I feel deep inside me is just not here today. These Carter Family, Bill Monroe type originals left there mark and STILL leave there mark on people who will take time in their busy lives to read up on their era and on them, themselves.

I want to ask those who have a background through experience or by way of historical reading if there is anyone you think that has really taken over in the last, I don’t know, say 20 or 30 years that could, in your opinion, leave a legacy behind in the newer crowd like those I’ve mentioned? What are your feelings about these past performers and the imprint they have left of our music and on our lives really?--dgg

catmandu2
Mar-25-2011, 7:02am
There are always folks on the scene who contribute to the music in significant ways--impacting the music, influencing and shaping social effects and establishing a legacy in one way or another.

The Carter Family are a seminal figure in the music. With the social and musical climate of the time being what it was, their impact is profound. Certainly, other folks were playing this music too, but A.P.'s efforts at documenting, compiling and arranging native music codified an idiom and popularized it through the Bristol recordings.

Their influence is immense and is often singularly cited--it was widely disseminated through the technology of the day during a time when little else existed. In this respect at least, The Carter Family are unique.

evanreilly
Mar-25-2011, 8:37am
I've read that book twice!! There is a lot of history in it, fersure. If you want to know the story behind the songs, read it. Alvin Pleasant was certainly a character.

ninevah
Mar-25-2011, 11:04am
Yes, great book, I've read it completely once, and re-read some parts several times.
I recommend it to friends even if they are not interested in the Carter Family or BG music, because it is so well written.

allenhopkins
Mar-25-2011, 11:06am
If you liked those two books, let me also recommend Jimmie Rodgers; The Life and Times of America's Blue Yodeler by Nolan Porterfield, University of Illinois Press, 1979. Another splendid bio of an important figure in American music.

Answering your question as to a "modern equivalent" of the Carters, Monroe or Rodgers, it's hard to say without the same number of years of perspective. Obviously Elvis Presley, Bob Dylan, Ray Charles, the Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, Michael Jackson and other "superstars" have had profound effects on the music we produce and listen to. In 75 years, will they be "important seminal figures" or footnotes? In the "folk" area, I think of Pete Seeger and Joan Baez as having profound influences. In the country music field, it seems less clear; past the era of Hank Williams, Roy Acuff and similar old icons, the music has been subject to so many trends and fads that it seems harder for "major figures" to emerge. Willie Nelson, perhaps?

We listen so hard to our particular sub-genres of music, that we have a tendency to overstate the importance of the musicians we admire, as their influence relates to the overall "musical universe." The average American music aficionado has undoubtedly heard of Bill Monroe, possibly of Ricky Skaggs, but probably not of Del McCoury, David Grisman or Chris Thile. We have a great deal of intensive specialized musical knowledge, but this can sometimes inhibit our seeing the broader picture; all those "trees" get in the way of our view of the "forest."

Willie Poole
Mar-25-2011, 3:13pm
Well said Allen....Maybe you need to write a book yourself, you seem to have the talent to do so....I find everything you post on here very interesting as well as Big Joe and F-5 Loar.....All three of you could maybe get together and have a best seller....Willie

Laird
Mar-25-2011, 3:49pm
Yep, I read that book this winter. Very good read. As for lasting influences beyond their time, Dylan is the most obvious to me. And the Beatles, of course. I don't imagine any of the other "superstars" Allen mentioned have that same staying power.

eightmoremiles
Mar-25-2011, 8:52pm
"Will You Miss Me..." and the Jimmy Rodgers book are excellent reads. An older book "Bluegrass Breakdown" by Robert Cantwell is available in paperback, and covers "the making of the Old Southern Sound". I found it to be quite interesting, as a lifelong(nearly) fan of bluegrass music. Great picture of J. E. Mainer's Mountaineers on the cover.

rockies
Mar-25-2011, 11:00pm
Several years ago shortly before Bill Monroe passed wasy I had just read the book "Bossmen:Bill Monroe & Muddy Waters" and I had an opportunity to see Bill Monroe in Edmonton Alberta Canada. I had read in the book that Bill was old fashioned and preferred the term Mister. A big crowd were on hand and calling to "Bill" to sign autographs, I said in a normal tone of voice "Mister Monroe could you sign my CD for me ?" He immediately turned to me and replied "Yes Sir I will" and then proceeded to talk to me asking if I played and carried on a short conversation about music and telling me to "Keep Playing" as well as signing the CD. I believe all because of me reading that book, a very unforgetable day for me.
Dave
Dave

allenhopkins
Mar-25-2011, 11:56pm
Willie, thank you for the compliment (blushing...)! I write better than I play music, yet I enjoy playing music more -- go figure! It's interesting to have a verbal understanding of a non-verbal medium. Someone (Mandroid?) has a signature along the lines of "writing about music is like dancing about architecture" -- clever, but I disagree. I think writing can help us understand and appreciate music, whereas "dancing about architecture" would seem valueless. I think that there has been a great deal of intelligent and artful writing about American traditional music -- bluegrass, blues, hillbilly, various ethnic styles -- and also about the instruments used to play it. I hope my little posts have contributed something to the Cafe over the past few years...

Jon Hall
Mar-26-2011, 6:08am
"Will You Miss Me...'' is one of my favorite books. I admire the way A.P. pursued his dream. He was an underdog whom his neighbors considered as being "wiffty". Maybelle's charming personallity and enthusiasm for music and performing is legendary. Paul Buskirk knew Maybelle and said that she was one of the finest people he had ever known. She would walk into a crowded room and all eyes would be on her. She earned the highest respect from her fellow musicians and all that knew her. I experience an exhillaration nearly everytime I sing or pick a Carter Family song with my friends.

As far as a lasting influence I think that in addition to Bob Dylan and The Beatles I would have to include Johnny Cash, The Eagles and Bob Marley. I teach guitar and mandolin lessons. It is amazing how many teenagers and children are familiar with specific songs of all of these artists.

catmandu2
Mar-26-2011, 7:26am
Someone (Mandroid?) has a signature along the lines of "writing about music is like dancing about architecture" -- clever, but I disagree. I think writing can help us understand and appreciate music, whereas "dancing about architecture" would seem valueless.

I've posted before wondering how Mandroid regards his sig line...for dancing is merely fluid architecture, or architecture--static dancing, etc.

Since writing about music can be highly effective--as evocative as playing music "about" poetry, for example--I presume that he means this in the affirmative.

coletrickle
Mar-26-2011, 7:34am
I agree that "Will You Miss Me When I'm Gone" is a fantastic book. To me, one the books strongest elements is that it keeps you engaged by using the relationship between AP and Sara as a backdrop. I remember when I was reading that it felt like I was watching a great dramatic movie. The book pulls no punches and keeps it honest, heartfelt, and most importantly....human. The Original Carter Family (and Maybelle and the girls after that) have reached the upper echelon of music legacy, but it is always important to remember that they were just normal folks, who, took advantage of opportunities and, of course, made many opportunities for themselves.

allenhopkins
Mar-26-2011, 12:43pm
I've posted before wondering how Mandroid regards his sig line..I presume that he means this in the affirmative.

I took it the other way: that writing about music is as absurd as dancing about architecture -- you can't "understand" music other than by actually creating it, or listening to it. Intellectualizing it, as we do when we transfer our non-verbal reactions to music into language, somehow removes an essential component of the medium and thus impairs, rather than enhances, our understanding of it.

Disagree. You can't learn to swim from a book, but you can understand something about swimming by reading about it, receiving instruction that's given in language, discussing it with other swimmers, etc. Writing (and reading) about music doesn't convey the totality of the experience, but it does impart understanding. We can learn about the Carter Family from this book, as well as from listening to their recordings, and learning to play their songs in a Carter-derived manner.

I've also felt it interesting, that a signature that (to my mind anyway) subtly "puts down" the idea of writing about music, would be found on nearly 10K posts on the Cafe. Must be some value to posting about music, n'est-ce pas?

catmandu2
Mar-26-2011, 2:35pm
I took it the other way: that writing about music is as absurd as dancing about architecture -- you can't "understand" music other than by actually creating it, or listening to it. Intellectualizing it, as we do when we transfer our non-verbal reactions to music into language, somehow removes an essential component of the medium and thus impairs, rather than enhances, our understanding of it.

Disagree. You can't learn to swim from a book, but you can understand something about swimming by reading about it, receiving instruction that's given in language, discussing it with other swimmers, etc. Writing (and reading) about music doesn't convey the totality of the experience, but it does impart understanding. We can learn about the Carter Family from this book, as well as from listening to their recordings, and learning to play their songs in a Carter-derived manner.

I've also felt it interesting, that a signature that (to my mind anyway) subtly "puts down" the idea of writing about music, would be found on nearly 10K posts on the Cafe. Must be some value to posting about music, n'est-ce pas?

Dance and architecture can share many formal elements--especially being that they both involve techniques of manipulation of three dimensional form--just as poetry, music, and sculpture also share aspects with architecture: rhythm, harmony, balance, counterpoint, composition, form, etc. Aspects of understanding can be transmitted in analogous ways, also distinct from didactic communication and discursive thought. Experiential, non-discursive learning can often be effective through analogous means.

But I agree with your second paragraph entirely--I'm all for writing about music. And other stuff too. ;)

With the purveyor of the signature havinf not answered my inquiry about it, I've elected to see it from the affirmative perspective, but I don't know how it's seen by the purveyor..

catmandu2
Mar-26-2011, 3:34pm
Oh, now I think I see (allen) that you were disagreeing with the negative interpretation of the premise -- restating it in your first paragraph; I was thinking that you disagreed, rather, with the affirmative perspective on the premise, and not the affirmative reading of the sig line--as expressed in my quotation. It's a bit confusing...

Anyway, makes for good discussion..

Jeff Oxley
Apr-08-2011, 9:28am
Philosophical inclinations aside, I am currently reading this book (I'm about halfway through)...excellent, and highly recommended! Got it about a week ago, ordinarily would have finished it by now but, of course, having to split my leisure time between reading and picking, well...yall know how it is...

JeffD
Apr-08-2011, 1:20pm
Robert Louis Stevenson was supposed to have said that reading is a pretty bloodless substitute for living.

OTOH none of us will live long enough or enough varied lives to directly experience the full significance of our activities, and so reading can plug that in and enrich our direct experience. Make living more fun.

Direct exprience makes reading more fun too BTW, so there you go.

catmandu2
Apr-08-2011, 5:09pm
Robert Louis Stevenson was supposed to have said that reading is a pretty bloodless substitute for living.



That's why we like it so much..


BTW, this puts mandroid's sig line in another perspective...the first part anyway...