Last Of Their Kind (CD)
- Janette & Joe Carter
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Thirty years ago, at her father’s old grocery store in Hiltons, Virginia, Janette Carter began a Saturday-night showcase for old-time country and bluegrass music. It’s called the Carter Family Fold, and it’s an oasis for lovers of traditional country music everywhere. Now with their new Dualtone CD, Last of Their Kind, Janette and her brother Joe Carter give a taste of the unvarnished, sturdy songs they’ve been serving up for enthusiastic audiences every Saturday night since 1974. Their music is all-acoustic, lean as a hard-worked coon hound, and shot through with hardscrabble mountain perseverance. It’s the music Janette and Joe grew up with, and they’ve made it their mission to pass their musical heritage on, so they won’t be the last of their kind.
Janette and Joe’s parents were Sara and A. P. Carter—two-thirds of the most important trio in American musical history. Together with her cousin Maybelle, Sara and A.P. Carter created the single greatest song catalog in country music, a treasure trove of some 300 influential recordings, including such classics as “Keep on the Sunny Side,” “Wildwood Flower,” and “Will the Circle Be Unbroken.”
As children, Janette and Joe not only learned about music at the feet of their parents and their Aunt Maybelle; they also performed with famous trio on occasion. By the age of 6, Janette was buck dancing onstage at Carter Family performances; at 12 she was playing autoharp and sometimes traveling with the trio. At 16, Janette made her radio debut along in 1939 during the Carter Family’s stint at Mexican border radio station XERA. By the time he turned 16, Joe also had occasion to join in with the Carter Family trio on the road.
Despite brief stays in Texas during the family’s border radio days, Janette and Joe grew up for the most part in the shadow of Clinch Mountain, in the aptly named Poor Valley of southwestern Virginia. Shortly before his death in 1960, A. P. Carter took Janette aside and talked about the future. “My daddy asked me if I’d carry on his music,” says Janette. “And I told him I’d try. And that’s what I’ve done.”
For several years, however, Janette and Joe were only able to make marginal headway in carrying on the Carter Family legacy. They had bills to pay and families to take care of.Janette worked for years as the public school cook in Hiltons. Joe became a carpenter and construction worker. On a few occasions, they recorded beautiful, spare albums and 45s in the acoustic tradition pioneered by the Carter Family, Janette’s deep alto voice echoing her mother’s and Joe’s sprightly guitar work recalling Aunt Maybelle’s legendary picking. In 1966, Joe even recorded for Columbia Records with his mother and aunt, serving as a vocal stand-in for his departed father on the Carter Family Historic Reunion Album. Yet in contrast to their cousin June Carter and her husband Johnny Cash, Janette and Joe never made any money to speak of from their records, nor did they ever trade their homes in Poor Valley for city life in Nashville.
Starting August 24, 1974, Janette made good on her promise to her father. She began holding old-time music concerts in her father’s old grocery store on State Route 614, just down the hill from her home. Overflow crowds began packing the store every Saturday night, so two years later—with brother Joe serving as chief architect and contractor—she built a wooden barn of a concert hall beside the store, complete with metal roof, clapboard sides that can be opened in warm weather to catch the mountain breezes, and seating for around 800 people. Joe named the rustic concert hall “The Carter Family Fold.” He got the idea from the Bible: “A fold is a gathering place,” he explains. “Like a sheep’s fold. A refuge.”
Every Saturday night, Janette and Joe (now 81 and 77 respectively) perform and preside at this refuge for old-time country music and bluegrass, where they regularly are joined by national and regional acts. Their hearty, heartfelt traditional music draws folks not just for miles around, but from countries all over the world.
Now after 30 years of tending the Fold, at last they have a new recording. “People kept askin’ us, why didn’t we do something together and put out some CDs,” Janette says. “We’ve been very neglectful about all that. But we haven’t had the time—the Carter Fold has been a full-time job.”
Fittingly, Janette and Joe’s new CD was recorded on the porch of the old Maybelle Carter home in Maces Springs. John Carter Cash (son of June and Johnny) convinced them to do the recording and served as their producer. Like a Carter Fold show, the performances encompass originals penned by Janette and Joe as well as Carter Family classics. Joe wrote three of the tracks: “Through the Eyes of an Eagle,” “Pole It, Reba” and “Right at Home.” Janette contributed “Close of a Day,” “If Only I Were a Child Again,” “Morning Sunlight” and “Living with Memories.” The remaining songs—”A Few More Years,” “Stern Old Bachelor,” “The Poor Orphan Child,” “Little Darling Pal of Mine” and “Kitty Waltz”—come from the evergreen repertoire of the Carter Family. On most tracks Joe handles guitar, and Janette strums the autoharp, as her mother did. Filling out the sound here and there are Janette’s son Dale Jett, John Carter Cash’s wife Laura Cash, and such artistic musicians as Larry Perkins, Jerry Hensley and Dennis Crouch.
Janette’s efforts have earned her recognition late in life. In 2002, she was invited to speak and perform at a Carter Family symposium hosted by the University of London. During Memorial Day weekend 2004, the Country Music Association honored Janette’s lifelong efforts to preserve her family’s musical traditions by naming her the recipient of the Joe Talbot Award. But she didn’t get involved in the music for awards. She’s just keeping her promise to her father.
“I’ve tried all I can,” says Janette. “I stick to the old Carter Family way. It amazes me that two instruments could carry their music that far over all these years—just an autoharp and guitar. Their music, it won’t ever die, I think.”
On Last of Their Kind, Janette and Joe Carter lovingly carry on the great Carter tradition of handmade music. In a world that always seems to be in an exasperated hurry, they have done their part to create uncluttered, plainspoken music about things that will always matter—good friends, good fun, family and faith.