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Carter Sisters

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Carter Family

Original Carter family

Alvin Pleasant Carter - Dec. 15,1881- Nov. 7,196
Sara Carter                  July. 21,1899 - Jan 8, 1979
Maybelle Carter       May 10, 1909 - Oct 23,1978

A.P Carter, his wife, Sara and his sister-in-law
Maybelle played in one of the first commercial
country recording sessions at Bristol, Tennessee.
For two decades they performed as an unbeatable team.
Their songs became country standards, and some
of A.P. original compositions are among the all time
greets. They are regarded by many as the epitome of
country greatness and originators of a much copied-style
Country Music Association

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Mother Maybelle, And The New Generation Of The Carter Family


Maybell purchased an L-5 Gibson guitar, an extremely expensive instrument in those days. It sold for $125.00. Her family was quite sure of her ability, and had great faith, that her talents would be recognized by others therefore the substantial investment. Close examination of photographs of others musicians of the time doesn’t reveal very many guitars of such quality. For the most part, they are nondescript mail order or bargain store instruments Maybelle’s style of guitar playing was unique, and evidently she came up with it on her own. What she did was play the melody on the bass strings while maintaining a rhythm on the treble strings, fingering a partial chord. Later she developed some intricate melody runs on the bass strings. Of course, such runs were not new, but they were used differently by Maybelle, they were being used not only as a part of the lead instrument, but as fills and also for the "bottom" of the song. Throughout it all, the strong emphasis on the bass was a must, and this was gained in part by the use of a thumb pick and two steel finger picks. Later, this style was to be imitated to the note by literally thousands of guitars.

Maybelle played more than the guitar though. She was fairly accomplished on the banjo and fiddle as well as the autoharp, and at picking all new styles. She played the autoharp in a new way that it hadn’t been played before. Rather than strumming across the harp while barring a chord, Maybelle actually picked out the melody with her thumb and finger picks.

The vocal part of the Carter Family sound was no less innovative. If you listen to the early hillbilly recordings, you find that, basically, the singers were barely singing over the instruments. The Carter style was built around the vocals and incorporate them into the instrumental background, usually made up of the basic three cord structure. In essence, the Carter Family violated the main traditions of vocal and instrumental music, but in doing so created a whole new sound.

In July, 1927, an article on the front page of the Bristol, Tennessee Virginia News Bulletin information the public that a man Ralph Peer was in town ( Bristol ) auditioning local talent. The paper was read daily by the Carter’s in Scott County. August 1, 1927 found the group together at home of Ezra and Maybelle. Ezra Carter, a small, wiry handsome. Laughable, loveable young man, cut the last of last year’s country ham and Maybelle prepare a big breakfast for A.P. Sara and themselves. "Well, it looks like we’re gonna have a bunch of radio stars around here. Said Ezra. "I don’t know about that " said A.P. (Doc) "but it might be worth a trip to Bristol if we can get $50.00 to record a song like Ernest Stoneman did." "Aw, pshhaw," said Sara " ain’t nobody gonna pay that much money to hear us sing "

Young Maybelle kept silent, maube she had had her own dreams, her own ideas about how it was all going to workout. This was an age of heroes. Just two months earlier, Charles Lindbergh, "Lucky Lindy" they called him, had flown the Atlantic no-stop. Even rural mountain people were in tune with the world by radio, and the people of Appalachia and the south were about to make hero celebrities out of three simple mountain people, the Carter family.

With a hearty country breakfast under their belts, the four loaded u into Ezra’a old Hupmobile and headed for Bristol. Rains had swollen the Holsten River at a place where they were to ford it, and the Hupmobile stopped right in the middle of the river and refused to go any further. Long dresses were hiked up over the ladies knees, and guitars and autoharps carried on their shoulders to the dry bank, as the men pushed, and tugged until they finally got the old car moving. Up the bank they discovered another problem there was a flat on the right rear tire. A.P. being the flat tire fixer, got out the hand patch kit and quickly repaired the flat, pumped the tire up, and, with the instruments and the ladies aboard again, they made their way on to Bristol.

Revised: September 02, 2007

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