DIARY - 11 MAY 2008 - CARLENE CARTER
if I could change a thing in this world/ I'd go back to the days/ when
Grandma and her girls/ were singing sweet and low/ for me and the Wildwood
Rose." - Me And The Wildwood Rose - Carlene Carter.
actress Carlene Carter doesn't have far to look if she and fourth
husband - actor Joseph Breen - decide to write a Hollywood movie script.
All they need to do is tear out the back pages of Carter's amazing
life story and trim them to fit the format.
It all started back on September 26, 1955, when Carter entered the
world as Rebecca Carlene Smith.
Carlene is the daughter of country singer Carl Smith, now 81, and
then wife June - one time singing spouse of Rip Nix, and later Johnny
parents split in 1952 when she was two and her dad Carl later wed country
singer Goldie Hill who died of cancer at 72 on February 24, 2005, after
their 44-year marriage.
Ironically, Goldie died in the same Nashville Baptist Hospital as June
Carter Cash and the man in black.
But that's another story.
CLICK HERE for the
Goldie Hill obituary from the Diary on February 26, 2005.
hell raising angel's had a fair share of heartache/ what doesn't kill
me makes me stronger/ I've held on a little longer." - Stronger
- Carlene Carter
wrote and recorded 10 new songs for her belated 10th CD Stronger
- a graphic capsule depicting her journey to hell and back.
She also revamped two of her original songs, one of them dated back
The disc, recorded for indie label YepRoc and released in Australia
by Shock, has all the ingredients for a soundtrack.
Carlene demoed her songs with stepbrother John Carter Cash in his
studio The Cabin and recorded the album with John McFee - known for
his work with Doobie Brothers, Southern Pacific and Clover.
She also resurrected the 12th tune It Takes One To Know
Me - a song she wrote as a present for her stepfather - the man
in wine country, baby. I don't drink wine but there's a lot of wine around
a grandmother told Nu Country TV in call from San Rafael in the Napa Valley
"I wrote that song when I was 17. He put it on hold forever - until
he was gone. I was even surprised they had it on tape two years after
he passed away when my brother called me up and said they found this in
the vault and mum and daddy did a version of It Takes One To Know Me.
I didn't even know they recorded it. It came out on John's boxed set The
Legend as a duet with mother. It also came out as an acoustic version
on another CD Personal File. Then they found the original version I recorded
when I was 17. The funny thing was that was two years before they recorded
it. I wrote it in 1974 - I find it odd that some of the lyrics were funny
- like 'I wish I was younger.'''
The sad fact that the song stayed unreleased for 30 years was no solace
for Cash's late mate Waylon Jennings.
"Waylon tried to record it but Big John wouldn't let him," Carlene
"Waylon heard the song the week I wrote it or somewhere around that
time. He said 'I want to record that song. It was right after Ramblin'
Man came out. I said you got to call Big John and ask him as I gave
it to him as a present. He wants to record it but he hadn't done it. Waylon
called John and he replied 'no, you can't cut it because it's gonna be
my next single.' Real dude stuff. Waylon said he really wanted to record
BREEN BRINGS LOVE
said settle down cowgirl/ let me tell you how it's gonna be - you and
me/ leave the suitcase packed full of sorrow/ I'm going to take you home
to Tennessee, to your family." - Bring Love - Carlene Carter
has belatedly resurrected it with Breen - a New York born actor whose
CV includes roles in TV soapies Guiding Light, Loving and As the World
Turns in 1991.
The couple lives in Covelo - a small town (population 800) about four
hours north of San Francisco.
They met in 2004, later worked together on Wildflower Flowers in Nashville
and wed in Jamaica in 2006.
"I was going to Nashville to do Wildwood Flowers the play
about Carter Family and play Mama, and Joe said 'This is where you need
to be.' I signed a one-year lease and ended up staying two years."
Breen also played the narrator in Wildwood Flowers.
"My husband sings on it," Carter confessed.
"He has this nice deep baritone voice - real sweet. It makes lot
of sense to sing that for all the stuff we've been through. He persuaded
me to start writing again. Once I started I couldn't stop - he drove me
nuts the first couple of months we were together. The first song I wrote
for the album was Bring Love - the story of how we came to be.
He sat me down in a Starbucks coffee shop in L A and said 'this is how
it's going to be.' I went 'oh yeah'.
He started me writing again. Then he started badgering me - have you written
today. He started getting on my nerves. We met in LA. He had been acting
in New York and gone to L A to pursue acting. His dad is big Joe Breen
- he's a lawyer."
girl about 15/ had a bigger vision and a one track dream/ southern girl,
little did she know, got a trail of tears/ caution to the wind/ she followed
her heart to the bitter end." - The Bitter End - Carlene Carter-Mark
reached back to her first marriage at 15 for The Bitter End - her
"That's my little life story," Carter confessed.
"I wrote that with my friend Mark W Winchester - an awesome bass
player. He used to play with me and was in the Nash Ramblers with
Emmylou and Jon Randall. It's the only co-write on the whole album.
He called me and said let's make up a song. I'd already written the
first verse and chorus and he had some of the coolest stuff - the
line about the southern girl and little did she know. It was so damn
country - that was my story song. I originally started writing it,
thinking of Johnny Cash singing it with that guitar riff, but I didn't
get it finished before he went on. I started writing it two months
before he passed away - right in the spring before Mama died. I left
it alone then finished it when Mark came along. We finished it in
about 30 minutes. We did it live with the band a year before we recorded
Winchester also played the late Chet Atkins in Wildwood Flowers.
And now here
are brief details of Carter's embryonic life story.
Carlene was just 15 when she wed Joe Simpkins and they had a daughter
They were divorced within a few years.
Carter enrolled in college as a piano major in her late teens, but never
At 19, she married fellow songwriter Jack Routh and had a son, also Jack;
they were divorced within two years.
Her stepsister Cindy Cash later wed Carlene's second ex husband Jack so
she became John Routh Jr's aunt and stepmother.
Routh became the second husband of both singing stepsiblings.
So he was also legally his son's step uncle.
Cindy wed roots country star Marty Stuart in 1983 but split after six
years in 1988.
Marty then married fellow country singer Connie Smith, 17 years his senior,
That's another story too.
CLICK HERE for family
tree details from the Diary on August 31, 2005
of address/ change of name/ change of linen/ to hide the shame/ what can
I say to change your heart?' - To Change Your Heart - Carlene Carter
explored a belated divorce from third husband - British roots singer-songwriter
and producer Nick Lowe - for another new song To Change Your Heart.
She wed Lowe, a co-founder of Rockpile with Dave Edmunds, at 23.
"I wrote To Change Your Heart about my divorce from Nick
Lowe," Carter revealed.
"It was about when I finally got the papers. We had broken up
many years before. I finally got around to it. I didn't want a divorce.
I really loved him. I drew on that."
In 1978 she went to Los Angeles where she received a record contract
with Warner Bros.
album, Carlene Carter, was a rock record recorded in London with
Graham Parker's backing band, The Rumour.
year, she released second album, Two Sides to Every Woman, which
featured support from The Doobie Brothers.
That same year she married Lowe.
Lowe helped Carter guide her musical direction in the early eighties.
Her third album - the new wave-inflected country-rock record Musical
Shapes (1980) - showed the influence of Lowe, Rockpile, and Dave Edmunds.
Although the album was critically acclaimed, it was a commercial failure.
She followed Musical Shapes in 1981 with Blue Nun, which continued
to pursue a new wave-country direction; like its predecessor, it was ignored.
Carter also released C'est C Bon on Razor & Tie Music in 1983.
During that period Carter, who also had a role with Kiki Dee in Broadway
musical Pump Boys & Dinettes, appeared in the movie Too Drunk To
Remember - based on one of her songs.
Too Drunk To Remember was on Musical Shapes - so was I'm
So Cool that she cut again for Stronger.
"I'd love to get a copy of that movie," Carter quipped, "if
you can find one please let me know."
by the window, watched him walk away/ saw the wind blow his hair/ and
the tears in my eyes." - Judgement Day - Carlene Carter
Carlene returned to the U.S. she hooked up with Howie Epstein - bassist
for Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers from 1982.
Epstein, born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, also produced John Prine's
Grammy-winning album The Missing Years.
He produced two Carter albums, one of which was nominated for a Grammy.
Carlene began her new record with Epstein in 1989 - the same year
she duetted with Southern Pacific on their Top 40 hit Time's Up.
Reprise signed Carter and she released her sixth album, I Fell
in Love, late in 1990.
I Fell in Love produced two hit singles, the title track, and
Come on Back that soared to #3 on charts.
Her 1993 sequel Little Love Letters on Giant Records was equally
It's first single Every Little Thing also reached #3.
her 1995 album Little Acts of Treason with studio veteran James
It was followed by Hindsight 20/20 - a greatest hits compilation
But offstage Epstein and Carter endured a turbulent 15-year romantic relationship
littered with dope and booze dramas.
Carter split with Epstein six months before he died of a heroin overdose
on February 24, 2003.
It was the first of four major family deaths that tested the faith of
the singer in the worst year of her life.
love never dies/ it just walks away." - Judgement Day - Carlene
Day was about having to leave my relationship with Howie because of
the drugs and stuff," Carter confessed.
"I had to walk away and leave him there. I said 'when you get clean
then I'll come home.'
Unfortunately he never got that together and died. I always loved him.
I never stopped loving him and he died. It was the saddest thing in the
world. I started writing Judgement Day the day Howie died but didn't
finish it until I married my husband. It was so hard to write."
Carter elaborated on the storms of life that claimed Epstein.
"Howie wasn't just missed by me but a lot of other people who loved
him and his music," Carter added.
"He was so talented and such a good person but he got caught up in
bad stuff. We both did.
Somehow God took my ass out of there."
Carter admitted she stood by her man when police found 2.9 grams of black
tar heroin in their rental car in June, 2001, when she was driving Epstein
to Albuquerque Airport to catch a flight to Pennsylvania for concerts
"I took the rap for him in the drug charges," Carter explained.
"I wasn't being a martyr or big hero. He worked for a band and I
was my own boss and no-one could fire me. We thought he would get fired
- he said 'you take the rap.' It didn't matter in the end because they
got wise to his shenanigans - he eventually lost his job and shortly after
that he lost me. I don't why I'm still here - hey a lot of shit happened
that year. I was doing pretty good that year then he died."
"Sweet baby sister had the world upon her shoulders/ she had a spirit
like a twister/ this life could not hold her/ always one to run so fast
down a track heading nowhere/ she was cool until the train crash/ she
died trying to get there." - Stronger - Carlene Carter
death was the first of four in eight months to test the faith of the
June Carter Cash, 73, died on May 15.
Johnny Cash, 71, passed away on September 12.
Then younger sister Rosey Nix Adams, just 45, and partner - fiddler
Jimmy Campbell 40 - died on October 24.
Nix and Campbell - a member of Nashville band The Sidemen - were found
dead in a converted bus near Clarksville, Tennessee.
"These were the four most important people in my life, apart
from my children," said Carter.
all disappeared within eight months - it was devastating. Anyone would
freak out. I tried to drown my sorrows, but no amount would fix it. Losing
my little sister was the straw that broke the camel's back for me. I don't
why I'm still here."
Carter said she had a brief respite after Epstein's death.
"Howie died and I got OK, then my mom died," Carter recalled.
"I tried to hang in there. Then I got good again then John died.
It was a slippery slope for about a year - then my sister Rosey died.
I slid for another few months. I was barely hanging on and not understanding
why things happened, why I was still here and no-one else was. It wasn't
like I was alone. I had a lot of support - a lot of family and friends
that really stood by me."
a big shiny car we'd head down the road/ to sing for the miners who brought
out the coal/ many a time I slept on the floorboard cold/ on a quilt with
my little sister/
The Wildwood Rose." - Wildwood Rose - Carlene Carter
tried to find solace in substance abuse but survived.
"You can take drugs all day but the thing about it is no amount
of drugs, no amount of anything makes anything OK. No amount of self-abuse
in any way can ever fix the pain that is," Carter confessed.
"You can take drugs all day but if you don't die you don't fix
anything - you might as well just quit it. You could say I've got
a whole pound of cocaine here and you can snort it all but if you're
still going to be alive why bother. "
So Carter rebounded after her trip to hell and back.
"I had to learn how to find a way to walk ahead," Carter
"I did everything I could have done that would kill most people
but did not kill me. Drinking was never my biggest deal - my downfall
has always been drugs. I could take or leave a drink.
of drinking could put a light to the amount of drugs I did. I don't know
why I'm still here. But I cannot take drugs anymore - they don't fix nothing
and I'm too damn old for this.
I love my grand babies and I love life. It took me about a year to get
to where I was OK and on track. I started believing and I started writing."
drug addicts then and now could have gotten help had they taken advantage
of widely-available drug
addiction counseling programs.
SMITH TRIBUTE DISC
say that you're leavin'/ that you are deceiving/ but you tell me they
say the same about me/ but we'll show them they're wrong/ that loose talk
will do harm/ and hope that the truth they will see." - Loose
Talk - Freddie Hart-Ann Lucas
relationship with Breen and McFee has ensured her creative energy will
fuel new projects after international touring to promote Stronger.
"I wrote all this album completely sober," Carter says proudly.
"I didn't write anything when I was messed up. I couldn't do that.
I wrote some of it in Jamaica. We go there two or thee times a year -
that's where I feel really close to my family.
There's a whole lot of spiritual stuff there. I wrote a lot in my house
in Tennessee where Joe and I lived and also some of it in a dinky hotel
where Joe and I lived when we first got together. I wrote some in my head
when I'm sleeping. But one thing I can say in all honesty is
I wrote the whole album completely sober. I don't do good when I'm not
And what is the next venture?
"The next project for John McFee and me is the tribute album to my
dad with some really cool people," Carter enthused.
"I've got Elvis Costello, Nick Lowe, Rodney Crowell, Vince Gill and
Terri Clark. I love to ask others. Dad is 81 now and he's rocking like
hell. Everything seems very positive."
Carter previously released a duet with her father on his hit Loose
Talk from her Little Acts Of Treason album.
an Australian summer tour to promote her CD and accompanying DVD.
"I have always wanted to tour Australia but I have never got to come
there," Carter says.
"It's always been my biggest dream, I told every agent and manager
I have had in my entire career I want to go to Australia. For some reason
it has never happened. Please tell them to invite me. I'll come for hardly
nothing. I have a new agent who is keen to get me down there."
By then Carlene will have video clips for CMC and Nu Country TV.
"We filmed an entire show for a live DVD," Carlene added.
"We did the entire album live at The Mint in L A."
And will she repeat her eighties on-stage quip when she introduced her
song Swamp Meat Rag at the Bottom Line in New York, unaware mother
June and Johnny Cash were in the audience?
Carlene said "I'm going to put the C
back in country"
a few decades before Waylon Jennings son Shooter named his 2005 debut
disc Put The O Back In Country.
"You know honey, I'm going to put the tree back in country,"
/ back to diary
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