Tag Archives: Carlene Carter

Where should I sign?

Autographed Taylor Swift folklore CDs at the Exclusive Company in Green Bay, Wisconsin.

This is quite a story if you haven’t already heard it.

Delivery guy drops a box of 30 autographed Taylor Swift “folklore” CDs at a record store 15 minutes before it opens. A young woman signs for it. She’s sitting on the sidewalk, waiting for the store to open. She realizes what the package likely contains and protects it as if it were gold. She hands it over to the record store manager when he arrives to open for the day.

Well, that happened right here in Green Bay a week ago. The record store is The Exclusive Company, one of my regular stops. The store manager is my friend Tom Smith. The Taylor Swift fan is Brandy Baenen, who’s 26.

“‘Taylor would not have wanted me to walk off with this,” she told Tom, who later that day told the story on social media and watched it go viral.

Which got me to thinking about autographs. I’ve never been a big autograph guy. Not athletes, not celebrities and not musicians. I’d rather chat briefly with them, say I enjoyed their performance, and leave it at that.

That said, I do have a few signed records and CDs.

The late, great Steve Goodman signed his “Artistic Hair” record for me after I saw him play at the old Madison Civic Center in the spring of 1983. I vividly remember Goodman sitting at the table, looking up and asking my name for the inscription. Either I mumbled or he misheard me. As you see, he signed mine “JOE / Hello / Steve Goodman.” I was vaguely disappointed at first, but have long since enjoyed it as another delightful gift from Goodman.

Colin Hay Man @ Work autographed CD

After Colin Hay played a solo one-nighter at our local casino lounge in the summer of 2005, I queued up for his autograph on his “Man @ Work” CD. Our son Evan was 10 at the time. He was just getting into music. One of the songs on that 2003 record, “Beautiful World,” was one of his favorites.

Sleepy LaBeef Nothin' But the Truth autographed LP

Sleepy LaBeef, the human jukebox, was one of my all-time favorites. I pulled out “Nothin’ But the Truth,” his 1986 live record, for Sleepy to sign when he played a rockabilly festival at our local casino in 2007. At some point, I managed to crease a corner of the album jacket, and that bugs me to this day.

Carlene Carter autograph on Stronger CD

Carlene Carter autograph on Carter Girl CD

Though we saw Carlene Carter live in 2009, my autographed CDs came by mail. She has the best penmanship and nicest signature of any of my autographs. Fun fact: Ray Nitschke was a close second.

(I also have a CD signed by all the members of The Ides of March, circa 2011, but that was a post-show assembly-line deal rather than a face-to-face meetup. The Ides’ Jim Peterik signed his book for me three years later. I have a 12-inch single signed by all three ladies in The Three Degrees, circa 1978. Bought that for fun.)

(Found while rounding up those autographs: Autographed CDs by blues guitarists John Cephas and Phil Wiggins — a birthday gift in 1993 after we saw them earlier that year — and by country singer Danni Leigh from after a 2004 show at our local casino lounge.)

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Filed under August 2020, Sounds

Top 25? Our top 3 records of 2014

There’s never been a year-end music roundup at AM, Then FM because that’s really not how we roll here.

That said, I read Ken Shane’s late-to-the-party roundup of his favorite albums of 2014 over at Popdose, and thought we’d tap into that spirit.

Ken has 25 records on his list, but ours won’t be that long. I bought plenty of records during 2014. Only three of them were new releases.

The first new record I bought in 2014: “Give The People What They Want,” by Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings.

When Daptone Records provided a sneak peek of the new record from Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings, I took one look at the cover and my record nerd kicked in. Hey, I thought, that design is inspired by an old Chi-Lites record.

chilitesgivemore powerlpsharonjonesdapkings givepeoplewhattheywantlp

Whatever. The record came out at the end of the second week of January, and I picked it up as soon as I could. Two months later, we got to hear most of it at the Pabst Theater in Milwaukee, a scorcher of a soul revue on a late winter night.

Cool song off the record: “Long Time, Wrong Time,” on which the Dap-Kings walk their vintage soul sound over near the swamp for Miss Jones to chomp on.

The second new record I bought in 2014: “Carter Girl,” by Carlene Carter.

I belong to almost no fan clubs, but I have been a member of Carlene Carter’s fan club for several years. When she started her gradual return to recording and performing in the mid-2000s, it was well below the radar, and the fan club was pretty much the only way to keep tabs on it.

Tipped by the fan club to a limited number of autographed copies of her new record, I managed to get one. Full disclosure, though: I’m not a big autograph guy. I just thought it would be a fun thing to have.

Carlene Carter autographed CD

Well, it sure was fun opening the package when it arrived in April. Carlene Carter has a lovely signature, doesn’t she?

I’ve loved Carlene Carter since her time with Nick Lowe and Dave Edmunds in the early ’80s, through her pop-country stardom in the early ’90s and now that she’s re-emerged after some struggles with addiction. On this record, Carter taps into her Carter Family influences and stands right beside them as one of America’s finest country singers.

Cool song off the record: “Lonesome Valley 2003,” an updated version of an A.P. Carter song. She’s always been one of the great duet singers. “Baby Ride Easy” with Dave Edmunds is sublime. Vince Gill is her partner on this one.

The third new record I bought in 2014: “The Lost Tapes,” by Vic Pitts and the Cheaters.

Just in time for my birthday, I was tipped to this record by DJ Prestige over at Flea Market Funk. It hit me right in my wheelhouse: Vintage soul and R&B, and vintage soul and R&B from Wisconsin.

Full disclosure again: I’m not big into limited editions, either. But I managed to order from Secret Stash Records in Minneapolis when the red vinyl copies were still available. I just thought it would be a fun thing to have.

vic pitts record on turntable

Well, it sure was fun seeing that red vinyl light up the turntable in July.

vic pitts cheaters lost tapes lp

Vic Pitts and the Cheaters were among Milwaukee’s hottest soul/R&B bands in the late ’60s and early ’70s. This record gathers a never-released bunch of scorchers, covers, ballads and instrumentals that were recorded in 1969 and 1970 at Ter-Mar Studios in Chicago, by then one of the last remaining pieces of what once was Chess Records.

Cool song off the record: “The Trip,” the one that’s playing in the picture.

Please visit our companion blog, The Midnight Tracker, for more vintage vinyl, one side at a time. (And, yes, I know I am long overdue in posting there.)

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Filed under January 2015, Sounds

A time for honkin’ and healing

It was the last line in today’s news ticker on Uni Watch, a blog run by my friend Paul from Brooklyn and otherwise devoted to “the obsessive study of athletics aesthetics.”

“RIP, Mr. Country,” was all it said. There were almost 200 comments about sports uniforms, but no one mentioned Mr. Country.

But I noticed it. Thanks, Paul.

It was pretty much the same way at work. The news about Mr. Country was on the AP wire early this morning, but the kids who run the entertainment portion of our web site didn’t deem it worthy of posting.

I noticed that, too.

“Mr. Country” was Carl Smith. “The Country Gentleman” was 82 when he died Saturday at his ranch in Franklin, Tennessee.

Peter Cooper, the fine music writer at The Tennessean in Nashville, has a wonderful appreciation of Smith’s life, complete with photos.

Carl Smith was one of country music’s biggest stars during the 1950s, but was just 51 when he retired in 1978 to work on his ranch. His first wife was June Carter. Their daughter is Carlene Carter.

And that is how I came to know Mr. Country.

Carlene Carter has long been one of my favorites. To see and hear her play live last year, and to hear her talk about her family from the stage of that tiny Wisconsin theater, was delightful.

She didn’t sing this one that night, but she could well have.

“Loose Talk,” Carlene Carter with Carl Smith, from “Little Acts of Treason,” Carlene Carter, 1995. It’s out of print but is available digitally.

She’d convinced her dad to come out of retirement and sing with her on this tune. He had a No. 1 hit with it for seven weeks in 1955, the year Carlene was born. It was the last of his five No. 1 hits, but he had six more Top 10 hits by the end of the decade.

“Thanks for letting me sing with you, Daddy,” she said on the liner notes. “When it comes to honkin’, you invented it.”

Carlene Carter has been through much since that 1995 record. She’s recovered from drug addiction. In an eight-month stretch of 2003, she lost her longtime companion Howie Epstein, her mother, her stepfather Johnny Cash and her younger half-sister Rosey Carter. She spoke of all that last year when she played this lovely, elegant tribute to Rosey.

“Stronger,” Carlene Carter, from “Stronger,” 2008.

“What doesn’t kill me makes me stronger/I’ll hold on a little longer”

Carter explains in her Yep Roc Records bio:

“It’s the story about how I felt after Rosey died. It actually came because of the combination of all of those losses that year. I knew I had a song in me about it, but I couldn’t quite get there. It was too painful. I was in such grief over everything. That song really helped me to heal a whole lot. … The chorus being about survival is because I could never figure out why I was still here, as hard as I ran.”

Here’s hoping it helps her heal again.

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Filed under January 2010, Sounds

Live at the Thrasher

Rare is the show at which you know every song, but we enjoyed one last weekend. We went to see Carlene Carter, long one of our faves.

She played the Thrasher Opera House in Green Lake, Wisconsin.


The Thrasher is a lovingly restored yet plain little place in a resort town of 1,100 people. It dates to 1910 and first was a vaudeville house, then was a movie theater into the 1940s. As you see, it seats 198 — 11 rows of nine seats each on either side of the room. Intimate, to say the least.

It was a nice fit for a show that was all but unplugged — just Carter on guitar and Mike Emerson on a Steinway piano. She played 18 songs drawn from 1980’s “Musical Shapes” to her early ’90s pop-country hits to the more serious stuff on 2008’s “Stronger.”

These days, Carter is more earth mama than the blonde pixie you may remember from earlier in her career. She’s had a hard road — she’s dealt with substance abuse and the loss of several loved ones — but she remains sassy and delightful.

We’ve written about “Stronger” before, so let’s listen instead to a couple of older tunes she played at the Thrasher. They’re from “Musical Shapes,” Carter’s breakthrough album, which was produced by Nick Lowe, her husband at the time.


“Cry” and “Ring Of Fire,” Carlene Carter, from “Musical Shapes,” 1980. (The album link is to a 2-on-1 CD also featuring “Two Sides To Every Woman,” Carter’s second album, from 1979.)

“Cry,” which is written by Carter, features Rockpile as the backing band. That’s Dave Edmunds on guitar and backing vocals, Lowe on the bass, Billy Bremner on guitar and Terry Williams on drums. They team up on all but two songs on the album.

“Ring of Fire” is one of those songs without Rockpile. Instead, it has a backing band led by Doobie Brothers guitarist John McFee, who works with Carter to this day. I’m not sure I care for the guitars on this cover, but Carter’s voice makes you forget about them.

It’s one of the songs Carter sings today to demonstrate how strongly she values her family traditions. Her mother June Carter co-wrote it.

The others include “Me and the Wildwood Rose,” a song she wrote about her late sister Rosey; “My Dixie Darlin’,” written by A.P. Carter and long a staple of Carter Family shows; and “It Takes One To Know Me,” a song Carlene wrote in the ’70s as a birthday gift for her stepdad, Johnny Cash, yet one that long went unreleased.

Video, too: Here’s Carter on stage just three weeks before our show, at a coffeehouse in a church in Littleton, Massachusetts. The audio doesn’t do her justice, but you get the idea. It’s produced by the local paper.

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Filed under April 2009, Sounds

Worth the wait

Those of us who love Carlene Carter have been waiting patiently for her.

We’ve been waiting for her to emerge from more than a decade out of the spotlight, a time during which she lost several loved ones and battled substance abuse.

Our patience has been rewarded.

In 2006, Carter put her toe back in the water, recording “Stronger,” an album of new material. Essentially a demo, it was produced by her brother, John Carter Cash. At the time, Carter had no record deal, so she sold it only online and at her occasional shows. I heard “Stronger” last year, and it was delightful.

Last year, Carter signed with Yep Roc Records, which last week released “Stronger.”

However, it’s not the “Stronger” I heard last year. They’re the same tunes, with a slightly different tracking order, but with new arrangements and far more polished. The new “Stronger” is one of the best albums I’ve heard in a long time. It’s produced by John McFee (formerly of the Doobie Brothers), who also played most of the instruments.

Brad DeMeulenaere, who edits an excellent Web site on Carter’s behalf, explains the new version of “Stronger” this way: “Carlene has said she wanted it to have more punch.” It certainly does.

If you are at all familiar with the arc of Carter’s career, you know we’ve seen Carter as a sassy rocker with then-husband Nick Lowe in the late ’70s and early ’80s and Carter as a video-friendly blonde pixie doing country-tinged pop in the ’90s.

Now, with “Stronger,” we have Carter as earthy mom, a spirited voice that nonetheless has been around the block a few times.

“Stronger” has much in common with Carter’s early-’90s work, a blend of traditional country and alt-country infused with rock and pop sensibilities. Resist the impulse to dismiss it as twang. It ain’t.

Listen to “Break My Little Heart in Two” and you think it might just break into 1990’s “I Fell in Love.” Likewise, you can hear echoes of 1993’s “Sweet Meant to Be” and 1995’s “Love Like This” in “Light of Your Love.” Sure, they’re familiar, yet Carter’s sound has matured, moved forward.

Carter also revisits “I’m So Cool,” a rave-up rocker she did first on “Musical Shapes,” her classic 1980 album. It’s interesting to listen to the evolution of her performances.

In 1980, Carter, backed by Lowe, Dave Edmunds and Rockpile, sounded the sass of youth. The 2006 demo was more of a straight-ahead rocker, with Carter’s lower, huskier voice of experience. On the new version, Carter is feisty as always — kissing us off mid-song with “Ohhh, eat your heart out” — but McFee’s choice of vocoderish backing vocals and a synth-filled finish is curious. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. But it’s the only miss among a bunch of solid tunes.

The signature tune of “Stronger” is its distinctive title track, the last cut on the CD. The song and its haunting refrain — “What doesn’t kill me makes me stronger/What doesn’t kill me makes me stronger/I’ll hold on a little longer/What doesn’t kill me makes me stronger” — speaks to the loss of her beloved younger sister, Rosey Nix Adams, in 2003.

Carlene Carter is back. Whether saucy or serious, she still has plenty to say.

Now if we can only get her to come play in Green Bay.


“I’m So Cool,” Carlene Carter, “Stronger” demo, 2006. No longer available.


“Light of Your Love,” Carlene Carter, “Stronger,” 2008. (Not plugging it, but just FYI: If you follow this link instead of shopping at the place I usually link to, you’ll get the album digitally so you can listen right away while waiting for your CD — plus you’ll get a bonus track not on the CD.)

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Filed under March 2008, Sounds