Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Trinomials: June Carter Cash

June Carter Cash (and Johnny Cash): Jackson


June Carter Cash’s success story actually began two years before she was even born. It was a hot day in August 1927 when two women and a man (A.P. Carter, his wife Sara, and her cousin Maybelle) appeared at the New York studio door of a big-time talent scout for Victor Records. To audition, they’d spent the entire day before driving an old Model A Ford down mountain roads from the small hamlet of Bristol on the Virginia/Tennessee state line. Three flat tires later, they’d “arrived” in the big city. Impressed by their emotion, rusticity, charm and soul, Victor Records launched their career. It wasn’t long before The Carter Family’s music was playing from radios across the U.S. As country music hadn’t even been named yet, Victor simply called its brand “Old-Time Melodies of the Sunny South.”            

Maybelle gave birth to June in 1929, and by 1939 she was appearing on the radio too, playing autoharp and guitar. In fact, all three of Maybelle’s children would sing together as an act. At the time, June didn’t really want to sing, and her mother wasn’t even sure if she could carry a tune. Maybelle told the ten-year-old, “If you’re gonna be on the world’s largest radio station with us, we’ll need some kind of miracle.” The dream materialized, and all the kids found parts on the show that always opened with the upbeat theme song, “Keep on the Sunny Side.”    

The 2-disc album (linked above) comes with a hard cover CD book full of liner notes, historical perspectives, song credits and photographs. After the opening theme, we hear ten-year-old June Carter singing “Oh! Susannah” in 1939. The 1949 cut of “Root Hog or Die” includes her trademark “growl,” and her comic routines until 1948 as Aunt Polly might’ve even included buck-dancing. Onstage, she simply became “Little Junie Carter” when they came to the Grand Ole Opry in 1950.

Just from her tone and inflection, it's readily apparent that June was a good-time fun-loving gal who always kept on the sunny side of life. Although a true entertainer, her success was slow in coming in an era when female vocalists were more of a novelty in country music. June's various antics and hillbilly humor became part of her act presumably as a result of her own lack of self-confidence as a vocalist. After she and Carl Smith divorced in 1956, she studied acting in New York. In 1961, Johnny Cash invited Maybelle and the Carter Sisters to tour with him. June co-authored “Ring of Fire” with Johnny Cash. June and Johnny married in 1968. “Jackson” and “If I Were a Carpenter” both became top 40 hits for them. They toured widely and had a highly-rated television show in the late 1960s and 70s.

June Carter Cash’s music developed with experience, maturity, comedic verve and dramatic aptitude. She also never forgot her mountain soul and roots. She put out a successful album in 1999 called “Press On.” Shortly after she finished recording the album “Wildwood Flower,” June Carter Cash died on May 15, 2003. Check out the 2-CD compilation as a documentation of “her life in music.” Earl Scruggs once stated, “She was always full of energy and a really great show-gal.” And as Johnny Cash once said, “June’s work will live on and on.”

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