Travelers Welcome

Travelers Welcome

Friday, August 31, 2012

Country, a Memoir: Chapter 15

by Shelby Stephenson

I heard Carl and Pearl Butler on WPTF,
singing songs Carl helped write, including

“Crying My Heart Out Over You,” and “Guilty
Conscience”: I learned “Guilty Conscience” from

Carl Smith: “When you’re with your new love,
are you light and gay or does a guilty conscience

bother you?” Carl Butler’s voice naturalized his
songs. Hank Williams leaned into that sound:  listen to

Hank’s “You Win Again” or Butler’s version of
“I know What It Means to Be Lonesome.”  When

Pearl comes on stage with Carl, boy, that’s pure duo:
“Don’t Let Me Cross Over Love’s Cheating Line.”

Pearl Butler was born Pearl Dee Jones, Nashville,
Tennessee; Carl’s from Knoxville: I feel like a

sockless toe sometimes, listing in the B’s song-titles like
“Second Fiddle to an Old Guitar,” songwriter,

Betty Amos, Jean Shepard’s version of the song
squarely in the honky-tonk tradition she shaped

throughout her career. A lyric by any other name
could be a uke out of tune in all keys:  D.G. Martin

asked me on Bookwatch what poetry and country
music have in common:  why, music’s the poetry of the

soul; a way back there the events in Beowulf
allowed us to follow our leader heroically in a

motive of grammars Grendel and Grendel’s
mom numbered across the landscape all the way to

Now, beyond slight imposition, the Ideal in
every Attribute and Humor of old, Gods and

Goddesses vying for portal, going and coming
within us − embodied. If there be sweethearts in

heaven, I want Nin for mine: her morning exercises,
some yoga:  her bends defy my run-outs running

on, hands down, for a bottle of beer: Busch’ll be
fine. Here come the C’s!  Buddy Cagle’s from

Concord, North Carolina.  I shout his name because he
recorded a Wynn Stewart song.  Will we ever get to the

S’s?  “Sing a Sad Song (and Make It As Blue as I Feel)”:
Archie Campbell heaped up helpings of Hee-Haw:

comic, narrator, singer, born, Bulls Gap, Tennessee,
as World War I started; he knew like an upper plate

East Tennessee in that gap in the Mouth of the
Great Smoky Mountains.  Smoking a stogie − hereeeee’s

Groucho! − he’d chant ballads and ditties he called
“spoonerisms”:  Archie Campbell:  may his cigar

flame and fram his corny “Rindercella” and “Pee Little
Thrigs.”  My alphabetical squeezings get wobbly and

pretentious if I ponder stars and starlets long.
Sweet Misery!  It’s harder to write about Delight,

Arkansas, Glen Campbell.  Courtship with Tanya Tucker’s
still on ice, his run-in, too, with David Allan Coe’s

claim to be the original “Rhinestone Cowboy.”
I sang the song with relish in the 70’s, some

mustard, too: stardom rushed GC and not me;
on the other hand, a golden band accounts for

Tanya’s and Glen’s feuds.  Glen’s poverty was
bleaker than mine, I think, his father giving him a

Sears-Roebuck guitar when he was a little boy:
no doubt he sang right along to “Delta Dawn,” as he and

Tanya fell head over heels in love. The
Campbell-Tucker prowl hopped waves after

Glen sailed on John Hartford’s boat, waving back,
singing to the top of his follicles, “Gentle On My Mind”:

consider “By the Time I Get to Phoenix,” the Jimmy Webb
song Campbell sang.  “Jumping” Bill Carlisle was a

Firebird. He had a serious side, too:  wrote
“Gone Home”:  “our friends we loved yesterday,

gone home”:  I never saw his brother, Cliff, but I
did Bill:  “Too Old to Cut the Mustard,” “Is Zat You,

Myrtle?”  Speaking of mustard, I heard a woman
say one time, “I may be too old to cut the mustard, but I

shore God can waller hit down.”  Cliff was younger than
Bill, though Bill just about lived forever, singing

“No Help Wanted” until No One would accompany
him into his grave.  He reeked a kind of Everyman-and-woman

sense of humor.  I like “Knothole” a lot:  it points up the
art-life conundrum:  “You ought to see what I saw

through the old knothole.”  Bill wrote that song, too:
I think Ira and Charlie Louvin gave Bill a hand with

“Is Zat You, Myrtle?”  My mother Maytle’s sister’s
Vurtle?  When we boys were small, we’d shuck the corn and

snicker slip-ups:  “Since Myrtle put the girdle on the
turtle there’ll be no sag in the bag tonight.”  Raleigh

Memorial Auditorium in the early 1950’s:  Martha Carson
staged with Bill Carlisle and the Louvins:  she was

the most beautiful woman in the world to me:
in her ruffled dress, she looked like a peasant-goddess,

her eyelashes long and full; her guitar gave her body
an extra poise which reflected her eyes blinking

out of her birthplace, Neon, Kentucky.  She
could brighten any crowd − comedians, custodians,

customers at the check-in and check-out − waiting
for her to sing her lolloping gospel.  Martha Carson!

She started her first radio show in Bluefield,
West Virginia, in the 1940’s.  She also sang on

John Lair’s Renfro Valley Kentucky Barn Dance.
She’s known best for a song she wrote and sang − “Satisfied.”

“Will You Miss Me When I’m Gone?” Carter Family,
Maces Springs, Virginia:  I think of June, probably,

first, since memory loves affairs:  her marriage to
Johnny Cash duos her comedy with John R like a

watermelon plugged for June and July, the whole
story, starting August 1, 1927, a day that goes

down in history, for at 410 State Street, Bristol,
on the Tennessee side (the street divides Tennessee

and Virginia) talent scout Ralph Peer set up studio,
presenting songs the Original Carter Family sang and

collected, songs lovers of country music relish and dish
out to fans and friends:  Peer got the blue-yodeler to come

out and sing, too:  I mean that Mississippi brakeman,
Jimmie Rogers:  the Clinch Mountains must have

moved over a little as the Carters came down
to Bristol to make a record after seeing an

ad in The Bristol Herald.  Original Carters:
A.P. (Alvin Pleasant), his wife Sara, and A.P.’s

sister-in-law, Maybelle Carter.  Maybelle played
her guitar and Sara played hers.  They “cut” the

standard Carter-fare, including “The Storms Are
on the Ocean” and “Bury Me Beneath the Willow.”

For many years the Carters had entertained:
school-parties, parlors, church-socials, local

entertainments, corn-shuckings, square-dances,
baptizings:  Maybelle played autoharp, too:  what

a pleasure to hear the music the whole family
popularized:  Mother Maybelle and her daughters −

Helen, Anita, June − could sing like doves
“Keep on the Sunny Side,” “Foggy Mountain Top,”

“The Titanic,” “On the Rock Where Moses Stood,”
“The Homestead on the Farm,” “Meeting in the Air,”

“Worried Man Blues,” “You Are My Flower,” “I Shall
Not Be Moved,” and “Angel Band.”  From 1927 to

1941, the last year they recorded, the “original”
Carters recorded around 250 songs, many of them

country music standards: “Wabash Cannonball,”
“I’m Thinking Tonight of My Blue Eyes,” “Lonesome

Valley,” and “Jimmy Brown, the Newsboy.”  The year
I was born the Carters accepted a daily show at XERA,

Mexico, right near Del Rio, Texas, there in borderland:
A.P.’s and Sara’s children, Jeanette and Joe played

parts in their show.  With Robert Denham, the
Northrop Frye scholar, Nin and I travelled to Maces

Springs, to the Carter Fold, the house the Carter-Music
built.  Jeanette emceed, opening the show, “Please

take off your hats when we sing the hymns.”  Joe
told tall tales.  He could mock a hog, exactly.  By the

early 40’s the Carters went separate ways.  A.P. − alone −
returned to Maces Springs.  Maybelle immersed

herself in music, managing an act with June, Helen,
Anita, playing WRVA, Richmond, Virginia, and

WSM, joining the Grand Ole Opry.

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