A strange bit of synchronicity occurred last night. I finished reading the excellent Carter Family biography "Will You Miss Me When I'm Gone" only to discover that yesterday happened to be the 29th anniversary of Maybelle Carter's passing.
I don't think it is much of a secret to regular readers of this blog that I have nothing but the greatest admiration for the Original Carter Family in general and Maybelle Carter in particular.
So in honor of the memory of Mother Maybelle, I'm posting this incredible clip of Maybelle and her cousin/sister-in-law, Sara Carter playing what appears to be an impromptu version of "Cannonball Blues" outside on some breezy summer day.
It's probably from 1966, the year that Johnny Cash, Maybelle's son-in-law, convinced his record company to record a Sara and Maybelle record called "Historic Reunion." They spent the summer touring and even performed at the Newport Folk Festival, allowing them to reclaim their rightful place in the history of folk music after having been absorbed into country music since the early '50s.
It's an amazing clip. The song itself, is generally attributed to AP Carter and Lesley "Esley" Riddle. It seems to have been one of the songs they found on their legendary song collecting expeditions through the rural south.
Even though the sound quality is a bit off, you can hear Maybelle's guitar picking in the style that became known as the "Carter Scratch"--making the guitar the lead instrument by playing rhythm and melody at the same time. Previously in mountain music, the lead melodies were generally carried by by fiddles. The best fiddlers were the kings southern mountain music. Maybelle's picking on Carter Family recordings were perceived as something new and extraordinary. In her humble way, she just called it "the old thumb and finger style."
In the clip, Sara thumps along on her autoharp and as in the old days sings the lead. It's impossible for me to not tap my foot and bob my head listening to this minute and half of historic music.
When you hear a highly rhythmic song like this one--it doesn't take a lot of imagination to think about how some of the kids who's parents bought their records or listened to them on the radio during the Depression and War years grew up to invent Rock and Roll.