“I was known as Blackie's gunman/ the best two gunman in the land/ I could shoot the ace of diamonds/ with a draw from either hand/ with the dice I had no equal/ some of them are with us now/ most of them are sadly sleeping/ ‘neath the weeping willow bough.” - Blackie's Gunman - Carter Family.

When moonshiner's daughter Elizabeth Cook toured here a couple of years ago with singing spouse Tim Carroll she was a rare treat - especially for her writing partner Melinda Schneider.

Her profile was lifted by discerning community radio stations and Nu Country TV .

Now Carlene Carter had paid her another compliment by selecting her as a duet partner on her 11 th album Carter Girl .

It's also happy tidings for latter day Doris Day celebrant Schneider who shared a Stronger album title with four times wed grandmother Carlene, now 58 and still in fine voice.

That's the good news - the sad tidings is this disc is only available here as a digital release so you might need to import it from the U.S.

"It's been in my brain for years and years and years," Carter says of Carter Girl .


"I always knew that I would do this record one day. Right after I finished the album Stronger , which came out in 2008, I decided the next thing I did was going to be this. I wasn't really sure how to go about it. It had to be all the right things, at the right time."

Carter's album reaches back into the rich catalogue of the Appalachian repertoire of the Carter Family but also features new originals and guest cameos by Shotgun Willie Nelson and recent tourist Kris Kristofferson - singing actor and Rhodes Scholar pilot of the airwaves and way beyond.

Lorrie Carter Bennett, daughter of Anita Carter, and Carlene's fourth husband-actor Joe Breen also participated.

So why did Carlene choose Cook, the youngest of 12 children, to guest here on six songs?

"Elizabeth Cook just has that great high voice, and I dubbed her an honorary Carter girl," Carter revealed recently.

" Blackie's Gunman my duet with her, is such a fun song and an obscure one. A lot of people had never heard it, including myself. I just used her like crazy. I just asked her to be on the record and the next thing she knew she was on six tracks. I said, ‘Have you got one more in ya?'

Carlene, a third generation member of the Carter Family , had no shortage of material.

She drew upon her grandmother Mother Maybelle Carter and her mother June Carter Cash - born Valerie June Carter to Maybelle and Ezra Carter - in Mace Springs , Virginia , on June 23, 1929.

June and sisters Helen and Anita comprised The Carter Sisters .

So Carlene, whose dad was late Tennessean country star Carl Smith, revived several classic Carter songs penned by patriarch A.P. Carter, Maybelle and Sara Carter - the original Carter Family - and songs written by her mother and aunts.

They include June's Tall Lover Man and Helen's Poor Old Heartsick Me .


“In my Grandma's house her children would sing/ guitars a twangin' and their laughter would ring/ I was little but I was the biggest kid/ I wanted to do what the grown-ups did/ in 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.” - The Wildwood Rose - Carlene Carter.

Her originals include oft recorded Me and the Wildwood Rose about step sister Rosie - and Lonesome Valley 2003 featuring Vince Gill.

“Mom dubbed Rosie (Nix Adams) The Wildwood Rose ,” Carter explained.

“We would get on the floorboard of the car, and grandma drove. I remember driving all night and getting to a fair and we would watch them perform. After grandma passed in 1978, I wanted to write about what those days meant.”

The song was originally on Carlene's 1990 album I Fell In Love .

“The musicians played along to Cowboy's original guitar work,” said Carlene who performs live self-accompanying guitar picking in the famous Carter Scratch style, the thumb picks out the melody while the fingers simultaneously brush the strings in rhythm.

“I redid my vocal on it, and of course at that time of the original recording. John always wanted to be in the studio, so his voice is on there. This is how I view my life and how I want to live it.”

Don Was produced the project.

“I always wanted to work with Don and I waited to work with him,” said Carlene.

“I think that's the reason it came out so well. He got me to trust my instincts.” she shares. “I wanted to fire myself from playing guitar because I felt we had so many talented guitarists in the studio, but Don said no, they were playing with me. I came to really own these songs as my own, to take them out into the world and keep alive the legacy of the Carter family.”

"One thing I really wanted in my record was that, whoever produced this, was going to understand a little bit of what I might be going through," she notes, "and also get my personality on the record; my emotions and stuff. And sometimes you have very perfect records that have no real true emotion to it. Pretty much all my vocals and all my guitar playing are live when we tracked the record. And apart from doing the vocal overdubs, for harmonies and stuff, my performances were when we put down the basic tracks. For me, that was easy because getting into that moment and recording the tracks is not the same as playing it with the guys."

Was also supported her guitar playing.

"I tried to fire myself a bunch of times off the guitar," she admits.

"And Don was really just encouraging to me, and he was really great about reminding me to trust my intuition and that I had great instincts - particularly regarding the making of this record."

Carter credits Was with helping overcome her tendency for perfectionism.

"That I owe to Don because I told him upfront. I said, ‘if you leave me alone with this stuff, I'm going to start messing over it, and I'll mess it up.' So he was the perfect match for this."


“I woke to the sound of my baby sister/ crying like the day she was born/ cause an angel of mercy, dressed all in white/ came and said, “girls, your Momma's passed on”/ so I gathered my children around me/ through our tears we found a prayer/ talked to God and Jesus and all them guys/ I knew momma was already there.” - Lonesome Valley 2003 - Carlene Carter & Carter Family.

She shares writing credit with A.P. on Lonesome Valley 2003 - an updated Carter Family patriarch's Lonesome Valley .

It reflects loss of Carlene's mother, sister and stepfather 11 years ago.

The album's entrée Little Black Train was first recorded by The Carter Family in 1935.

Carter added Kristofferson's harmony on Black Jack David and Willie on Troubled Waters .

"Well, when we started out I had a list of lots of different people I thought would be great on the record, either playing or singing with me or doing duets," Carter explains.

"The first three guys on the list were Willie, Kris and Vince Gill. I had already pretty much decided who would do which song because they belonged on it. Those three guys are like family to me and were like family to my family. And after that I didn't really have to look any further for male guests. I always looked at Kris and Willie as sort of like uncle/brothers."

Like her mother, June Carter Cash, Carlene has always been a free spirit and fiercely individualistic.

"I think in the very beginning, there were expectations of what I was supposed to sound like, or what kind of material I was supposed to do. We're talking back in '78, ‘79," Carter recalled.

"And I just found I had a great label at the time who allowed me to experiment with different things and try different kinds of music. But all the time I'm still a Carter girl. It doesn't matter what kind of music I'm singing. And being a songwriter, too, I'm just contributing to the catalogue of the Carter family, the way I look at it."

Carter choked up during recording as she recalled her ancestral family.

"I miss them every time I sing these songs," she confessed.

"I miss their voices with mine. So, I had to be ready in my grieving process to not have this be one of those things that is hard for me to pull out of me because it hurts to sing these songs."

“If you listen to the song Lonesome Valley , I remember that was one of the last songs we did on the first day of tracking, and there is a moment I almost cried. And if you listen closely, it's in there. ‘I went back home to see my family/ cause family keeps you strong.'

“I kind of get a little crackly there. And being sort of a perfectionist in some regards, I wanted to go back and re-do it. But the thing about it, it was more important to get the performance of the real thing for me, instead of getting it just perfect. Just perfect in the sense that it landed just right or the tone was perfect. I think it's perfect in its imperfections because it's real. There's not anything on it that I would change at all."


“Well Junie never knew a stranger/ she was friendly like that/ so we stood with our relations/ and a bunch of strangers dressed in black/ me and Rosey wore bright colours/ momma would have liked it like that/ we laid her near her momma/ sang ‘Circle Be', she always said she wanted that/ everybody's gotta walk that lonesome valley/ you've gotta walk it by yourself/ ain't nobody here can walk it for you/ you gotta walk it by yourself.” - Lonesome Valley 2003 - Carlene Carter & Carter Family.

Carlene joined the Carter Family on tour in 1987 during a successful solo career that featured ex-husband Nick Lowe.

She also lost former bassist partner of 15 years - Howie Epstein of Tom Petty's Heartbreakers who died at 47 in Santa Fe , New Mexico , on February 23, 2003.

Carter, who wed actor Breen in 2006, said she learned from watching her mother and others in her famous musical family perform and inherited her mother's sense of humour.

"I learned from the sides of the stage and onstage, how to be an entertainer from my mom and the Carters and from John and watching them, it's got to be thousands and thousands of shows I saw in my lifetime,” Carter said.

“My mama raised me, and she had a wicked sense of humour. And she had great timing. And I always feel most comfortable and the most happy when I'm playing music onstage. And it's not a matter of applause - it could be 5 people there or 5,000 or 15,000. It doesn't matter to me. I'm having a good time. And I feel so fortunate that I've been able to make whatever kind of living it was per year since I was 16 as a songwriter and as a performer. I'm 58 and I started when I was 4. From the day I first touched a guitar or piano "My mom said, 'You have to carry on the legacy of the Carter Family music. It's supposed to be passed on and passed around.'"

Musicians on the Carter Girl sessions last year in Los Angeles and Nashville include drummer Jim Keltner, Foo Fighters pianist Rami Jaffee, Greg Leisz, mandolinist Sam Bush, Willie's harmonica player Mickey Raphael, Blake Mills and Was on bass.


Carlene, born Rebecca Carlene Smith, is the daughter of Carl Smith who was married to her mother June from July 9, 1952, until their divorce in 1956.

Carl later enjoyed a 44 year marriage with fellow country singer Goldie Hill and died at 82 on January 16, 2010.

Ironically, Goldie died of cancer at 72 on February 24, 2005, in the same Nashville Baptist Hospital as June Carter Cash and the man in black.

June's second marriage was to Edwin "Rip" Nix - a former football player, police officer, and race car driver, on November 11, 1957.

They had a daughter, Rosanna Lea, Rosie, on July 13, 1958, and divorced in 1966.

Rosie Nix Adams, the Wildwood Rose , died on October 24, 2003, on a bus from suspected carbon monoxide poisoning.

In 1968 Cash proposed to Carter during a live performance at London Ice House in London , Ontario , Canada .

They married on March 1 in Franklin , Kentucky and remained married until her death in May 2003, just four months before Cash died.

She pre-deceased Cash at 73 at 5.04 p m on May 15, 2003.

Cash, born at Kingsland , Arkansas , on February, 26, 1932, grew up on a cotton farm in Dyess, Tennessee , where he lost elder brother Jack at 12 in a chain saw accident.

He died at 71 on September 12, 2003.

Back to Carlene - at 19 she wed 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, in 1997.

CLICK HERE for an exclusive interview with Carlene in the Diary on May 11, 2008.

top / back to diary