"And if I could change a thing in this world/ I'd go back to the days/ when Grandma and her girls/ were singing sweet and low/ for me and the Wildwood Rose." - Me And The Wildwood Rose - Carlene Carter.

Singing actress Carlene Carter doesn't have far to look if she and fourth husband - actor Joseph Breen - decide to write a Hollywood movie script.

All they need to do is tear out the back pages of Carter's amazing life story and trim them to fit the format.

It all started back on September 26, 1955, when Carter entered the world as Rebecca Carlene Smith.

Carlene is the daughter of country singer Carl Smith, now 81, and then wife June - one time singing spouse of Rip Nix, and later Johnny Cash.

Carlene's parents split in 1952 when she was two and her dad Carl later wed country singer Goldie Hill who died of cancer at 72 on February 24, 2005, after their 44-year marriage.

Ironically, Goldie died in the same Nashville Baptist Hospital as June Carter Cash and the man in black.

But that's another story.

CLICK HERE for the Goldie Hill obituary from the Diary on February 26, 2005.


"This hell raising angel's had a fair share of heartache/ what doesn't kill me makes me stronger/ I've held on a little longer." - Stronger - Carlene Carter

Carter wrote and recorded 10 new songs for her belated 10th CD Stronger - a graphic capsule depicting her journey to hell and back.

She also revamped two of her original songs, one of them dated back 34 years.

The disc, recorded for indie label YepRoc and released in Australia by Shock, has all the ingredients for a soundtrack.

Carlene demoed her songs with stepbrother John Carter Cash in his studio The Cabin and recorded the album with John McFee - known for his work with Doobie Brothers, Southern Pacific and Clover.

She also resurrected the 12th tune It Takes One To Know Me - a song she wrote as a present for her stepfather - the man in black.

"I'm in wine country, baby. I don't drink wine but there's a lot of wine around here," Carter,
and a grandmother told Nu Country TV in call from San Rafael in the Napa Valley in California.

"I wrote that song when I was 17. He put it on hold forever - until he was gone. I was even surprised they had it on tape two years after he passed away when my brother called me up and said they found this in the vault and mum and daddy did a version of It Takes One To Know Me. I didn't even know they recorded it. It came out on John's boxed set The Legend as a duet with mother. It also came out as an acoustic version on another CD Personal File. Then they found the original version I recorded when I was 17. The funny thing was that was two years before they recorded it. I wrote it in 1974 - I find it odd that some of the lyrics were funny - like 'I wish I was younger.'''

The sad fact that the song stayed unreleased for 30 years was no solace for Cash's late mate Waylon Jennings.

"Waylon tried to record it but Big John wouldn't let him," Carlene recalled.

"Waylon heard the song the week I wrote it or somewhere around that time. He said 'I want to record that song. It was right after Ramblin' Man came out. I said you got to call Big John and ask him as I gave it to him as a present. He wants to record it but he hadn't done it. Waylon called John and he replied 'no, you can't cut it because it's gonna be my next single.' Real dude stuff. Waylon said he really wanted to record it."


"He said settle down cowgirl/ let me tell you how it's gonna be - you and me/ leave the suitcase packed full of sorrow/ I'm going to take you home to Tennessee, to your family." - Bring Love - Carlene Carter

Now, Carlene has belatedly resurrected it with Breen - a New York born actor whose CV includes roles in TV soapies Guiding Light, Loving and As the World Turns in 1991.

The couple lives in Covelo - a small town (population 800) about four hours north of San Francisco.

They met in 2004, later worked together on Wildflower Flowers in Nashville and wed in Jamaica in 2006.

"I was going to Nashville to do Wildwood Flowers the play about Carter Family and play Mama, and Joe said 'This is where you need to be.' I signed a one-year lease and ended up staying two years."

Breen also played the narrator in Wildwood Flowers.

"My husband sings on it," Carter confessed.

"He has this nice deep baritone voice - real sweet. It makes lot of sense to sing that for all the stuff we've been through. He persuaded me to start writing again. Once I started I couldn't stop - he drove me nuts the first couple of months we were together. The first song I wrote for the album was Bring Love - the story of how we came to be. He sat me down in a Starbucks coffee shop in L A and said 'this is how it's going to be.' I went 'oh yeah'.
He started me writing again. Then he started badgering me - have you written anything
today. He started getting on my nerves. We met in LA. He had been acting in New York and gone to L A to pursue acting. His dad is big Joe Breen - he's a lawyer."


"Southern girl about 15/ had a bigger vision and a one track dream/ southern girl, little did she know, got a trail of tears/ caution to the wind/ she followed her heart to the bitter end." - The Bitter End - Carlene Carter-Mark W Winchester

Carter reached back to her first marriage at 15 for The Bitter End - her album entrée.

"That's my little life story," Carter confessed.

"I wrote that with my friend Mark W Winchester - an awesome bass player. He used to play with me and was in the Nash Ramblers with Emmylou and Jon Randall. It's the only co-write on the whole album. He called me and said let's make up a song. I'd already written the first verse and chorus and he had some of the coolest stuff - the line about the southern girl and little did she know. It was so damn country - that was my story song. I originally started writing it, thinking of Johnny Cash singing it with that guitar riff, but I didn't get it finished before he went on. I started writing it two months before he passed away - right in the spring before Mama died. I left it alone then finished it when Mark came along. We finished it in about 30 minutes. We did it live with the band a year before we recorded it."

Winchester also played the late Chet Atkins in Wildwood Flowers.

And now here are brief details of Carter's embryonic life story.

Carlene was just 15 when she wed Joe Simpkins and they had a daughter Tiffany.

They were divorced within a few years.

Carter enrolled in college as a piano major in her late teens, but never graduated.

At 19, she married 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.

That's another story too.

CLICK HERE for family tree details from the Diary on August 31, 2005


"Change of address/ change of name/ change of linen/ to hide the shame/ what can I say to change your heart?' - To Change Your Heart - Carlene Carter

Carter explored a belated divorce from third husband - British roots singer-songwriter and producer Nick Lowe - for another new song To Change Your Heart.

She wed Lowe, a co-founder of Rockpile with Dave Edmunds, at 23.

"I wrote To Change Your Heart about my divorce from Nick Lowe," Carter revealed.

"It was about when I finally got the papers. We had broken up many years before. I finally got around to it. I didn't want a divorce. I really loved him. I drew on that."

In 1978 she went to Los Angeles where she received a record contract with Warner Bros.

Her debut album, Carlene Carter, was a rock record recorded in London with Graham Parker's backing band, The Rumour.

The following year, she released second album, Two Sides to Every Woman, which featured support from The Doobie Brothers.

That same year she married Lowe.

Lowe helped Carter guide her musical direction in the early eighties.

Her third album - the new wave-inflected country-rock record Musical Shapes (1980) - showed the influence of Lowe, Rockpile, and Dave Edmunds.

Although the album was critically acclaimed, it was a commercial failure.

She followed Musical Shapes in 1981 with Blue Nun, which continued to pursue a new wave-country direction; like its predecessor, it was ignored.

Carter also released C'est C Bon on Razor & Tie Music in 1983.

During that period Carter, who also had a role with Kiki Dee in Broadway musical Pump Boys & Dinettes, appeared in the movie Too Drunk To Remember - based on one of her songs.

Too Drunk To Remember was on Musical Shapes - so was I'm So Cool that she cut again for Stronger.

"I'd love to get a copy of that movie," Carter quipped, "if you can find one please let me know."


"Stood by the window, watched him walk away/ saw the wind blow his hair/ and the tears in my eyes." - Judgement Day - Carlene Carter

When Carlene returned to the U.S. she hooked up with Howie Epstein - bassist for Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers from 1982.

Epstein, born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, also produced John Prine's Grammy-winning album The Missing Years.

He produced two Carter albums, one of which was nominated for a Grammy.

Carlene began her new record with Epstein in 1989 - the same year she duetted with Southern Pacific on their Top 40 hit Time's Up.

Reprise signed Carter and she released her sixth album, I Fell in Love, late in 1990.

I Fell in Love produced two hit singles, the title track, and Come on Back that soared to #3 on charts.

Her 1993 sequel Little Love Letters on Giant Records was equally successful.

It's first single Every Little Thing also reached #3.

Carter produced her 1995 album Little Acts of Treason with studio veteran James Stroud.

It was followed by Hindsight 20/20 - a greatest hits compilation in 1996.

But offstage Epstein and Carter endured a turbulent 15-year romantic relationship littered with dope and booze dramas.

Carter split with Epstein six months before he died of a heroin overdose on February 24, 2003.

It was the first of four major family deaths that tested the faith of the singer in the worst year of her life.


"True love never dies/ it just walks away." - Judgement Day - Carlene Carter

"Judgement Day was about having to leave my relationship with Howie because of the drugs and stuff," Carter confessed.

"I had to walk away and leave him there. I said 'when you get clean then I'll come home.'

Unfortunately he never got that together and died. I always loved him. I never stopped loving him and he died. It was the saddest thing in the world. I started writing Judgement Day the day Howie died but didn't finish it until I married my husband. It was so hard to write."

Carter elaborated on the storms of life that claimed Epstein.

"Howie wasn't just missed by me but a lot of other people who loved him and his music," Carter added.

"He was so talented and such a good person but he got caught up in bad stuff. We both did.

Somehow God took my ass out of there."

Carter admitted she stood by her man when police found 2.9 grams of black tar heroin in their rental car in June, 2001, when she was driving Epstein to Albuquerque Airport to catch a flight to Pennsylvania for concerts with Petty.

"I took the rap for him in the drug charges," Carter explained.

"I wasn't being a martyr or big hero. He worked for a band and I was my own boss and no-one could fire me. We thought he would get fired - he said 'you take the rap.' It didn't matter in the end because they got wise to his shenanigans - he eventually lost his job and shortly after that he lost me. I don't why I'm still here - hey a lot of shit happened that year. I was doing pretty good that year then he died."


"Sweet baby sister had the world upon her shoulders/ she had a spirit like a twister/ this life could not hold her/ always one to run so fast down a track heading nowhere/ she was cool until the train crash/ she died trying to get there." - Stronger - Carlene Carter

Epstein's death was the first of four in eight months to test the faith of the singer.

June Carter Cash, 73, died on May 15.

Johnny Cash, 71, passed away on September 12.

Then younger sister Rosey Nix Adams, just 45, and partner - fiddler Jimmy Campbell 40 - died on October 24.

Nix and Campbell - a member of Nashville band The Sidemen - were found dead in a converted bus near Clarksville, Tennessee.

"These were the four most important people in my life, apart from my children," said Carter.

"They all disappeared within eight months - it was devastating. Anyone would freak out. I tried to drown my sorrows, but no amount would fix it. Losing my little sister was the straw that broke the camel's back for me. I don't why I'm still here."

Carter said she had a brief respite after Epstein's death.

"Howie died and I got OK, then my mom died," Carter recalled.

"I tried to hang in there. Then I got good again then John died. It was a slippery slope for about a year - then my sister Rosey died. I slid for another few months. I was barely hanging on and not understanding why things happened, why I was still here and no-one else was. It wasn't like I was alone. I had a lot of support - a lot of family and friends that really stood by me."


"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." - Wildwood Rose - Carlene Carter

Carter tried to find solace in substance abuse but survived.

"You can take drugs all day but the thing about it is no amount of drugs, no amount of anything makes anything OK. No amount of self-abuse in any way can ever fix the pain that is," Carter confessed.

"You can take drugs all day but if you don't die you don't fix anything - you might as well just quit it. You could say I've got a whole pound of cocaine here and you can snort it all but if you're still going to be alive why bother. "

So Carter rebounded after her trip to hell and back.

"I had to learn how to find a way to walk ahead," Carter admitted.

"I did everything I could have done that would kill most people but did not kill me. Drinking was never my biggest deal - my downfall has always been drugs. I could take or leave a drink.

No amount of drinking could put a light to the amount of drugs I did. I don't know why I'm still here. But I cannot take drugs anymore - they don't fix nothing and I'm too damn old for this.

Come on, I love my grand babies and I love life. It took me about a year to get to where I was OK and on track. I started believing and I started writing."

Many celebrity drug addicts then and now could have gotten help had they taken advantage of widely-available drug addiction counseling programs.


"They say that you're leavin'/ that you are deceiving/ but you tell me they say the same about me/ but we'll show them they're wrong/ that loose talk will do harm/ and hope that the truth they will see." - Loose Talk - Freddie Hart-Ann Lucas

Carter's relationship with Breen and McFee has ensured her creative energy will fuel new projects after international touring to promote Stronger.

"I wrote all this album completely sober," Carter says proudly.

"I didn't write anything when I was messed up. I couldn't do that. I wrote some of it in Jamaica. We go there two or thee times a year - that's where I feel really close to my family.

There's a whole lot of spiritual stuff there. I wrote a lot in my house in Tennessee where Joe and I lived and also some of it in a dinky hotel where Joe and I lived when we first got together. I wrote some in my head when I'm sleeping. But one thing I can say in all honesty is
I wrote the whole album completely sober. I don't do good when I'm not sober."

And what is the next venture?

"The next project for John McFee and me is the tribute album to my dad with some really cool people," Carter enthused.

"I've got Elvis Costello, Nick Lowe, Rodney Crowell, Vince Gill and Terri Clark. I love to ask others. Dad is 81 now and he's rocking like hell. Everything seems very positive."

Carter previously released a duet with her father on his hit Loose Talk from her Little Acts Of Treason album.


Carter plans an Australian summer tour to promote her CD and accompanying DVD.

"I have always wanted to tour Australia but I have never got to come there," Carter says.

"It's always been my biggest dream, I told every agent and manager I have had in my entire career I want to go to Australia. For some reason it has never happened. Please tell them to invite me. I'll come for hardly nothing. I have a new agent who is keen to get me down there."

By then Carlene will have video clips for CMC and Nu Country TV.

"We filmed an entire show for a live DVD," Carlene added.

"We did the entire album live at The Mint in L A."

And will she repeat her eighties on-stage quip when she introduced her song Swamp Meat Rag at the Bottom Line in New York, unaware mother June and Johnny Cash were in the audience?

Carlene said "I'm going to put the C… back in country" a few decades before Waylon Jennings son Shooter named his 2005 debut disc Put The O Back In Country.

"You know honey, I'm going to put the tree back in country," Carter joked.


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