Who said Country was wholesome?

Carlene Carter has impeccable Country credentials. Impeccable manners too, sometimes. By Nick Hayns

Some years ago Carlene Carter bounced on stage at a club in New York and indulged in a little Shakespearean word-play around the word Country. Every journalist in town was in the audience. Also, Carter's mother and stepfather had chosen this particular night to pop in and give their girl a nice surprise. For Carter, everything went prickly pear-shaped.

"My mama came backstage afterwards and I said: 'Mama, I'm so sorry I said that word'," says Carter, widening her eyes and dipping her head in approved Southern style. "And mama just said: 'What word was that, honey?' She'd already blocked it out, you see." Her stepfather, Johnny Cash, didn't speak to her for six months, however.

There have been one or two of these occasions. She once spent an entire evening yelling at the handicapped section of a college audience to "get up and dance, Goddammit!" And then there was the time she found herself the toast of a "hot Beverly Hills party, handsome guys all over, and I'm in these beautiful clothes teetering around on heels like Minnie Mouse, la la la, thinking I'm really happenin', like I'm hot shit", at which point she fell down the lavatory. "There I am," she says, with practised humility, "with my butt in water, promising God I'd never get the Big Head again."

The way she tells it, Carter's life has been one splendid embarrassment after another. They have come thick and fast, and often rudely, and they all are recounted as if moral purpose were their engine; as if every stumbling humiliation were a component of some great plan to enable Carlene to arrive at the age of 40 intact and a better person for the experience. In many Americans, this tendency to treat life as a retrospective parable is a ghastly thing. In Carter it's a bit of a giggle.

Responsibility for this governing humour rests squarely with her mother, June, herself the daughter of Maybelle Carter, matriarch of the American holy-rollin' folk and country dynasty, the Carter Family. June is barking, according to Carlene, and accustomed to doing things her way. June wears turbans and rubber gloves about the house. June, at 65, is inclined to hitch up her skirt and do comedy duckwalks downstage to lead the community singing during spiritual interludes in husband Johnny Cash's live shows. "Eccentricity has never been discouraged in our family," says Carlene.

However, the sense is that the mature, gaff-free Carter is still somewhat torn. She's a self-confessed party-maverick with a taste for rock 'n' roll chaps (a key early husband was that eminence of Britpop Nick Lowe; she currently lives with Heartbreaker Howie Epstein). Yet she is also a nuclear conformist who "loves little kids" and, given the chance, will go on at length about the tender relationship she enjoyed with her childhood pony. She says she's spent her whole life "trying to fit in" in a way that permits her always "to be myself".

"I've always wanted to make records that rock like hell," she says, waving a cigarette, all gritty. "But also, I've never wanted to compromise that Country place deep inside." Which means that her records are always soppy, sentimental, saucy and robust. She used to write lines like "when you stink you make me think dirty". Nowadays she's more felicitous than that. Her last album, Little Love Letters, is a classic of libidinous country- rock with manners.

This uneasy duality may account for what has been a lurching career. From childhood a member of the Carter Family holy medicine show, she decamped to west London in the mid-Seventies to hook up with the roots-rocking sub-community that circulated about the robust persons of Lowe, Dave Edmunds, Graham Parker, the Rumour and Brinsley Schwarz. In that sense she's a frontierswoman of British country-rock.

In another sense, she's what you get when you cross down-home American liberalism with big hormones and an instinct for mayhem. Above all, she is her mother's daughter. "Mama" infests Carter's conversation as a mnemonic for those things that are wild but good for the soul.

Her earliest memory is of being in the back of the car in Kentucky with her sister Rosie, and of her mother leaning down from the front seat and saying, "Look Carlene! Look Rosie! That thing over there - that's a coal mine," while Carlene and Rosie studiously played house on the expansive floor of their father's moving Cadillac.

n Carlene Carter's new album 'Little Acts of Treason' is out now on the Giant label

Arts and Entertainment
Ellie Levenson’s The Election book demystifies politics for children
bookNew children's book primes the next generation for politics
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams' “Happy” was the most searched-for song lyric of 2014
musicThe power of song never greater, according to our internet searches
Arts and Entertainment
Roffey says: 'All of us carry shame and taboo around about our sexuality. But I was determined not to let shame stop me writing my memoir.'
books
Arts and Entertainment
Call The Midwife: Miranda Hart as Chummy

tv Review: Miranda Hart and co deliver the festive goods

Arts and Entertainment
The cast of Downton Abbey in the 2014 Christmas special

tvReview: Older generation get hot under the collar this Christmas

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Transformers: Age of Extinction was the most searched for movie in the UK in 2014

film
Arts and Entertainment
Mark Ronson has had two UK number two singles but never a number one...yet

music
Arts and Entertainment
Clara Amfo will take over from Jameela Jamil on 25 January

radio
Arts and Entertainment
This is New England: Ken Cheeseman, Ann Dowd, Frances McDormand and Richard Jenkins in Olive Kitteridge

The most magnificently miserable show on television in a long timeTV
Arts and Entertainment
Andrea Faustini looks triumphant after hearing he has not made it through to Sunday's live final

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Rhys says: 'I'm not playing it for laughs, but I have learnt that if you fall over on stage, people can enjoy that as much as an amazing guitar solo'
musicGruff Rhys on his rock odyssey, and the trouble with independence
Arts and Entertainment
Krysia and Daniel (Hand out press photograph provided by Sally Richardson)
How do today's composers answer the challenge of the classical giant?
News
Shenaz Treasurywala
film
News
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Watkins as Christopher Jefferies
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars Director JJ Abrams: key character's names have been revealed
film
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams won two BBC Music Awards for Best Song and International Artist
music
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
TV
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

    The West needs more than a White Knight

    Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
    Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

    'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

    Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
    Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

    Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

    Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
    The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

    The stories that defined 2014

    From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
    Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

    Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

    Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?
    Finally, a diet that works: Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced

    Finally, a diet that works

    Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced
    Say it with... lyrics: The power of song was never greater, according to our internet searches

    Say it with... lyrics

    The power of song was never greater, according to our internet searches
    Professor Danielle George: On a mission to bring back the art of 'thinkering'

    The joys of 'thinkering'

    Professor Danielle George on why we have to nurture tomorrow's scientists today
    Monique Roffey: The author on father figures, the nation's narcissism and New Year reflections

    Monique Roffey interview

    The author on father figures, the nation's narcissism and New Year reflections
    Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

    Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

    Their outrageousness and originality makes the world a bit more interesting, says Ellen E Jones
    DJ Taylor: Good taste? It's all a matter of timing...

    Good taste? It's all a matter of timing...

    It has been hard to form generally accepted cultural standards since the middle of the 19th century – and the disintegration is only going to accelerate, says DJ Taylor
    Olivia Jacobs & Ben Caplan: 'Ben thought the play was called 'Christian Love'. It was 'Christie in Love' - about a necrophiliac serial killer'

    How we met

    Olivia Jacobs and Ben Caplan
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's breakfasts will revitalise you in time for the New Year

    Bill Granger's healthy breakfasts

    Our chef's healthy recipes are perfect if you've overindulged during the festive season
    Transfer guide: From Arsenal to West Ham - what does your club need in the January transfer window?

    Who does your club need in the transfer window?

    Most Premier League sides are after a striker, but here's a full run down of the ins and outs that could happen over the next month
    The Last Word: From aliens at FA to yak’s milk in the Tour, here’s to 2015

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    From aliens at FA to yak’s milk in the Tour, here’s to 2015