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



Dermot O'Leary attends the X Factor Wembley Arena auditions at Wembley on August 1, 2014 in London, England.


Arts and Entertainment
At this year's SXSW festival in Austin, Texas

Music Why this music festival is still the place to spot the next big thing

Arts and Entertainment
Russell Tovey, Myanna Buring and Julian Rhind Tutt star in Banished
tvReview: The latest episode was a smidgen less depressing... but it’s hardly a bonza beach party
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tv Some of the characters appear to have clear real-life counterparts
Brooks is among a dozen show-business professionals ever to have achieved Egot status
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
A cut above: Sean Penn is outclassed by Mark Rylance in The Gunman
film review
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
James Franco and Zachary Quinto in I Am Michael

Film review Michael Glatze biopic isn't about a self-hating gay man gone straight

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the movie 'Get Hard'
tvWill Ferrell’s new film Get Hard receives its first reviews
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: David Cameron (Mark Dexter), Nick Clegg (Bertie Carvel) and Gordon Brown (Ian Grieve)
tvReview: Ian Grieve gets another chance to play Gordon Brown... this is the kinder version
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman in the first look picture from next year's Sherlock special

Arts and Entertainment
Because it wouldn’t be Glastonbury without people kicking off about the headline acts, a petition has already been launched to stop Kanye West performing on the Saturday night

Arts and Entertainment
Molly Risker, Helen Monks, Caden-Ellis Wall, Rebekah Staton, Erin Freeman, Philip Jackson and Alexa Davies in ‘Raised by Wolves’

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
James May, Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Hammond in the Top Gear Patagonia Special

Arts and Entertainment
Game of Thrones will run for ten years if HBO gets its way but showrunners have mentioned ending it after seven

Game of Thrones
Arts and Entertainment
Mans Zelmerlow will perform 'Heroes' for Sweden at the Eurovision Song Contest 2015

Arts and Entertainment
Elizabeth (Heida Reed) and Ross Poldark (Aiden Turner) in the BBC's remake of their 1975 original Poldark

Poldark review
Arts and Entertainment
Daniel Craig as James Bond in Skyfall

Mexican government reportedly paying Bond producers for positive portrayal in new filmfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Disney’s flying baby elephant is set to return in live-action format
filmWith sequels, prequels and spin-offs, Disney plays it safe... and makes a pachyderm
Arts and Entertainment
Nazrin with Syf, Camden
The QI Elves photographed at the Soho Theatre. They are part of a team of researchers who find facts for the television programme 'QI'.
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tv0-star review: Sean O'Grady gives it his best shot anyway
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

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

    Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

    Promises, promises

    But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
    The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

    The death of a Gaza fisherman

    He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
    Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
    Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

    The only direction Zayn could go

    We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
    Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

    Spells like teen spirit

    A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
    Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
    Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

    Licence to offend in the land of the free

    Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
    From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

    From farm to fork in Cornwall

    One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, DJ Taylor
    How to make your own Easter egg: Willie Harcourt-Cooze shares his chocolate recipes

    How to make your own Easter egg

    Willie Harcourt-Cooze talks about his love affair with 'cacao' - and creates an Easter egg especially for The Independent on Sunday
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef declares barbecue season open with his twist on a tradtional Easter Sunday lamb lunch

    Bill Granger's twist on Easter Sunday lunch

    Next weekend, our chef plans to return to his Aussie roots by firing up the barbecue
    Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

    Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

    The England prop relives the highs and lows of last Saturday's remarkable afternoon of Six Nations rugby
    Cricket World Cup 2015: Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?

    Cricket World Cup 2015

    Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?
    The Last Word: Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing