Obituary: Wilf Carter

Wilf Carter, aka Montana Slim, was one of the last surviving links with the early giants of country music. A native of Nova Scotia, he worked with Jimmie Rodgers and the legendary Carter Family, with Bradley Kincaid and Goebel Reeves, and became, over a 60-year career, a Canadian institution.

Montana Slim, the sobriquet by which Americans knew him, came courtesy of a radio lawyer named Becker. Carter was working for CBS at the time and when one day called into Becker's office was told that whilst the show was fine his name would have to go. Asked if he had ever been to Montana, he replied in the affirmative. "Well, you're long, tall and skinny, how about Montana Slim?" was the response, and it stuck.

Unusually for a country musician, Carter actually spent part of his early life as a cowboy. Whilst still in his teens he headed for Calgary, working the prairie farms before moving on and hoboing along the Canadian-Pacific railroad. He then became a bronc' buster in the rodeo before being hired by the Brewster Transport Co as an entertainer for its early "dude ranches". Whilst on the trail he would practise his yodelling technique in the canyons.

Carter had been fascinated by yodelling as a child. At the age of 12 he saw a performance by an entertainer known as "The Yodelling Fool" in a revue based on Uncle Tom's Cabin and was hooked. His later advocacy of the form would prove one of his most important legacies, influencing, among others, Slim Whitman and Riders in the Sky.

In 1933, whilst en route to New York where he was to join a liner as an on-board entertainer, Carter stopped off at Montreal to audition for RCA Victor. In a disused church on Lenoir Street, he cut the self-penned "My Swiss Mountain Lullaby" - its famous echo courtesy of an upturned bathtub - and "The Capture of Albert Johnson", a vivid retelling of the hunt for a mountie-killer.

On its release, "Lullaby" blossomed into the first major Canadian country hit and as a result in 1934 Carter cut a further 36 tracks for the label including the first song he ever wrote, "I Long For Old Wyoming", and the topical "The Life and Death of John Dillinger". By 1938 he had 120 sides to his credit.

By now a star on the CBS radio network, Carter's records began also to sell well internationally, particularly in Australia where his popularity proved pivotal to its fledgling country music industry. Several years later, he acknowledged this by cutting an album for RCA entilted Wilf Carter Sings The Songs of Australia.

A serious automobile accident on 30 April 1940 was to prove a major setback, the severity of his injuries necessitating a nine-year hiatus from touring. When he hit the road again, it was in the company of his daughters and he was gratified to find that he could still draw large crowds, at least in his homeland.

Carter recorded prolifically over the years and much of his work has been reissued on CD. With Victor until 1954, he spent five years at Decca under the Nashville recording pioneer Paul Cohen, before returning to the RCA fold and later still cutting a couple of albums for Starday.

The composer of some 500-plus songs including "There's a Love Knot in my Lariat" and "Bluebird On Your Window Sill", in 1971 he was elected to the Nashville Songwriters' Hall of Fame. He was also a member of the Canadian Country Music Hall of Honour, the Cowboy Hall of Fame in Oklahoma City and the Calgary Horseman's Hall of Fame. The last of these gave him particular pleasure, as did the chance twice to act as Grand Marshal of the famous Calgary Stampede. Although semi-retired, Wilf Carter continued to tour into the 1990s.

Wilf Arthur Charles Carter, singer, guitarist and songwriter: born Port Hilford, Nova Scotia 18 December 1904; married 1936 Bobbie Bryan (died 1989; two daughters); died Scottsdale, Arizona 5 December 1996.

ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

HR Manager - Kent - £45,000

£40000 - £45000 per annum: Ashdown Group: HR Manager / Training Manager (L&D /...

HR Manager - Edgware, London - £45,000

£40000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Manager - Edgware, Lon...

HR Manager - London - £40,000 + bonus

£32000 - £40000 per annum + bonus: Ashdown Group: HR Manager (Generalist) -Old...

Talent Manager / HR Manager - central London - £50,000

£45000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Talent / Learning & Development Mana...

Day In a Page

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam