Monthly Archives: June 2009

The Carter Family: Will the Circle Be Unbroken (DVD)

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This is the one and only documentary that I could find on The Carter Family.  Produced as part of the American Experience series on PBS in 2005, it is a 1 hour straight forward chronological document of the history of the original Carter Family narrated by actor Robert Duvall.  The film leans heavily on interviews with writers, family members, and other famous musicians (including Gillian Welch, Marty Stuart, Joan Baez, and Rodney Crowell.)  You will also see archival footage and photos spiced up with the “Ken Burns Style” pan and zoom technique.  The film also throws in filmed reenactments which thankfully are done tastefully and are hardly noticeable.  Definitely a great introduction to Country Music’s first family.

I picked up a bunch of great nuggets of music knowledge… here is a few tidbits to wet your appetite.

  • The “Original Carter Family” is made up of A.P. Carter, his wife Sara and A.P.’s sister in law Maybelle (later would include some of Maybelle’s daughters).  The film does not cover the second incarnation of the Carter Family which featured just Maybelle and her daughters.
  • Sara and A.P. married in 1915 but didn’t start recording until they were discovered by a Victor Records representative by the name of Ralph Peer in 1927.
  • When A.P. discovered he could make money recording and copywriting songs began to travel door to door all over the rural south collecting the peoples songs and then re-arranged them.  Not necessary the most honest way to make a living when you look at it, but I guess if he hadn’t done it, a lot of America’s early folk music would be lost.
  • The Carter Family recorded and performed roughly from 1927 to 1943 and became widely known and popular across America.  Their public image was of a solid wholesome family unit, when in reality Sara and A.P. had been having marital troubles ever since the mid twenties.  In 1936 unbeknownst to their fans they separated but continued to perform together.  In 1943 Sara filed for divorce which also split up the original lineup.

Go to the American Experience – Carter Family website to see info on the film and take advantage of web extras.

Here is a few tracks from The Carter Family for your listening pleasure (if you don’t see the embedded playlist, follow this link.)

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Desperate Man Blues – Discovering the Roots of American Music (DVD)

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Released in 2006 this film is a documentary about Joe Bussard Jr., a man that has devoted his life to the pursuit of rare 78s from the golden era (1924 – 1933) of American folk music.  I was immediately charmed by this old codger, dancing around with his lanky frame and smiling with a cigar hanging out of his mouth in pure glee while listening to these lost gems of American music.  He is the archetypal record collector that is truly passionate about the music and the hunt for the next rare find.  Not an extremely exciting story but a wonderfully interesting portrait of a man that is devoted to and obsessed with searching out these forgotten treasures.  Being personally interested in the music of this era it was a great pleasure to hear his favorite picks and some of the background behind them.  This DVD not only features Desperate Man Blues but also a shorter more recent documentary called “King of All Record Collectors” which I would say was a little better than the feature.

Among Bussard’s accomplishments include his long running radio show “Country Classics”, being the go-to guy for transfers of these extremely rare 78s for countless collections and organizations, and running the last American 78 record company called Fonotone Records which he operated from 1956 -1969 and released tons of almost true to the original old timey music.  In 2005 the Dust To Digital record label released a 5 CD box set of all the material ever pressed by his company, learn more about it here.

Also available is the soundtrack for the film which features a bunch of great tracks that are heard in the movie.

Check Joe out on the web at:  http://www.vintage78.com/ or Joe’s Myspace page.

Just as an added bonus, I’ll post up some music that is similar to what you’ll experience in the Documentary below (if you don’t see the embedded playlist, follow this link.)

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