The Winding Stream - The Carters, The Cashes and the Course of Country Music
Carter Family record labels

As I’ve worked on The Winding Stream, I’ve been struck by the passion people have for the Carters specifically and for “old-timey music” in general. It’s often an interest and commitment that transcends the music. I think it’s related to a focus on history itself, on the things of another time.

Some of the most involved Winding Stream Facebook “fans”, Twitter followers and email friends (oh yeah, and real life people I talk to in person!) have an amazing grasp of historical recording methods, or an understanding of rural social customs, or a love of vintage ‘30s clothing, or a knowledge of Depression-era politics. It’s great to engage with them on these topics. It certainly has opened up my own appreciation and comprehension of these aspects of the Carters’ world.

I guess what a lot of us share is a love of the past and a desire to preserve some piece of that. I know that’s what drives me to make historical documentary films. Being able to tell untold or little understood stories is a big motivator for me.

So it was nice to interview singer/songwriter Rosanne Cash about her extended family – particularly June Carter – and have her reinforce the importance of this passion that a lot of us share. Click this link to watch the video.

Rosanne Cash Saving the Past

Speaking of Rosanne Cash, for our Pacific Northwest Winding Stream supporters, we’ve got a really great Kickstarter reward  – a chance to meet her and her sister Tara at a cocktail party here in Portland. So visit our Kickstarter site for more details:

To those of you who’ve already pledged, we say thanks! And of course, we appreciate you spreading the word about our work. We hope we can meet our goal and get this entire story out there!

June Carter Cash died on May 15, 2003.  That makes it just a little over eight years now since this bright light left our world.  One of my big regrets is that, though we had made contact with June about doing an interview, circumstances kept us from meeting.  She passed away before we could meet.

I know everyone who did know her talks about how funny, warm and radiant she was.  One need only pay a visit to YouTube to get a sense of this.  Go now and check out a clip or two.   It’ll gladden your heart.

Here are a few lines about June.  The first three are from interviews we did for The Winding Stream. The last lines are written by June’s son, John Carter Cash in his book Anchored in Love.  Read it.

FERN SALYER, cousin: She and I did everything together. We used to wrestle and climb trees and go up in the mountain and stay all day. We were both tomboys. And we’d look in the trees and find some crow’s nest.  We’d climb up there and try to get to that crow’s nest. I know one time we got way up there in this tree and that crow was in the nest and it came after us and we almost fell out of the tree. But we were always doin’ things like that.

JOHNNY CASH, husband: I fell in love with that June, that red-headed one, that dancer, the one that told the jokes, the funny one.  She stole my heart right away, right away. And I kept telling her beginning in 1962 that “We’re gonna get married, we’ve got to, you’re meant to be mine. I know you are. “ I just knew it. We got married March 1, 1968 and we were together until she died. And we were two peas in a pod. We were never apart. June and I were never apart.

ROSANNE CASH, step-daughter:  My mother gave me roots, but June gave me wings.

JOHN CARTER CASH, son: Mom’s spirit still sparkles within all her grandchildren and great-grandchildren, whether related through blood or heart. It’s also evident in the hearts of her fans, old and new, the world over. In so many ways, the Wildwood Flower lives on.




The crowd settles in before the AMA Wards and Honors show at the Ryman Auditorium

Last week I went to Nashville, Tennessee for the Americana Music Festival and Conference.  I’ve been to my share of film and music conferences over the years and I have to admit I approached this one with some trepidation.  Would it be informative and enlightening? Would it present networking opportunities?  Above all, would it be fun?

Dang straight.

I had two reasons for attending: 1) to start to let people who care about Americana music (which is to say, the core audience for The Winding Stream) know about the film; and 2) to make and reinforce connections I have in the roots music community to help get the film done.

Both things happened.  It was a wildly successful trip.

But those goals aside, there truly was just a wonderful social element that really pervades the conference and it’s enhanced by great music in any number of Nashville venues nightly.  The only bad thing is that there’s so much good stuff going on it’s hard to know what to choose.

I did get to some great shows though. I saw Raul Malo at the Cannery. He’s someone you must check out if you love great singers. He’s the obvious successor to Roy Orbison – soaring, emotive vocals. I also saw my friend rockabilly queen Wanda Jackson at the Mercy Lounge where she rocked the house. This is not new. What is new and is very exciting is that Wanda’s new producer Jack White was there (very nice guy). The album, “The Party Ain’t Over”, which will be out next year, promises to be as cool as Jack’s collaboration with Loretta Lynn.  (If not cooler, sez I.) Meanwhile, there’s a single out that’ll give you a little sample of what’s ahead. It’s on Jack White’s Third Man Records label.  The A side is Amy Winehouse’s “You Know I’m No Good” and the B side is “Shakin’ All Over”.  Killer stuff.  Wanda says, “Jack pushed me and pushed me…right into the 21st Century.” Go Jack.

Earlier that night Wanda had been honored with the AMA’s Lifetime Achievement Award. (The AMA Honors and Awards show was broadcast on NPR from the venerable old Ryman Auditorium – the original Grand Ole Opry.)  This has been quite a time for Wanda. She’s not only received this honor, but also the National Heritage Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts and last year’s biggie – her induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.  All well-deserved, needless to say.

Also honored at the show was Rosanne Cash for her fantastic album, “The List”, which I’ve talked about in this blog.  Later in the show, Rosanne performed an absolutely stunning version of Bobby Gentry’s classic “Ode to Billie Joe”.  Now to me, the mark of a great interpretation of a song is when you can hear it as if it were the very first time.  That is exactly what her version of this song was like.  Chilling, unsettling and as profound as the muddy waters off the Talahatchie Bridge.  Made the hair stand up on the back of my neck.

Host for the AMA show was the amiable and talented Jim Lauderdale, an ambassador for roots music if there ever was one.  Periodically, someone would wrap up a song and Jim would enthuse, “Now that’s Americana!” It was a funny schtick but it also underscored the diversity of styles united by a commitment to authenticity in interpretation that’s at the heart of all this roots music.

And that’s what the night continually offered up – the best of Americana. Besides Wanda and Rosanne, the show featured Emmy Lou Harris, Lucinda Williams, Ryan Bingham, The Avett Brothers, Hayes Carll, Joe Pug, Will Kimbrough, Sam Bush, Corb Lund, Ray Wylie Hubbard, Sarah Jarocz and a surprise post-broadcast set of music by Robert Plant ably assisted by Buddy Miller, Don Was, and Patti Griffin.  Whole lotta love at the Ryman.

But I must say that the one performance that brought the greatest crowd reaction was by my new pals, The Carolina Chocolate Drops. They defied expectation, I believe, by not doing a traditional Americana piece, but rather performing their incredibly wry and energetic version of Blu Cantrell’s “Hit ‘em Up Style” in their rootsy style with Rhiannon on fiddle, Dom on banjo and Justin as human beat box.   When they finished, the crowd leapt to its feet cheering and the Ryman house lights came on so they could see what they’d wrought.

They’d knocked it out of the park.

It was a moment I won’t forget.

Last Thursday night here in Portland, Oregon we were honored to have a visit from Rosanne Cash – the extraordinary singer, songwriter and author.  Rosanne is a big champion of Carter Family music and appears in our film The Winding Stream talking about and performing their music.

No small part of this love of the Carters must stem from how Rosanne came about learning guitar – at the knee of Helen Carter of the Carter Sisters.  And some of her passion for the Carters must also be attributed to her dad’s influence (video.)  In her teen years, Johnny Cash handed his oldest daughter a list of 100 essential country songs and on it were many Carter numbers.  Recently, Rosanne released a new CD, The List, which features a dozen of the songs from her father’s list – among the twelve, a couple of Carter tunes.

However, Rosanne was not in town with a sole musical purpose but rather she combined performance with readings from her new memoir, Composed, which she assured us is only the first of many parts.  (She was quick to point out she’s not old enough to be summing up her life yet. Being the same age as Rosanne, I heartily agree with this assessment.)  She did say, though, that a recent bout with brain surgery underscored her desire to get some things done – among them, record “The List” and finish her memoir.

She’s done a lot of living as an artist, as a daughter, as a wife and mother and she’s got a lot to say about all of that.  And she did so beautifully on stage at Portland’s Bagdad Theatre and in this poetic, moving book.

I’ve long known that Rosanne has been involved in a number of important causes and organizations.  But one that I only recently became aware of is the Veterans Project (thanks to old pal Jeff Norman who works for this group and let me know about this via Facebook!).

The Veterans Projects helps military veterans reintegrate into society when they come home.  Their website says: “Our mission is to remove the stigma associated with post-traumatic stress, and to support groups that provide psychological care, housing solutions and job training to veterans in the aftermath of war.” A worthy cause, I think.

Two days before Rosanne arrived in Portland she’d done a benefit for this group in Southern California.  She read from her memoir and sang the song “Long Black Veil” for two Gold Star Moms who were in attendance.   For those of you who couldn’t be in Portland or in Los Angeles, you’ll want to check out the Veterans Project website to see this moving performance.

I had gotten to know Rosanne when she narrated (beautifully) my last music documentary Welcome to the Club – The Women of Rockabilly.  I’d been considering asking her about participating in a film about the Carters and Cashes when – somewhat out of the blue – she wrote me an email about a trip she’d just taken with her Dad and June to the Carter Family Fold, the music venue on the Original Carter Family’s property in Maces Spring, Virginia. She essentially said something like: You should be making a film here. I wrote back something like: Funny you should mention it.  Nice coincidence.  So it made perfect sense that she should be the first person we interviewed in the film.  She has great reverence for the Carters. Here’s one of the reasons why…